Voicemail Etiquette 101

Say What?

I work in customer service at an office. Everyday I struggle through voicemail messages in an attempt to return everyone's call in a timely manner. I have to tell you what I've learned. A lot of people simply do not know how to leave a voicemail message.

Let me let you in on a secret: if I can't hear your message, I can't call you back! You would think something so basic would need no explanation. However, that is just not the case. Please... I am begging you... please read this and keep these tips in mind the next time you leave a message.

I present to you a number of examples of messages gone wrong:

The Speedy Number Message

I will never understand this particular type of message. The caller usually begins the message with their name and then a great deal of rambling. Often, I am told so much information I am thinking I may doze off before the message is over. Finally, just as the message is coming to a close, that is when the caller decides to speed things up and blurts out their phone number faster than I can even blink.

I understand it is your phone number and, therefore, you are quite familiar with it. The problem is, I am not. That was the most important part of that message. Now I can't call you back. I understand everything else you told me (probably a little too much info), but I can't call you back. So please remember, take a moment, slowly state your phone number, pause, and perhaps even repeat the number.

The Mumbler

Come on, you know who you are! Take a few moments before calling and do what you need to do. Maybe you need to clear your throat. Maybe you are chewing a wad of bubble gum that you need to spit out. Maybe you need to put down the cigarette. I am really not sure. I just know I can't understand a single word in your message. Hitting the rewind button twenty times on the phone is not really the way I want to spend my morning, so please, have mercy!

The Chewer

Along the same lines as The Mumbler, there is an equally annoying caller: The Chewer. The Chewer likes to call while on his or her lunch break and multitask. I understand everyone is very busy in today's world, but that does not mean you should chew your food while leaving a message.

If you call during your lunch break, chances are, everyone else is on their lunch break, too. You are probably going to have to leave a message. Take a brief moment from the excitement that is your turkey and cheese sandwich, and leave a clear message. It is completely rude to chew over the phone. I don't care if you are chewing in my ear when I pick up the phone or if you are burping and chewing your way through a voicemail message - it is disgusting. Stop doing it!

The Disturbing Sound Effects Call

For the life of me, I can't even begin to imagine what is going on in the background of some of these messages. Are they slaughtering pigs in the background? Is someone calling from a daycare center where every single child decided to simultaneously start crying? What is going on? Sometimes I fear for the safety of some of these callers.

So please, go to a location where I can hear you. If you are driving, pull over. If you have a screaming child, calm them down first.  Seriously, sometimes I don't know if I should call you back or dial 911 first.

The Confused Caller

When you call a business, please double check to make sure you are calling the right business. You might want to note what name the voicemail greeting states before you leave the message. That would be a pretty clear indication as to whether you've dialed the number correctly.

Just today I listened to a voicemail message from someone who clearly left a message with the wrong company. He left the message for someone that does not work at our office and for a service we do not provide. The best part was that he said to contact him using the number we have on file. Sorry, pal. Try again.

The Swift Recall

When you leave a message, please give me the opportunity to listen to it and call you back. Keep in mind, there was a reason why I did not pick up the phone the first time. I was most likely busy, and chances are, if you call back two minutes later, I am still busy. If you call back two minutes after that, you are super annoying. I am going to be quite a bit less than chatty and not so very happy to help you by the time I can call you back. You may want to remember that.

On a side note, if I call you back and leave you a message, check your voicemail before you call me back. Chances are, I gave you the answer and you don't even need to call back. Also, it doesn't look so great if my boss happens to pick up the phone and you claim I never called you back when, in fact, you simply did not check your messages. That is not going to earn you any brownie points with me either.

The Unreasonable After Hours Caller

One of the most frustrating messages to receive is the person who calls after business hours, but is terribly angry when no one answers the phone. I am sorry we were open all day long, yet your problem wasn't major enough to call before 5 o'clock. I work at an office, not a 24 hour Super Walmart.

If you are angry and an office is not open, do not leave a grumpy voicemail message. Take a deep breath, calm down, and leave a rational message. Better yet, take some time to determine if perhaps you can figure out the problem on your own. Give it a try to call us back during business hours the next day if it doesn't work out for you.

