How much time do you spend either leaving or listening to voice mail each day?

It varies by industry and position, but salespeople can spend up to 15% of their day either leaving or listening to voice mail. That’s crazy, right? Wouldn’t you like to get 90 minutes of your time back – each and every day? I would love that bonus time.

voice and email illustration
This post is mostly about business to business calls between colleagues. But it applies elsewhere as well. I have a certain family member that abuses the “call me right away” line.

I’m not a salesperson, and do not spend that much time per day on the phone, but I still get frustrated by “bad” voice mail etiquette. Nothing is more frustrating than getting a vague ” call me when you have a chance” and you wait a few hours (or even a few days) to when you do have a chance only to find out it was something incredibly urgent. Likewise, the “call me right away” message that turns out to be trivial gets really annoying if repeated.

The other time-waster people wind up spending a lot of time on is voicemail tag. I have played phone tag with someone for so long they forgot why they called me in the first place.

This is so frustrating and a waste of time for both people.

But there is a really easy solution. Leave a good voice mail in the first place!

Simply say why you are calling, when you need the information back by, and if relevant, the best time to call back. Think about the person you are calling. What do they need to know to respond best to you? Do they need to run a sales report? Then just say “can you send me the 2nd Quarter sales report by Friday morning?” No need to have them call you, just so you can ask your question.

Most of the calls I get are about something rather complicated that takes a bit of research or preparation on my part, even though the question is really short. Leaving me the question on the voice mail lets me do the research, and get back to the caller in one phone call. No 20 phone tags calls.

A group I used to belong to had the saying “Referrals are terrific when you are specific”. This applies to voicemail as well.

One mistake I rectified today is to ask people to leave a message why they are calling. Will it work? Hopefully! But I can’t blame people for not giving any reason for their call if I do not ask them to.

Is a phone call still the best way to reach people?

This varies by job as well, but phone calls have seen a decline in use over the past few years. Unfortunately spammers are near the top of the reason why many people let their voice mail screen calls. With so many people working from home this year, talking on the phone isn’t as convenient as in the office. Schedules are not as standard as they were, and work spaces may be shared with family or roommates who need quiet. We’re all busier than ever, and trying to find ways to work smarter. Many of my colleagues time block – which is where you shut off all distractions and work for X amount of time. This is more prevalent in jobs that require concentration or just cannot be stopped and started repeatedly. I do this most days as well. I have set times that I check email and voicemail, and shut both off when I need to focus. It’s a process of finding the right balance between focusing and being available. I haven’t always got it right, but I am working on improving that.

Email is your friend if you are asking something specific and detailed, or need a response that is specific and detailed. Here’s why:

Most people can read and write faster than they can talk and listen. If you have a long drawn out question, we not only have to listen to it all, but likely have to write down notes as we go. If they answer is a long complicated one, then the caller also has to write it all down and listen. And guess what. No one remembers what was said a week or two later, and you have to repeat the whole thing again. And of course it takes another week of phone tag… and you get the idea. Just send an email. Both parties can refer back to it for details later.

Many organizations use Slack or other internal messaging for the quick questions. While they can be intrusive and abused, it can still save a lot of time and limit the back and forth of phone calls.

Many people text, while this is great for a short – “I’ll be there soon” type of message, it’s not the best for an effective business communication. No one wants to type a long message on a phone, it’s harder to send relevant information, etc. And for those sweet people that do voice to text message… please proofread first! If you’re in a noisy environment, a car, or talking about a lot of place names or jargon, chances are what comes out the other end is going to be nonsense. We’re all busy, it may feel like you are saving time, but if we have no idea what you are saying, and have to ask several times… it’s just defeated the purpose.

Another issue I have with voicemail is that it is often delayed with the frequent power outages here. Between the PSPS’s and just line improvements, if I’m out of range, or without power it can take several days for the message to catch up. It’s frustrating on many levels.

But email is so impersonal!

Business is built on personal relationships. But, that does not mean every communication needs to involve a personal call. An informal survey of mine shows that often people don’t answer because they feel they need to chit chat when someone calls, and they just don’t have the time for that on a daily basis. This is a judgement call on your part as businesses and roles differ.

Use that extra 90 minutes/day doing something personal that doesn’t make the other person feel like they are just spinning their wheels.

Schedule a phone meeting when it’s really important.

As much as it may sound like it above, I don’t hate phone calls, just the unproductive ones. Often a short meeting will solve an issue far better than 203,234,543 emails and voicemails. If you really value both party’s time, schedule a phone meeting (via email!). Create a calendar event to invite the other person(s), or use a tool such as Calendly¬† to schedule a phone or video meeting. A formal agenda isn’t needed, but have a specific need specified. Both parties come prepared, and you get the benefit of a personal touch, without playing the voice mail game.

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