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A strike against voice mail from hell

Barb Hansen manages Southwest Florida Yachts Charters and pens an enjoyable monthly customer newsletter called “View From The Marina.” This month, in her often humorous style, she hits a subject that genuinely touches us all these days and, thus, merits some serious consideration. Here’s her view of the oft-dreaded automated voice phone systems:

“We just moved our fleet and offices after 30 years in the same location. One of the biggest challenges was setting up a new phone system. Now I’m all for new technology, but one thing I won’t compromise on is no “voice mail hell” here. Our customers have always had a real person to talk to and I was not about to change that.

Invariably, the mind wanders if put on hold. Who are they transferring me to? Or maybe I should have pressed “3” instead of “1” or “6” and listened to the options again? Ten minutes and still holding. I’d better put this on speaker. I’ve got work to do. Oh, of course, this is a government office. But, if I were calling to buy something, I’d hang up. Maybe I’ll just hang up anyway.

A sophisticated voice mail system may save money but it can easily turn off customers. I’ve stopped doing business with more than one company because of the lack of personal customer service. I’m not the first person to do this, I’m sure.

Here, a real live friendly person answers our phone. That call, you know, could be from a customer. I know that’s not the modern way. If you call the modern way, a friendly but automated woman’s voice — my, I have learned to hate that voice — asking if 239-656-1339 is the number I’m calling about. YES. YES. YES. I’m sorry, the voice replies, “I couldn’t quite make that out.” Arrrggggh!

With our move, I did consider what it would sound like if we got one of those fancy answering systems. Here’s my first draft:

Press 1 if you want to charter a boat.

Press 2 if you want to take a sailing or powerboating class.

Press 3 if you want to buy a sail or a power yacht.

Press 4 to confirm a reservation you have already made, but not to change the reservation or cancel it.

Press 5 if you want to change or cancel a reservation.

Press 6 if you want directions.

Press 7 if you want to know what to bring on the boat. Yes, you can bring your dog.

Press 8 if you want to learn about the cruising area. It’s beautiful!

Press 9 if you want to sign up a child for our summer day camp.

Press 10 if you have a compliment for us.

Press 11 if you have a complaint. You will then be put on hold until you get tired and hang up.

Press 12 if you are a solicitor. You will then be put on hold until you get tired and hang up.

Press 13 if want to check on the weather. It’s always beautiful.

Press 14 if you just want to talk about boats because it’s cold up north and you have nothing else to do.

Press 15 if you want to hear these options again.

For all other calls, please press 0 . . . I’m sorry, all lines are busy now. Your business is very important to us.


Here’s my decision: We’re going to keep our personal answering policy, thank you. When you call any day of the week, from 0830 to 1730 hours, a real live person will answer. I know this is not the modern way of doing business, but my gut tells me its better business.”

Hansen clearly illustrates that determining how customers or prospects are greeted when they call is no small business decision these days. She has opted for a live-friendly-person policy. How do you handle it?


3 comments on “A strike against voice mail from hell

  1. Bob

    That is a really funny menu that you described. You make a point that is significant to me.

    The automated attendant is not the worst thing in the world, as long as it’s set up well. The nice thing about modern phone systems is the massive amount of flexibility that they offer. It’s almost overwhelming. We have ours set up to ring the receptionist desk twice. Most of the time she is at the desk and can pick up the call. If she does not answer, then it goes into a menu that offers the following choices: a dial by name directory, customer service/sales, accounting, vendors/suppliers, and finally a choice to hear hours and directions. I can’t afford to have more then one receptionist, and she gets the vast majority of the calls. For the times that she gets >1 call simultaneously, or has to leave her desk for some reason, the simple menu design gets the caller to the correct person with the minimum fuss. I can watch the calls come in on a screen. The vast majority of calls that the receptionist misses, go to the dial by name directory and they usually find a sales person. I find that it’s working very well, and have not had any complaints from any customers.

    VOIP makes adding lines and additional phone numbers relatively inexpensive. I have considered adding a separate phone number for vendors/suppliers, and possibly another phone number just for accounting. That would remove a few choices from the menu and make less fuss for the customers.

    The other thing you can do with a modern system: individual call directing by Caller ID. I have one particular customer that purchases from me almost weekly. So I have the system programmed with a special route for calls from that particular phone number. It rings my phone twice, then my phone and the receptionists phone at the same time twice. If neither of us picks, the call goes directly to my VM. The VM’s get emailed to me, so I get the messages on my smartphone when I am not in the office. I have certain vendors/suppliers phone numbers directed to certain people as well. I also added my wife’s phone number to ring my phone only, and then go to VM. So that my receptionist is not answering my own personal calls.

    Modern technology can be wonderful, when it’s applied correctly.

  2. Bill

    As much as I hate automated attendants, I have been thinking about installing one just to filter out the robo calls. Something that would simply say, “if you are a human, please press 1 to speak to another human.” These annoying computer calls now account for half our incoming calls, and they are incredibly frustrating.

    (Please press one to update your Google listing) I am sure you have all heard that one.

  3. John boyt

    Norm. You are wright on. We have all our sale’s people willing to help with in 4 rings. Remember most phones have already rang ounce prior to getting to us. The phone is only the first step in Customer Service. It realy pays off in the long run.

    John Boyt

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