Who answers your business phone when you're not in the office? Like most homebased entrepreneurs, if you use an answering machine or voice-messaging system, be aware that the greeting your callers hear says more about you than just "leave a message."
"That announcement may be the first contact someone has with your company," says Mickey Adams-Grames, president of financial and business management consulting and training firm ML Adams & Associates in Salt Lake City. "First impressions are what it's all about. If you don't sound professional, the caller may not leave a message or may not call back."
It's not necessary to sound like you're a major corporation, Adams-Grames stresses. But it is important to sound like you run a serious, legitimate operation. She offers these tips for effective voice-mail greetings:
· Write a script. Don't try to record off the top of your head. Write a script that covers all the points you want to make in a concise format. Practice it so you can record without any awkward pauses or stumbles.
· Be friendly, but avoid being cute. Speak in a warm, friendly voice that lets your personality show through, but don't try to be cute or funny--it's not professional, and it could easily backfire.
· Change your message frequently. People with flexible schedules should change their announcement daily so the information is always current and accurate.
· Let callers know when you'll be available. If you won't be able to return calls for several hours or even until the following day, say so in your announcement so customers aren't left wondering when they'll hear from you.
· Tell callers how to skip the message. If your system has the feature that allows callers to bypass the greeting by pressing the star (*) or pound (#) key, include that in your announcement.
· Include your fax number. Some callers may just want to send you a fax. If your greeting tells them how to do it, you won't need to call them back.
· Provide alternate contact information. If you carry a pager or a cell phone and don't mind taking calls while you're out of the office, include that number in your greeting. An alternative is a system that automatically pages you when someone leaves a message, so you can quickly decide how soon to return the call.
· Include seasonal messages. Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, start your greeting with "happy holidays." For greetings that indicate you're closed for long weekends such as Memorial Day or Labor Day, end your message with a wish for a safe and happy holiday.
ML Adams & Associates
Jacquelyn Lynn left the corporate world more than 12 years ago and has been writing about business and management issues from her home office in Winter Park, Florida, ever since.