The Exceptionally Needy Customer

One voicemail message that always confuses me is the message with an obvious answer. Someone will call and leave a message saying something like, "I am trying to figure out your fax number so I can fax an urgent message to you. Please call back." I won't get the voicemail message for perhaps an hour or so, and then I get the chance to call back. By that time, anyone working at an office could easily do an online search and find out the fax number. Has the caller done that? No, of course not. Instead, the caller has eagerly sat by the phone waiting for someone to call back as opposed to taking some initiative and finding that information.

Guess the message wasn't so urgent after all if you couldn't bother to find the obvious answer on your own. Next time, if your message is as an important as you indicate, take a few moments to solve your own problem. Chances are, in the time it took you to leave the voicemail message, you could have figured it out on your own. Imagine how proud you will be next time when you find out you can be a self-sufficient adult!

A Parting Message (Get It? Message? Nevermind.)

I hope I've been able to help out at least a few readers. I know, we all make mistakes. I am sure I've left some pretty terrible voicemails myself. Just be aware, my friends, and try your best. That is all I ask. It makes my job just a little easier.


Copyright ©2011 Jeannieinabottle



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Comments 31 comments

Kristen Haynie profile image

Kristen Haynie 5 years ago from Modesto, CA

Great advice! People just don't think about how their message might sound to the listener. I spent the last few years working in an office, and I was amazed by some of the messages people expected me to decipher! Voted up!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Thanks for the vote and the comment! I can't believe some of the crazy stuff I've heard on the office voicemail. Someone left a message once with just a recording of the song, "Iko Iko." It sounded like they did it on purpose. Another person left a message of just a dog barking. What is wrong with people?


James Halpin profile image

James Halpin 5 years ago from York, Pennsylvania

Yes! Always repeat the number and say it slowly and it goes both ways to. I was trying to get a hold of a guy to fix our water pump for the well. He called back and gave me his cell phone number since he's never in the office. I literally had to listen to the message ten times to get the number.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

The fast talkers are really hard to deal with as far as voicemail goes. Sometimes I think I am going to scream when listening to messages. Thanks for reading and commenting on so many of my hubs!


Stephanie Henkel profile image

Stephanie Henkel 4 years ago from USA

I think I've had to listen to every one of these rude people at one time or another. Another thing that makes me crazy is when you are calling a business and have to leave a message for a particular person by going through 16 different transfers. The person calls you back when your phone is busy and leaves a message without leaving a direct number so you have to go through it all again... only to reach their voice mail again... Great article! If only people would read it before ever leaving a message on your answering machine!


Ardie profile image

Ardie 4 years ago from Neverland

I loved reading this because my husband breaks all your rules in every message he ever leaves anyone...not just me hahah I make fun of him for it all the time. His phone number always sounds like a car zipping past! I tell him to sloooooow down :) then he just gives me the evil eye!


Austinstar profile image

Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

I just love answering machines! Especially when they have a glitch and cut you off in the middle of leaving a phone number or message.

I especially enjoy calling my doctor's office and being told to call 911 - If it is an emergency, I will certainly call 911 first. Are people that ignorant of what to do in an emergency?

Even better is the voice mail messages that important people leave when you have gone through 10 forwards and all they say is to call back at the same number you started with. Too much fun!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Stephanie - Oh yes, I feel you on the transfer issue. People need to leave their direct line in phone messages. Honestly, I am guilty of not doing that, but that is because I am usually the only person picking up the main line anyway, so it doesn't matter. Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!

Ardie - I am starting to wonder if I've heard some voicemail messages from your husband. Hehe. Even if he wants to blurt out the phone number as fast as possible, he can do that as long as he repeats it. Sigh. Thanks for dropping by!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Austinstar - There are so many frustrating aspects to voicemail and answering machines. Those are really good points.

