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Peter Post Etiquette at work

Even as voice mail use dwindles, rules apply

About a year ago, I stopped leaving my daughter voice mail messages on her cellphone. It had become quite apparent that she never listened to them. Instead, she simply noticed that she had a missed call from me, and she called back.

So, I wasn’t surprised to see an article on USA ­Today’s online edition about the decline of voice mail usage. A survey by Vonage, an online phone company, found that the number of voice mails being left on Vonage user accounts is down about 8 percent from a year ago and people are listening to voice mails that are left for them less often. PCMAG.com picked up on the story and in a post, “Is Voicemail Dead?” asked readers to take a survey. The results so far: 23 percent of respondents leave messages quite often, 47 percent not that much, and 27 percent never.

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Voice mail is a victim of advances in technology. Texting and IMing are replacing voice mail messages. And my daughter’s object lesson showed me that it’s easier to notice a missed call and simply call back and have me explain what I wanted.

All this got me thinking about business voice mail. Is it succumbing to the same fate? I can say people are leaving fewer business voice mail messages. But they still leave them. Effective messages have several key components:

Before you call, take a moment to think about what you will say if you get voice mail. Your message will be more succinct, and you will sound more professional.

Speak clearly and slow down.

Start by identifying yourself, your company, and your phone number, then add a brief one or two sentence purpose for your call.

End by repeating your phone number s-l-o-w-l-y and clearly.

On the recipient’s side of the message:

Listen to your messages. Don’t ignore them.

Reply as quickly as possible, even if it’s only to let the caller know you received the message and will get back to him later.

Respond via text message or e-mail when in a place where making a call is inappropriate.

Finally, think carefully about whom you are communicating with and their preferences. I know some people who respond much more quickly to me if I ­e-mail them, others if I text them, and still others if I call and, if needed, leave a voice mail.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.
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