Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The scourge of Voicemail

How did we ever get any work done before we could hide behind voicemail?

Okay, I don't actually think that - mainly because I've been operating on the flip side of the coin today, calling people for quotes and interviews for a number of magazine pieces I'm writing and hitting voicemail, after voicemail after voicemail. Actually, I did get one person directly this afternoon - and she flatly turned down my interview request.

From those on the receiver's end, it's easy to use voicemail as phone screening - never answer a call and only respond to the messages you want to. It's a lot cheaper than having to have an assistant answering your calls, and it means never being unprepared when dealing with a caller.

But it's lazy and frustrating too - and too often leaves people to communicate only by email.

I hate cold calling. When I'm requesting an interview for an article, I'll email first and set up a date and time for the call where possible or at least give a reason why I need to speak to the person before I call them. That way, I'm not having to 'sell' anything over the phone first before I get into the conversation. But the most frustrating thing is to have sent the email, perhaps set a time and date, and then reach only a voicemail. It's fine if people come back quickly....but a thorough pain in the bum if I'm left hanging on the will they/won't they return the call intrigue for the rest of the day. What's the best thing to do then? Ring again and begin to sound like a desperate stalker or wait and wait - and probably not end up talking to them at all.

I know a couple of companies that have banned voicemail. If a person's away from their desk, they have to forward their phone to someone else who can take messages. I like that idea; it maintains a personal touch in an increasingly electronic world. Email's great, but useless at sensing nuance and open to massive abuse. Voicemail is useful....but it wasn't invented as a telephone screener.

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