Five Most Frustrating Voice Mail Phrases

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

Voice mail remains a large frustration in this busy business world. It’s not just voice mail, the automated attendant is also on the list. In an effort to help reduce voice mail frustration, here are the five most frustrating phrases that callers don’t want to hear.

1) I’m not at my desk right now: Duh! That’s not news. Let your callers know where you are – not where you’re not. Tell them, “I am in the office all this week” or “I’m in a sales meeting till 3 pm.” Let them know if you will be checking your messages.

2) Your call is very important to me: When hearing this, the caller is thinking, “Well, if I’m so darn important, where the world are you?” Then again, think about it. Maybe the call isn’t so important to you. You just don’t need this phrase.

3) I’m sorry I missed your call: Leave this phrase out! It’s a given. Use the time and space for something more valuable. Like where you are and when you will return! Or, tell callers who they can call for immediate assistance.

4) I’ll call you back as soon as possible: Not interesting and not fun; and according to our Telephone Doctor surveys, probably not true. The truth is, most people aren’t returning their phone calls in a timely fashion. If you’re telling your callers you’ll call them back, make sure you do. Unreturned phone calls rank high on the frustration list. “As soon as possible” is not an effective phrase. All you need is to say, “I will call you back.” Then do it! (Or have it returned on your behalf.)

5) No escape: Remember to tell callers to press zero for the operator if they need more information. Better yet, give them another name and extension. The main point here is to offer an alternative if you’re not there. Plus, you’ve bought back some time to say something interesting or helpful to the caller.

In general voice mail has three parts – the automated attendant, the greeting your callers hear, and the message you leave for someone on their voice mail.

1) The Automated Attendant: The first voice you hear when you call a company sets the mood and tone for all future interactions. Then why would you leave a robotic, monotone, dull voice to greet your callers? You can rerecord it in a style and voice that says, “We’re so glad you called.” You want a greeting that is warm and friendly.

20 The Greeting: People want to know where you are – not where you’re not! Also, leave an escape for the caller. As for “dating” your recording with the day and date, you might want to think twice on this. An outdated greeting was high on the list of voice mail no, nos! Play it safe and do not use a day and date.

3) The Message: Here are three examples of messages:

  • Poor Message: Hi this is Bob. Gimme a call.
  • Average Message: Hi this is Bob at Acme Widgets. Call me at
  • Great Message: Hi Nancy. This is Bob Smith, at Acme Widgets. I’d like to talk about the plan for the meeting on the 27th. I’ll plan on having lunch brought in at our office. I’m at 314 – that’s central time in St. Louis, Missouri – 314-291-1012. Again, that’s 314-291-1012. If I’m not in, ask for JUDY, at extension 42 and leave a message with her for me there. Thanks.

Let’s not make voice mail any more difficult than it really is. Voice mail can and should be a productivity enhancer. It was installed to answer on the first ring, and expedite a phone call. That being said, it’s still a big frustration in the business world. Make it less frustrating for your callers! Now that you’ve read this article, trying calling into your own voice mail system and see how many of these frustrating phrases you use and then eliminate them.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training. She can be reached at 314-291-1012 or by visiting

[From the June/July 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]