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Creating friendly first impressions in the digital age

Who answers your business phone when you're not in the office? Like mostone-man shows, if you use an answering machine or voice-messaging system, beaware that the greeting your callers hear says more about you than just "leavea message."

Here are some tips for effective voice-mail greetings:

· Write a script. Don't try to record a message off the top of yourhead. Write a script that covers all the points you want to make in a conciseformat. Practice it so you can record without any awkward pauses or stumbles.

· Be friendly, but avoid being cute. Speak in a warm, friendlyvoice that lets your personality show through, but don't try to be cute orfunny--it's not professional, and it could easily backfire.

· Change your message frequently. People with flexible schedulesshould change their announcement daily so the information is always current andaccurate.

· Let callers know when you'll be available. If you won't be ableto return calls for several hours or even until the following day, say so inyour announcement so customers aren't left wondering when they'll hear fromyou.

· Tell callers how to skip the message. If your system has afeature that allows callers to bypass the greeting by pressing the star (*) orpound (#) key, include that information in your announcement.

· Include your fax number. Some callers may just want to send you afax. If your greeting tells them how to do it, you won't need to call themback.

· Provide alternate contact information. If you carry a pager or acell phone and don't mind taking calls while you're out of the office, includethat number in your greeting. An alternative is a system that automaticallypages you when someone leaves a message, so you can quickly decide how soon toreturn the call.

· Include seasonal messages. Between Thanksgiving and the end ofthe year, start your greeting with "Happy holidays." For greetings thatindicate you're closed for long weekends such as Memorial Day or Labor Day, endyour message with a wish for a safe and happy holiday.