Thursday, September 5, 2013

Subtle, Unintentional Messages

News flash of the day--Cell phones are important to business. Everyone in real estate has a cell phone that is the nerve center of their business. Because of this, voicemail is a necessary evil and is, sometimes a tool of convenience. The crux of this blog is to get you thinking about what your outgoing (answering) message actually says to people. I know your goal is to get them to leave a message with relevant info but what message are you giving that potential client, that friend, your mom, whomever gets your voicemail and then decides what to say back?

I received an interesting voicemail last night. The caller (who never identified himself) was (probably) calling to get information on one of my listings but never got to the purpose of his call because he was so put off by my outgoing message.

That message states, "You've reached Jonathan Harmon, please leave a message with a clear phone number and I will return your call at my earliest convenience..." Apparently the part about "at my earliest convenience" set him off. The message he left me was, "I'd rather not have you call me back. When I hear a person saying, as me a customer, you're going to call me back at your convenience, I'd rather not deal with a person like that." I went through a range of emotions over this message. 

First, I was shocked. I listened to the message about 5 or 6 times. 

Then I was kind of mad. How could this guy pass judgement on my willingness and ability to serve clients from this small, seemingly insignificant message? I mean, if there is one thing I think I do really well in my job, it is returning communication and being accessible by clients and potential clients. I always return calls and usually within a very reasonable amount of time. In fact, I am so diligent about returning calls that it sometimes irks my wife because I return calls that could really wait until morning. I do this because I serve my clients. This guy will never take the opportunity to know the level of service I provide simply because of my word choice in that outgoing voicemail message. 

That lasted about 3-4 minutes. Then I moved into panic. Do other people feel put off by this message and just don't have the guts to leave a message like that (most people choose to avoid, rather than confront)?

Finally I started to think about this and ended up sort of feeling sorry for the guy. My guess is he has had an experience in the past that has sort of jaded him. He has a chip on his shoulder. He won't know good service from me because of his perception of my message. At the same time, I started to think about my message. Is "at my earliest convenience" really the best way to word my message? It may be acceptable but is it the best? I decided it is not.

For some, that voicemail message is the first impression and it is a 15 second opportunity to sell myself. The subtle message communicated in that 15 seconds can be incredibly valuable. In my experience last night, I did not get the lead because of the 15 second message. Perhaps I didn't want that person as a client but that's not the point. The point is, my message communicated something to him that I did not intend and it was negative, at least to him.

I am working now to evolve my message and am open to suggestions.

My phone etiquette "plan" or "rules" go like this:
1) sense of urgency--I WILL call you back as soon as I am able to do so
2)  The most important person is the one in front of me and I am generally not inclined to interrupt with them for anyone

3) I know Realtors are notorious for not calling back. That's just not my style. I am not typical.
4) I am trying to work on "being present" with my family. Honestly, it is a struggle for me. If I have decided I am off the clock, I may not call you till tomorrow--especially if you call after 6 or 7 at night.

5) If you ask a bunch of questions in the voicemail, I will try not to call you back until I have the answers. If I think it is going to be a while before I have those answers, I will call you back to tell you I got the message and then call you again when I have the answers.
6) I have a business partner, Taylore, that is very capable and willing to help also. She can answer most, if not all, questions about my listings. If it is just a price/square footage/can I see it? type question, you might get a faster response from her.

Obviously I can't put all that into the outgoing message. Here is what I currently have on my voicemail, any input or examples of great outgoing voicemail messages would be appreciated!

Hi, you've reached Jonathan Harmon. Please leave a voice message or text me, with a clear phone number, and I will return your call as soon as I am able. If you have a question about a listing and want an immediate response, please call Taylore at 615-557-2240, 615-557-2240.


Anonymous said...


Short messages (whether outgoing or incoming) are the best, especially when your number is also for personal use. "Hi, you've reached Jonathan Harmon. Please leave a message and your return number, and I will contact you as soon as possible. Thanks for your call!" That seems about twice too long. "Hi, 'Go' at the beep!" seems a bit unprofessional.....

The word 'clear' in your message struck a tiny nerve with me, although I can only imagine the garbled messages you receive. It put me on the defensive a bit, and made me wonder, "Does he think I am incapable of speaking clearly?" Including Taylore's number might thrill that 1% of callers who are desperately enthusiastic about a listing (been there), but will tire average callers who may not enjoy listening to the additional information every time they call.

Also, I thought about asking the caller to leave a convenient callback time if one is preferred, but I should hope callers understand that 'a message' is subject to their judgment, including whether it's voice or text. And I'm assuming we can safely leave out "I'm unavailable at this time...." due to the obvious, and "It's a great day to buy a dream home!" and "Your call is very important to me" due to their annoying over usage.

Tough to be the perfect blend of concise, polite, professional, and even a bit funny if you dare to put a cutesy slogan out can do this! How offended can a caller be if you put the word 'please' somewhere in there?!

Jonathan said...

Great Suggestions!!! I am still working on it. I had one person ask if it is really so important to worry about it very much. I don't think it is something to "worry" about but it is certainly something to put some thought into.

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