Small Business Guide To Voicemail

When you’re connected to voicemail, what do you do? If you hang up, then you’re in the majority. Vonage, a leading phone service provider to businesses has reported consistently that the volume of voicemail has been dropping steadily since 2012.

Voicemail is no longer being used as a primary way to send and receive information. We’re using the service less and less. People are opting for email services or text messages when available. However, studies have found business voicemail still tends to go unanswered. Just because the quantity of voicemail is going down doesn’t mean that you should forget about checking your voicemail box. Unfortunately, checking voicemail takes time. Time that employees and small business owners don’t have. If you miss checking your voicemail one day, it rolls over into the next, until you have hundreds of unheard messages. Maybe you eventually give up, decide to start fresh, and delete them all. It’s a scary thought to consider all of the crucial information you’ve missed out on if you were to take that step!

not just after hours

Not just after hours

It might be expected to get a voicemail after business hours. But, there was once a study that looked at eight thousand potential renters who were replying to a paid ad. Of these eight thousand live leads that called during business hours, only 26% of them talked to a live person. The others got a recording. This was during business hours, but with so many calls coming in, many had to be routed to voicemail.

Realistically, you can’t always be in the office or available to answer the phone. You also can’t have an endless supply of receptionists in-office during those times of heavy amounts of calls coming in. The ideal solution is to have or hire someone who is responsible for answering phone calls so that each and every customer hears a live person on the line. People don’t call you because they want to talk to your voicemail. A voicemail can’t solve their problem or field their question. A person can.

However, if you’re going to utilize a voicemail system instead of one of the many other call management options out there, then you have to be sure you’re doing it correctly, or else you risk losing potential business.

The key here is that if you have voicemail, then use it, and use it correctly. You just may be doing it wrong and not even know it.

use an answering service or let go to voicemail

Leaving a Voicemail

When you hear voicemail in terms of small business, you likely think of the ones that you receive and have to check. While they’re important in their own right, another big part of business is leaving a voicemail. We all have cell phones with voicemail these days, and you surely know the struggle of receiving a voicemail from two different types of people:

The one who likes to talk. A lot.

You miss the call at 7 p.m., and at 7:05 p.m. you get an alert that you have a voicemail. That means that you have a 5 minute recording. Chances are, the information that needs to be communicated is in the final 15-20 seconds of that recording. So, you sit through a 5 minute voicemail recording of nonsense, just to get that piece of info at the end.

The one who doesn’t give you enough information

Some people don’t understand voicemail. They just say “it’s me”, and hang up. Or you miss a call from someone very important from whom you’ve been expecting a call and they say “I have something really important to tell you. Call me back.” And so begins the game of phone tag, when they honestly probably could have told you that information on the recording.

Yes, these are both examples of personal calls, but similar instances happen frequently in business. Someone calls and leaves a lengthy message, or better yet a two-parter because their first message reached the length limit, and you don’t get much information from it. Or, you get a voicemail from a customer who gives you no information at all.

Learn from the pet peeves that you have surrounding voicemail practices. If you find it to be counterproductive, then it will be for others.

 is voicemail worth it?

Is it worth it to leave a voicemail at all?


Will it be listened to? Who knows. But you are 100% guaranteed to not get a return phone call when you don’t leave a message. So, take the few seconds and leave a message. Literally, it’s only a few seconds of your time.

When calling a customer, or anyone, the ideal message length is under 30 seconds. If the answer to a question can be left on the voicemail, then leave it. If it’s very confidential, then of course be cautious of what information that you leave.

Your voicemail should cover the following.

  • Your name – Be sure to say your name clearly. Because you give your name many times throughout the day, you might start to unintentionally say it too quickly. This can make it inaudible. If you have a very long first name that’s non-traditional, use a shortened form.
  • Your company name – You’d be surprised at how many people forget to leave the name of the company that they’re calling from. You’re less likely to get a phone call back from someone if they don’t recognize the business you’re from.
  • A brief reason for your call – Quickly establish why you’re calling or how you became connected to the person you’re calling. If the purpose of your call is to obtain missing information, say that. Mention it if you’re calling to follow up with them about a conversation you had a week ago. Or, if the reason you’re calling is lengthy, refine and summarize it before you make the phone call. Prevent yourself from rambling on while trying to identify a reason on the spot.
  • Your phone number – Give your phone number three times. It might seem a bit like overkill, but think back to the last time you got a voicemail with a phone number that you needed to take down. How many times did you have to play back the message to get the number? The first time you give your number, the person will be searching for a pen. The second time, they’ll be half paying attention and planning on rewinding the message. The third time they’ll be thanking you for giving it to them a third time.
  • When you can be reached – If you’re going to be out of the office, give quick instructions on how to get in touch with you. Whether it’s leaving a message and you’ll be checking them, or phoning your receptionist or colleague to get in touch with you, fill the person in on how to get you.
  • A quick overview of your contact information – Just your name, company, and phone number.

ALL of that?!

