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?


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