What to say in a voicemail greeting

My favorite voicemail origin story goes something like this: When Gordon Matthews, a Texas Instruments employee, visited a Denver building supply company in the 1970s, he glimpsed a room full of trash bins, brimming with message slips. In a time before voicemail, Internet and Slack, it was up to secretaries and receptionists to take notes on message slips when people called for their bosses but couldn’t connect with them. This massive waste of paper and people-time inspired Mr. Matthews, an engineer, to quit his job and invent a machine for workplaces that would store and retrieve messages.

This is not to be confused with the answering machine, a hardware device that can be connected to a landline to receive and store messages, and is a key supporting player in many a romantic comedy. Voicemail systems are centralized systems where voice mail boxes are maintained for users — users could access voicemail messages from anywhere as opposed to the answering machine that you had to replay yourself. According to an interview in the Baltimore Sun, the first voice mail system required 64 telephone lines, 114 Intel 8086 microprocessors and four refrigerator-sized 200-megabyte hard drives.

3M became the first company to adopt this technology and humanity hasn’t looked back since. Businesses use voicemail technology with custom greetings (thanks to cloud pbx technology) both internally and externally, with customers, to make sure that any and all intended communication is captured.

“Hello is it us you’re looking for?”

Dear reader, you’ve probably listened to a ton of these yourself as a customer and developed an opinion of their effectiveness – to you and the business aka “Why am I telling you all this information that you can look up in your systems anyway?”

The intention of this blog is to discuss some guidelines for voicemail greetings so that your business can capture all the information you need from callers and callers don’t end up having to repeat a ton of information that is probably on file as well.

It’s best to create custom voicemail greetings for every situation and not reuse, even if it’ll be more convenient – what works for candidates calling your HR department or reception won’t work for prospects calling your sales team back or customers calling your customer service team about an issue.

What to say in a voicemail greeting

Here are some questions to consider while creating your voicemail greeting. The answers to these questions will help you create a script for your voicemail greetings.

    1. Who is this message’s intended listener? Is it a candidate, a prospect, a customer? There are two reasons the answer to this question matters: one, when you know who’s going to be the intended listener, you’ll be able to better envision the answers to the rest of the questions. Two, you’ll know what you require of them as well so that you can act and not waste time with a callback. For example, if the intended listener is a candidate, you can let the candidate know that they should mention their application number or the job posting they’ve applied for, if they want a status update.
    2. What frame of mind will they be in? This is really important because tone matters. A lot. When a frustrated customer is listening to your voicemail greeting so that they can leave you a voicemail, they will not appreciate a tone-deaf burst of cheer or a promotional message. Based on the projected frame of mind, you can tailor the tone of the message to the situation and give a good caller experience.
    3. What do you want to convey? This is the crux of the message. What do you want them to know aka “We’re not in right now”, “We have a special offer for you”…Our two cents: make it crisp. Make it memorable.
    4. What kind of information do you need from them? This will be useful, especially, in customer service situations to identify the customer and proactively uncover as much information as possible, without having to ask said customer for it. You might already have notes from previous calls but better to be safe, than sorry. We’ve found explanations really do help – try adding a line like “We need this info – account ID – so we can provide you more personalized service”
    5. What is a realistic timeframe in which they can expect a call? And we mean, realistic. WOW experiences are built by exceeding expectations so underpromise, overdeliver is the mantra of the day. Don’t promise end of day callbacks if you can’t deliver. Instead, go for something like, “If you’re listening to this on any day except Friday, our team will get back to you within 48 hours. If you’re listening to this on a Friday evening, our sincere apologies but we’ll be able to get back to you only on Monday.”
    6. What are their alternatives? This will be especially useful in your holiday voicemail greetings because you can use this message to direct customers to a staffed customer service channel where they can receive faster responses. You can also use this section to give them advice for frequently asked questions (“If you’re calling about our free T-Shirts, please leave us a voicemail with your address and size”).

When you have the answers down for each of these questions, the script should practically write itself. This might seem like more effort than you initially thought but trust us, they’re worth the effort. Voicemail greetings are oftentimes the last (or only) chance you have to make an impression so make them count.

What do you consider a must-have in a voicemail greeting? Let us know in the comments section and we’ll update the article!