Many years ago, an older and wiser school administrator said to the group, “When you’re at a conference like this, call your school. You need to experience what the public experiences when they call.” 

I was reminded of this advice recently when I called the main number for a school. After several rings, voicemail kicked in. I thought I would hear something like a pleasant, recorded voice and the following announcement: 

“Thanks for calling Babbling Brook High School, home of the Sparrows. If you’re getting this message during school hours, we’re helping another valued member of our school community. Please leave a message and someone will return your call today.” 

I got something far different. The greeting sounded like a robot from a 1960s movie, and it simply said, “UID68143… is unavailable. Please leave a message.” Some cheerful greeting, huh? 

I’ll bet neither the principal nor any member of the office staff had any idea what callers were getting. 

More Examples of Neglected Systems

At another school, I got a similar computer-generated voice but with a sophisticated telephone tree. Pressing “0” for the “operator” only resulted in a response that no operator was available. Using the dial-by-name directory resulted in my being told the entry didn’t exist. When I later got a real person and told them about my telephone tree encounter, they had no idea anything of the sort existed. 

The system was obviously installed the last time the school district upgraded its phone system. Nobody ever configured the voicemail system. Since nobody that works in the office ever called their own school, they never experienced what the public experienced. 

Then, there’s the case of the principal whose outgoing message is the voice and name of the previous principal. Changing the greeting is something that never crossed the new person’s mind. After all, when is the principal going to call his or her own personal office number? 

Then, there’s the case of the school system that recorded a telephone tree, complete with instructions not only for what number to press for what department, but the name of the person occupying that position. People come and go. Office reorganizations happen. Within a few years, not a single selection on the telephone tree was correct… not a one. 

And it’s not just schools. Calling one medical facility yielded an outgoing message telling callers about the four locations they have throughout the state. The only problem was that they closed one of those locations. They also opened another in a different town. Do you think they updated the message? Not a chance. 

The Simple Answer

Call yourself. And if you’re not the boss, call your own extension at that business. Experience what others experience. If you are the boss, call after hours and see what outgoing messages you hear.

How many extensions still have the outgoing message from the person who left the organization two years ago? How many have a “vacation message” that announces the person will be out of the office until July 14th? The only problem is it’s now August 6th and the old outgoing message is still there. How many have a computer-generated “UID68143… is unavailable” as their greeting? Callers can’t be certain they even reached the correct mailbox. Get ready for a big surprise. 

Do the people in the organization know how to create or update an outgoing message? There was an instruction manual that came with the telephone system. Did anyone think to file a copy so someone else could find it later? When the company onboards a new employee, does the manual include instructions for recording and changing the voicemail? 

There’s an often-used expression, “Technology is great… when it works.” A more accurate phrase is, “Technology is great… when we know how to work it.” That one certainly applies to voicemail.

Call your organization. You may be delighted at how professional it makes your business sound. Or, you may be surprised. But at least now, you can do something about it. 

For more on this subject, check out this post and this post.

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