Although not everyone likes it, voice mail is an essential tool. Used properly, it can help you better communicate with and serve your clients. To avoid frustrating clients, consider the following points for handling incoming calls from our Managing a Better Professional Services firm booklet,:

  • Give callers the option to leave a traditional message: If your calls go through a receptionist, give the caller the option of leaving either a traditional message or a message on voice mail, so that those uncomfortable with or unwilling to use voice mail are not forced to do so.
  • Be careful with call screening: If you don’t take a call after a client has been asked to identify herself you leave the impression you are avoiding the call. If you don’t want to be disturbed, put your phone on hold so the receptionist knows you are not available and can put the client directly to voice mail.
  • Do your calls really need to go through a receptionist? Most clients will prefer having your direct line.
  • Would call display help you? Many lawyers who have call display will tell you that they initially thought they would use it to avoid calls. In fact, they typically take more calls because knowing the identity of the caller allows them understand how much time will be involved in the call before they pick it up.

To be of maximum assistance to a caller, your voice mail message should:

  • be updated on a daily basis, including details of your schedule;
  • indicate when you expect to be back in the office (especially if you are away for an extended period);
  • give callers an option to transfer to a live person (your assistant or the receptionist) if they need immediate assistance;
  • encourage the caller to leave a detailed message; and
  • state your policy with respect to how quickly voice mail messages will be returned (e.g. 24 hours, by end of the next business day), unless the message indicates you are away.

When you leave a message on someone else’s voice mail, make the most of it by:

  • leaving a detailed message: give the information you want to passon or ask the questions you need answered;
    stating the date and time of your call;
  • indicating if there are specific times when you will be available for a return call; and
  • clearly and slowly stating your phone number: most people say their number much too quickly – go extra slow.
  • This helps the person understand why you called and, depending on the circumstances, will enable him to get back to you with the information you require, even if he must leave a detailed message on your voice mail. If
    used properly, voice mail can eliminate telephone tag.