Phone and voicemail manners, R.I.P.

Why, Alex?  Why?

Those are my words to Mr. Alexander Graham Bell. You see, Mr. Bell may have been quite the genius in his work with the telephone, but he made one critical error: he didn’t ensure that each phone came with a guide to phone and voicemail manners.  I suppose I could let that slide if instead everyone who wanted to use a phone had to pass a rigorous test first.  But, no…that didn’t happen either.  But, of course, Mr. Bell is no longer with us (surprising, I know), so he does not have to bear the burden of today’s troublesome lack of phone and voicemail etiquette.

I’ll admit that there is one particular class of voicemail that irks me the most.  It’s the message that makes me wake up in a cold sweat.  It even makes me want to choke my telephone, even though I know that the person who left the message will never feel it (why didn’t you make that a feature too, Mr. Bell?).  Sit down, brace yourselves, and hide the kids: here is the message I despise most…

“Hey buddy, it’s me.  Call me back!”

Seven words.  Seven painful words.  One ridiculous message.  Four seconds of someone’s sharpened nails scratching across a chalkboard.  To be fair, however, I should actually explain why I find this just so irritating.

Part of my job involves providing technical support to hundreds of employees in a number of different offices (some local to me, some remote).  I receive phone calls dozens of times in a given day.  The biggest issue that I have with calls like the one I just mentioned, is that they are not respectful of my time.  How so?  Let me explain by citing an example from the other end of the spectrum…

“Hey, this is Frank from Payroll.  I have an error message on my computer that says ‘system error 12345 has occurred–contact support’.  It seems like it happens every time I try and print paychecks to the printer in my office.  I don’t need to run the checks until tomorrow at 3, so if you could get with me before then it would be most appreciated.  Thanks!”

Ah, I feel more appreciated already.  This message is admittedly much longer, but the length itself is not what makes me appreciate messages like this more than my aforementioned bane.  Let’s examine a few points that help make this message better.

Firstly, the message was very clear about who was calling.  True, I could navigate the menus on my phone to find the caller ID from any message, but should I have to?  Doing that takes time that I simply don’t care to spare needlessly.

Secondly, it described as clearly as possible the problem that the user was having.  I don’t expect every user to be able to articulate their problem like a scholar, but I do appreciate it when they are able to provide me with at least a rudimentary description. With that, I would be able to do specific research before I called them back.  You see, my ideal situation is to have one or more solutions in mind and ready before I call them back.  I shouldn’t have to call once to get details, then hangup and do my research, then call them back.  In my example, they also provided details about the steps they took leading up to the error message.  That may prove invaluable in ferreting out the solution in my research.

Having this information also allows me to triage my support cases.  Helping someone who can’t print payroll checks ranks much higher in importance than helping someone who can’t get their background to change to a picture of their new kitten.  Without the pertinent details, I would have to call this person immediately in order to find out what their issue is.

Thirdly, they were respectful of my time.  They did indicate that they had a deadline, but they gave me some time to get back with them, perhaps appreciating that I may be neck-deep in another issue at this time.

Lastly, they were appreciative of my time and assistance.  Slavery was outlawed a long time ago.  A respectful voicemail message does not assume that I am some kind of caged tech support pet that only exists to serve the person on the other end of the phone.  Respect is humanizing, and appreciates that I may be working on other issues which are more important.  Respect appreciates help, not demands it.

So, now do you see my dilemma?  The rude voicemail message insists that I call immediately.  It doesn’t tell me why I should, nor does it allow me to prepare for whatever revelations await me.  It assumes that whatever I may be working on is not nearly as important as what this person wants, and that by extension they are better at managing my time than I am.

I am currently building the nerve to change my voicemail greeting.  I want to include something like this…

“Any messages which simply request me to call back without providing any details will be deleted immediately.”

Is that too harsh?  I don’t think so.  I think it will help me to be more efficient.  I think it will help me to not disdain the voicemail light on my phone any longer.  I think I can even come to love Mr. Bell once again (yes, I know he didn’t invent voicemail…just work with me here, ok?).

Am I the only one who receives these messages? Is it just me? What are your most-hated voicemail messages like?