I know what you mean about people leaving the number you started with in the voicemail greeting. People are forever calling me first, I transfer them to the person they need to speak to, that person won't pick up the phone, then they end up back with me. I have to explain, "I've already talking to you and we already determined I could not help you. Sorry." I wish people would pick up their phones in their offices!


iamaudraleigh 4 years ago

Oh, how I hate telephones! Great subject for a hub...will share it with my sister!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

I know what you mean! Since I am on the phone all the time at my job, I hate them, too! Thanks for sharing with your sister and thanks for the comment.


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

As a business owner, I understand totally all these points. good hub. UP and shared!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

I am glad we are on the same page on this one. I just wish more people would leave voicemail messages I can understand. Thanks for the vote up and sharing!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 4 years ago from The Caribbean

Really good hub. We don't always think before we leave the message, but thinking of the person who has to answer might help. Voted up and useful.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Thank you, MsDora. It is really in everyone's best interest to leave a good message. It helps the person leaving the message, as well as the person that has to respond to it. Thanks for the votes up!


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

here's the type of voicemail i want: "HI. This is so and so and I'm interested in your service. Please call me back at your earliest convenience. My number is. Once again, this is so and so and my number is"

That's it. speak clearly, be brief, hang up, give me at least one day to respond.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

That is the perfect voicemail message. My one addition to that would be if they mentioned in one sentence the reason for the call. I like being able to pull up a person's record and do some pre-investigating before I call back. It saves so much time. This is especially the case if that person needs a totally different department. I can just send the message to that department so I don't waste time calling and not being able to help and sending them to another voicemail.

Thanks for the comment and the suggestion. Maybe people will actually read this and leave better messages now. :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

jeannie... thanks. I understand the need for a sentence, though i don't need one because the service I offer is for my own editing/proofreading business so I can find out specifics when I call them back :)


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Yes, that makes sense. You are calling them back no matter what. :-)


PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

PDXKaraokeGuy 4 years ago from Portland, Oregon

yes, unless the call begins with "we are calling to collect a debt"


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

This is true. It is best to ignore those. ;-)


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

A lot of these problems arise because the caller think they're talking to another person who can interactively ask for clarification. Of course, you've pointed out, this isn't true and leaves room for too much error. Great tips. Voting this Up and Useful.


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 4 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Thanks so much, alocsin. I work in customer service and I am so frustrated on a daily basis by people that have no idea how to leave a message. I still get messages with 3 minutes of rambling and then no phone number. Sigh. Thank you for sharing this hub! I hope to reach as many people as possible with this information. :-)


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

Well said, Jeannie! Especially the phone number that's said so fast it can't be deciphered. Great hub! Voted up and more!


NotAnother profile image

NotAnother 3 years ago from Ohio, United States

I think that I do a lot of these things, actually. I was never really taught any different. Thank you for writing this!


pinto2011 profile image

pinto2011 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

Hi Jeannieinabottle! It is great to get such hubs to read as I am always awry of going through voice mail and this is really going to help me a lot.


Alecia Murphy profile image

Alecia Murphy 3 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

I wish we could print this and mail this to people who have no idea about voicemail etiquette. Great tips Jeannie!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

Victoria Lynn - Thanks so much for the vote up and comment! The phone number message that is too fast is one of my biggest pet peeves.

NotAnother - Uh-oh... well, I am happy I could help you. It is funny... there really are no voicemail classes taught anywhere, so many people leave these type of messages. It is pretty normal. Thanks for your comment!

pinto2011 - Thanks so much! I am happy to help you out.

Alecia Murphy - Hahaha... maybe that isn't such a bad idea. One day, people will learn... I hope. Thanks for your comment!


danicole profile image

danicole 3 years ago from United States

what about the person that doesn't leave messages: the no messager????


Victoria Lynn profile image

Victoria Lynn 3 years ago from Arkansas, USA

danicole--I hate it when people don't leave a message. Was it even that important? Sometimes I screen my calls. Leave a message, people Are you that in a hurry? Surely you have time to leave a message!


Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannieinabottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD Author

I never mind that much when the person does not leave a message. If there is no message, I don't have to call them back. That makes me happy at work... less for me to do. However, it does annoy me when people do that with my home phone.

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