To voicemail or not to voicemail in your small business

One of the common things new small businesses struggle with is the issue of whether or not to route all calls to voicemail when the recipient is unavailable. This is an even bigger issue if you're a professional service provider like an attorney, consultant, headhunter, or accountant. There is more personal interaction in those lines of businesses, so the owner usually has more contact with the clients.

Business owners worry that you (the customer) are dying to talk to a real person, and that voicemail will turn you off. I had that same fear when I started my business. In the early days, I had no choice. I worked alone and if I was out, the only option was voicemail.

Then I hired a couple of employees and I jumped on the "only a human voice will do" bandwagon. I was sure that my clients wanted a real person to help them with their issues. But here's what I found. My receptionist couldn't really help my clients anyway, so all she was doing was taking a message. (The same thing voicemail would have done.) The difference with having my receptionist take the message? There was room for error!
When I decided to go back to working solo with no front desk or secretarial help, I realized that voicemail was not a big deal to my customers. My previous perception was wrong.

Here's what I did to make sure that they didn't mind. When I started working with a new client, I said something like this: I work alone and I travel a lot for meetings and document examinations. When you call my office, it's likely that you'll get my voicemail because I am gone quite often. I want you to know that I make every effort to call everyone back as soon as possible, and at the very least, I'll get back to you in one business day or less.

I found that clients were very agreeable to using voicemail because they had my word that I was listening to it regularly. And then I followed through on my promise to call them back promptly, and they saw that I was truly giving them the attention they wanted. Problem solved!

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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