Really? I last called you an hour ago. Have they changed since then? How about I hang up, wait 10 minutes, and call you again. Same message! Wow. I'm starting to think a lot of companies have people who do nothing, all day long, but change phone messages. Why don't they have those people answer the phone, instead? Now ask yourself: when people call you or your company, do you treat them as poorly as the companies whose phone-mazes you hate most? If so, you need to figure out how to make it pleasant, rather than irritating, for clients to call you.
When the disembodied voice says, "Our menu options have changed," it is almost certainly lying. Why would a company want to start a conversation with me by lying?
And if that lie isn't bad enough, how about the one where they claim, "Your call is very important to us." Really? Then why don't you answer it instead of making me listen to a series of chirpy taped messages?
For some years my home/office answering message said, "Do not listen carefully to this message. It hasn't changed in over 10 years. When you hear a beep, leave a message. (BEEP!)
Some of my friends now have phone messages that say something like, "I can't get to the phone right now. You know what to do." Obviously, if you have a three-digit IQ, or even one in the high two-digit range, you are going to leave a message after the beep, right?
I believe an "I'm not here" phone message should be as brief as possible. "This is Robin Miller. I can't talk right now. Please leave a message," gets the point across in very few words. I've told you who I am, in case you don't know me well enough to recognize my voice, I've told you I can't talk right now, and I've invited you to leave a message. If you know enough to include your phone number and the best time to call, along with perhaps a few words telling my what you want to talk about, I probably need to talk with you -- or at least should call you as a basic courtesy.
The best piece of phone etiquette is simple: answer the darn thing whenever you can. If you're driving and you're someplace it would be dangerous or illegal to talk on your phone, don't. And I think we all understand that there are times when you are involved in activities that preclude paying attention to your telephone. But as a general rule, try to be as available as possible, as much of the time as possible.
'Paging Mr. Miller... long distance for Mr. Miller'
Once upon a time a bellman at the Beverly Hills Hotel paged me, then brought a phone to my poolside lounge chair on a silver tray. That was a very lah-di-dah moment in my life -- that took place over 35 years ago, and probably will never be repeated. And since anyone who can afford to buy even a single domestic beer in The Polo Lounge these days has a cell phone, chances are slim that a natty hotel bellman will ever page you for a phone call. Times change -- and not necessarily for the better.
And long distance? Kids, you aren't going to believe this, but once upon a time, it cost real money to call Los Angeles from New York, so when a long distance call came in you dropped what you were doing to answer it. Now I casually pick up my (cell) phone and chat with my friend Mayank in New Delhi as casually as I once chatted with a neighbor a few blocks away.
Long distance has lost its power.
And so has poor phone etiquette. When big companies first started replacing live phone operators with automation, the idea was met with shock and awe. Now it is merely irritating.
If you have your own company, or you are a self-employed freelancer or consultant, one of the most customer-pleasing moves you can make is to answer your phone as much of the time as possible, and to return calls as soon as you can if (as will inevitably happen) an important call comes in while you are unable to answer your phone.