I work in the mortgage industry, which means all of my work-related contact with vendors and customers is always with adults. The nature of our business is that we do the vast majority of it via phone, fax, and email, and since none of that technology is new, you’d think the average adult would be capable of using it. I’ve posted about this before, of course, and chances are, given the amount of phone calls, faxes, and email I receive, I’ll post about it again. Apparently, this is because a lot of people need a refresher course in the basic use of these things.
Item 1: Phone messages.
My outgoing voicemail message at work includes the following information:
-how often (and at what times) I check my messages
-how often (and in what priority) I return phone calls
-my usual office hours
-alternate methods of contacting me, including email and fax
-a reference to my assistant’s extension
-a request that any message be detailed
-a request that callers leave their phone number *even if they think I already have it*
-instructions on how to bypass the greeting on future calls.
What any incoming message should include:
-your name. People often sound different over the phone.
-your contact information, even if we do business on a daily basis, because it’s easier to call you if I don’t have to hunt down your number first.
-a detailed message. If you have a question, leave me the question. If there’s a number on a form that you’re unsure of, tell me, “The number on line 802 looks wrong. Why is there an admin fee and a processing fee?” Or whatever. This way, I can be prepared when I return your call, and know to have your file out, or whether I can farm the return call out to the loan officer or my assistant.
There’s a reason for every one of these things. It cuts down on people calling me five times between ten-thirty and noon, about the same thing, and it helps me (when people heed the request) to not have to waste time hunting for phone numbers. If everyone else had similar information on their outgoing messages, the business world would be a much better place. But, really, people who don’t leave their phone numbers are not the most annoying thing in my life – I expect it, just as I expect that people will tack an ‘s’ onto the end of “email” to pluralize it, even though no one would dream of doing the same thing to the word “mail.”
What does annoy me – a lot – is when people don’t leave detailed messages. It annoys me for two reasons: First, I shouldn’t have to call someone back to find out why they called me, and second, if I do call them back it’s likely I’ll get THEIR voicemail, and have to leave a message asking why they called, instead of leaving information, which is great if your goal in life is the longest ever game of phone tag, but frustrating when you’re trying to conduct business.
I had a LOT of messages like that, this week.
But worse than that, I had someone send me an email message that consisted of, “Can you call me about this lock?”
Now, locks are time-sensitive things. We can only lock loans (commit the rate, price, and terms with a lender) between nine and four on days that the stockmarket is open. (Really, between ten and four, as we don’t get the last of our rate sheets until ten. This is why I rarely go into the office before ten in the morning.) So for someone (and this was someone at a lender) to leave a message that vague was both frustrating and alarming. Did the lock request get denied? Was information wrong? Is the program being discontinued? A thousand possibilities raced through my mind.
As requested, I called the person who sent the message. As expected, I was transferred to his voicemail. I left a message telling him why I hadn’t responded the night before, when I’d be available, and asking what the problem was.
He called back while I was away from my desk, and his total return message was, “I’m back in the office. Call me.”
I returned his second call, repeating the information I’d given him before, and adding, “if you get my voicemail again, please just leave a detailed message.”
An hour later, we finally spoke, and the information imparted (there’s a max-rebate on the program in question. Our chosen interest rate would have given us pricing that exceeded the maximum, so, he changed the rate on my locksheet and locked the loan), was nothing that needed to be handled in real-time, nothing that required seventeen conversations. In fact, he could have just stuck all the information in his original email (from a send-only account – how I hate those) or phone message, and asked me to call if there was anything I had a problem with. Because he didn’t, a good portion of my day was given up, to play phone tag.
This leads me to:
Item 2: Email
-Please do not send me messages in pink text or with stationery embedded into the message. That’s all fine for email sent to your mother, but not for business.
-If you send email, please make sure people can reply to it. Send-only accounts have their places (lock confirmations, rate sheets), but not if what you are sending requires any kind of response.
-If you email me, and you aren’t a person who checks your email regularly, please include your phone number. You should never assume that people ONLY check their office email while sitting in their offices. I check mine from home, about half the time, and I don’t have ghost copies of every file sitting on the dining room table.
-If you don’t check your email regularly, don’t give me your email address. I should not have to call you to tell you to check it. I’m not your mother, after all. (And how do you function checking it only once a day, anyway?)
This is part of the reason why I hate answering the phone at home.
Of course, there are things you shouldn’t put in a message without checking first – if I’m calling someone’s workplace the first time, my initial message to them always begins with, “Hi, I’m calling about personal stuff, if you’re listening to this on speakerphone, please pick up the handset.” And then I give a five second delay before I go on. And if it’s really sensitive I’ll be as specific as I can in a message, without totally obliterating privacy and propriety.
Sometimes, I think anyone working in any kind of office setting should be required to go through a class on effective use of voicemail and email. (The latter would also include not sending cute colored text, and loopy graphics, in business mail.)
Most of the time, I wish I could just stay home and write for a living, and not have to deal with the frustrating masses who can’t use common sense.