It sounds like a lot. It looks like a lot. But all of this can be recorded effectively in 30 seconds or less. It should sound something like:

“Hi Mrs. Anderson, this is Julie Smith from XYC Inc. I’m calling just to follow up with you regarding the conversation we had last week about upgrading your services. You can reach me at area code 267-555-5555. That’s 267-555-5555. Again, 267-555-5555.  I’m heading home for the day, but just give me a call back and leave a message and I’ll call you tomorrow. Once again, Julie Smith, XYZ Inc, 267-555-5555.”

Your message is short, exact, and to the point. You don’t have to say a lot for a message to have an impact. Also keep in mind that a large number of people use “Speech to Text” technology that enables their voicemails to be transcribed. It’s been found that the accuracy of the message transcription is best when the voicemail is under 32 seconds. So, keep it short to ensure that your message is received accurately by the person you’re calling or by the computer, whichever is really doing the listening.

setting up your voicemail

Recording Your Voicemail Greeting

Twenty years ago, recording messages on our answering machines was different. We would spend a good chunk of time leaving a message, playing it back, and then re-recording it to ensure that it was perfect. Around the holidays, it was common to hear various themed messages set to the tune of popular Christmas songs. Needless to say, times have changed and leaving long, extremely detailed recordings isn’t necessary.

Much like leaving a voicemail, your voicemail greeting should be as short as possible while providing the necessary information that customers need. A large amount of the content of your greeting will depend on company standards and policies. You may be required to leave specific instructions or a confidentiality disclaimer.

However, for the most part, you should aim to keep your greeting between 25-30 seconds or less.

The information that should be covered on your greetings is:

  • Name – Spoken clearly so that the customer can understand who he/she is reaching
  • Company name – This will cut down on the instances of customers who have the wrong number from leaving a voicemail. Once they hear that they’re reaching XYZ inc. instead of ABC Associates, they’ll likely disconnect the call.
  • Status – Many internal phone systems have the option to have an “Out of the office” recording or “On the other line” recording depending on what the circumstances are. It’s absolutely worth it to test call your desk to see what customers hear. That said, disclose whether you’re out of the office/away from your desk.
  • Directions for leaving a message – If you wish for the customer to contact another employee, say that. If you want them to leave you a message, say that. Also include what information you want from them. (Name, Phone Number, Account Number, etc.) Whatever will make it easiest for you to return the call.
  • When you will return the call – While you obviously can’t give a date and a time, you should be able to estimate when they will get a return call. For example, if you typically return calls on the next business day, then let the caller know that that’s when they can expect a call.
  • Closing – Just saying “bye” isn’t going to cut it. It’s more appropriate to say “Thank you for calling” or “Have a nice day” as a closing.

Which would result in something like this:

“You’ve reached the desk of Bob Smith with XYZ Inc. I’m away from my desk at the moment, so please leave your name, telephone number, and the best time to reach you at the tone. I will return your phone call within 24 hours. Thanks so much for calling, and have a great one!”

The key is to leave a structured, short greeting without sounding scripted. It should lay out what you need the customer to do while still remaining friendly.

listening to voicemails

Checking Your Voicemail

You should be sure to check your voicemail at least once per day. The time in which you’ll be available to do so will be determined by the workflow at your place of business. For some, checking voicemail in the morning proves to be most effective for them. It allows them to schedule calls throughout the day, and then not have to worry about voicemail later in the day. Others like to do voicemail at the close of the day in order to tie up any loose ends before ending the day.

Take special note to arrange a time for yourself to check your voicemail based on what you promise in your voicemail recording. If you take the approach of saying that you answer calls within one business day, then it’s even more important that you stick to a strict voicemail schedule. You don’t want any voicemail to fall through the cracks and end up at the end of the queue, when they were one of the first to come in.

If someone else is assigned voicemail duty

If you have a secretary or other coworker assigned to your voicemail, put into place a protocol of how you want your voicemail handled. Do you want to get each and every voicemail reported to you? If not, which ones can be handled before they arrive to you, and which do need to make it to your attention. A recommendation would be to have a master excel spreadsheet or shared document in which your coworker or receptionist is able to notate all voicemail so that you can view them at any given time and determine in which order you’d like to handle.

The point here is to develop a clear, concise protocol for checking your voicemail that you strictly adhere to. This will also take away that incessant urge to check your voicemail as soon as an alert hits your phone, thereby allowing you to be more productive throughout your work day.

Apply this to your small business

Voicemail is still here. It’s still active. And believe it or not, it’s still completely relevant to business. It wouldn’t be surprising if the businesses who claim that it’s not effective are the same businesses that are making it a practice to hang up rather than leaving a voicemail. Again, no one can guarantee that your voicemail is going to be returned. However, there is no chance that you’ll get a call back if you don’t leave one.

Whether you’re leaving a voicemail, recording a greeting, or returning a voicemail, remember to do it right to maximize the effectiveness of your efforts.

Give this a try

Whether you’re leaving an outgoing message for your voicemail box or leaving a message on someone else’s, remember to always include

  • Name
  • Company Name
  • Reason for calling/status (like out of office)
  • When you can be reached

And if you’re leaving the message, always repeat your callback number. Three times is the best number!