On the surface, voice mail might sound like just a fancy name for an answering machine, but it's much more. Answering machines can't take calls that come in while you're on the phone. Voice mail can. Voice mail also offers added features such as multiple voice-mailboxes, pager notification and remote access.
Perhaps most important, voice mail can create the illusion that yours is a much larger company. "It can make a one-line business seem an awful lot bigger," says Lisa Harrison, business call answering product manager for Nynex, a voice-mail provider in New York City. "That can be a real boost."
Used properly, your voice mail can even serve as a sales and marketing tool. Mark Gordon, president of national voice-mail service provider American Voice Mail, based in Los Angeles, advises recording a greeting that says more than "I'm not available."
"Use it to paint a picture, no matter what you're selling, and get people to want to buy it. You're automating a tremendous amount of work this way," says Gordon, explaining that you can give your sales pitch just once, and every caller will hear it.
There are hundreds of individual voice-mail options, which can make your selection overwhelming. Essentially, however, voice-mail options fall into two categories: voice-mail services you subscribe to and systems you can purchase.