Telephone Skills

by Babs Moore

Using voicemail

Within the last 20 years voicemail (and answer phones) have moved from being something of a rarity to being so commonplace that it can be frustrating when it is not possible to leave a message. Voicemail is a powerful tool when used well and can be a great time saver.

When to use voicemail

If you have the option, switch the telephone directly to voicemail when you are unable to take calls or do not want to be distracted for short periods. This is less distracting for others than if your phone keeps ringing, but should not be overused; you don’t want to create a reputation for being difficult to get hold of and it can be frustrating for your colleagues, who end up having to take additional calls on your behalf.

Using your own voicemail efficiently

A voicemail message should make it clear to the caller who they have called and when they can expect a call back. The notes below apply equally to fixed line and mobile voicemails. The various facilities should be used to the full to maximise their benefits; for example, if you have an option that allows you to leave different messages, depending on whether you are away from your telephone or engaged, then use it.

How often should the message be changed?

This depends on how accessible you are. If you are available most of the time and only likely to be away for short periods then a standard message along the lines suggested below is acceptable.


‘Hello, Sian Williams, Yellow Systems Ltd. I am sorry I am unable to take your call; please leave your message and contact details after the tone and I will call you back shortly.’

This should be changed if ‘shortly’ is going to be over a maximum of half a day, due to training, holidays or other absences.

People who are more difficult to contact and whose response time is thus more unpredictable should update messages daily (or weekly, as appropriate) giving a little more detail.


‘Hello. This is Sian Williams of Yellow Systems Ltd, on Monday the 20th. I will be away from the office until late this afternoon, so please leave a message and contact details after the tone and I will call you back as soon as I am available.’

This lets the caller know when a call back is likely. You also need to be disciplined – a daily message sounds very professional when constantly updated but lazy when out of date, and the latter does not inspire confidence.

Care must also be taken to balance the amount of information given against the risk of the message becoming too long winded and frustrating to listen to. Many systems have bypass options so that callers can avoid listening to the whole message, a facility that regular users of your voicemail can be told about.

Additionally, if the call back is unlikely to happen soon enough to meet the caller’s requirements, then give the listener other options (depending on the facilities offered by your system), such as:

  • ‘If you require to speak to someone immediately, please dial 0.’
  • ‘I will be unavailable due to a training course until Wednesday; however, if you require assistance more quickly, please contact Tony Moore on extension 123’

Larger companies may have a set policy and formats for voicemails. This can add to the professional image, but should not be too constricting.

You can use the voicemail system to increase your efficiency. If you know that you need to concentrate hard for an hour to complete a presentation, it makes sense to divert all calls to voicemail. Similarly, use voicemail if you are occupied in a meeting around your desk and would prefer not to be interrupted. However, diverting to voice mails should on no account become a default option that is used to avoid taking calls. To use voicemail this way is unprofessional, unlikely to make you popular with your colleagues and frustrates those needing to speak to you, which may include important customers.

Leaving voicemail messages

Voicemail is a time-efficient tool, enabling you to contact someone without necessarily needing to speak to them. For example, you might use it to confirm you have received a message about a meeting. If a brief message is all that is required, voicemail is usually quicker than actually speaking to someone. Moreover, voicemailing can often be done outside working hours.

When leaving a message, give your name, company name, time of message and phone number. The phone number is important as it is frustrating for the recipient to have to hunt around to find it, and even more important when they are accessing their voicemail remotely and do not have immediate access to their office based files to find the number. It is useful to include the number at the start of the call, so the recipient does not need to listen to the whole message again to catch the number. If appropriate, it can also be repeated at the end.


‘Hello. This is Angus Curtis from Box and Box at 10.30am on Friday the 10th on 01234 567890. [... actual message...] My number again is 01234 567890. Goodbye.’

A voicemail message should be clear, concise and fairly simple. If the message is complex, then send an email/fax as well and refer to that in the voicemail. Most people would prefer a written version of a complex message.

Make sure you are also clear whether you are expecting a call back or not and if so what the subject matter is. If the message just says ‘Hi Tom, it’s Graham. Give us a call’, Tom has no idea when the call was left (unless his system tells him), whether it is urgent or important or when would be a good time to call Graham back and on what number. Make it easy for the recipient.