As a professional voice talent who specializes in voicing all manner of telephone applications — and as someone who’s done it for awhile — I can confess to some of it being quite formulaic. Basically, what everyone wants is a warm greeting for their callers, simple instructions as to which department people should shuffle their calls, and perhaps a courteous after-hours greeting explaining when people can call back and start the whole process again.
It becomes clear to me, though, that there are commonly heard aspects to automated phone systems which people hear all the time — and therefore, because they’re so familiar and widely heard — people are convinced they’re necessary in *their* systems…even when they just plain don’t make sense. Maybe they did at one time — but I’ve composed a list of things which I’m repeatedly asked to voice, which just plain don’t make sense — and could probably be purged from phone trees forever.
1. “Please leave your name, number, and a brief message….”
Is anyone unclear about what sort of information we should leave on a voicemail system? Has anyone *not* known what to leave in a message, and in a panic, recorded: “…so, if you could get back to me about that, it would be great. My shoe size is 8 and a half, my favorite jello flavor is lime, and my address is 10 Main Street. Thanks!” I think we all know what data is preferred in that context. And as for asking for “Brief message”? A veritable invitation for people to ramble.
2. “To end this call, please hang up.”
Watch any child playing with a toy phone (and it’s a big regret in my life that my parents didn’t snap any pictures of tiny me in my onesy playing with my googly-eyed Fisher-Price phone — talk about a demo CD cover! But, I digress…) and what do children do when they’re finished talking? They hang up. Every time. They don’t need to be told. Neither do your callers.
3. “Our website is: WWW….”
I’m going to play the “Caller is Smarter Than You Think” card, and send this out: I think we all know — by now — that most web domains start with “WWW” — correct? I remember the first time I had to say “WWW” in a radio commercial, and thinking: “This is impossible to say smoothly”. It’s become so automatic now, that’s it’s effortless for most people to say — and it’s taken for granted that if you’re talking about a website, most will automatically begin with “WWW”. Unless your web address has a different log-in protocol, and your site begins with “WWW”, you’re safe in just writing “Visit our website at angrysquirrel.com for a full listing of our prices and services.” It flows better; plus lopping off the “WWW” cuts down on time, which is all important for radio copy.
4. “We Are Experiencing a Higher-Than-Normal Call Volume..”
So, if I’d called ten minutes earlier, I would have gotten straight through to the CEO? I don’t believe it. Especially when you encounter the message during off hours. Most times when I’m asked to record that phrase, it’s a part of the company’s main IVR greeting — it’s not swapped in during the busy times and swapped out for a “Normal Call Volume” message. I maintain that it’s a device to make the company “feel” bigger to you; to make you feel grateful that even got through, and to make you more tolerant of your time on hold. (Plus, writing: “We’re short of call center staff” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.)
5. “Please listen carefully, as our options have recently changed…”
Chances are, if your callers have called in on a regular basis, they’re probably pretty safe in simply pressing the extension they’re accustomed to, even if there are minor tweaks to the voicemail (and those are usually due to staff changes; it’s unusual for entire departments to have their extensions completely re-assigned.) What I actually frequently *want* to record is: “Please listen carefully, and our extensions have NOT recently changed; I just worked really hard recording these!”)
I think it’s possible to design a phone system which gets the job done — welcomes, sorts, informs, and thanks — and have it written in such a way that it *reads* conversationally…and can therefore be read in a natural, candid way which avoids formulas and cliches.
Thanks for your patience while I took some time off for the Holidays — I look forward to an exciting 2010 of blogging about the telco industry!
Next blog: I will explain the basics of VoIP — that’s Voice over Internet Protocol — and why it’s revolutionizing the telephony industry.
Thanks for reading, and feel free to leave me some comments!