When it’s used properly, voice mail can be an effective communication method between the end user and help desk. When it’s used poorly, it can cause more problems than it solves. We’ll look at an example of what can happen when voice mail is used poorly and then offer some suggestions to make your help desk’s voice mail system a benefit instead of a hazard.

A user who got what he asked for
I’ll tell you a tale about a support engineer named Peter. Peter entered his office one morning around 8:00 A.M. and played back the night’s voice mail messages. One very aggressive caller had left a message at 3:00 A.M., demanding that he be called back in his hotel room at once, if not sooner.

Taking the caller at his word, Peter returned the call. A very bewildered individual answered the phone. Peter cheerfully wished the person a good morning, identified himself, and asked how he could help.

Unfortunately, Peter works in England, and the caller was at a hotel in the United States, six hours behind the United Kingdom. Needless to say, the caller was rather angry at having been rung up at 2:15 A.M., even though he’d asked to be contacted as soon as possible.

This story illustrates what can happen when both the help desk analyst and the end user fail to use voice mail wisely. The end user should have recognized the possibility that the help desk was in a different time zone and that his instructions to return the call immediately would be taken literally. Likewise, the help desk analyst should have recognized the international number and returned the call later.

Erroneous expectations
End users often misunderstand and therefore mistrust help desk voice mail. This mistrust explains why many messages are abusive. End users seldom realize voice mail’s low priority in the hierarchy of support calls. My help desk’s telephone system routes callers to voice mail when all analysts are on the phone. If we have an especially busy day, we may not be able to answer the voice mail for several hours or until the next business day. It’s up to us to educate end users about voice mail’s true purpose, thereby giving them a more realistic expectation of the likely response time.

Altering users’ perception of voice mail
To change your users’ perception of voice mail, consider taking the following steps:

  1. First and most important, establish a routine for dealing with the voice mail queue. If possible, institute a standard for calling back within an hour. It’s worth the effort, in my opinion, just to hear the surprise in the customer’s voice.
  2. Inform your users of all voice mail policies, especially call return times.
  3. Return voice mail with voice mail. When returning voice mail calls, I often leave the user a friendly voice mail message outlining our help desk’s operating hours and suggesting a quick fix. I also invite the user to call back if they need further assistance. How can a caller complain about help desk voice mail if you get routed to his or hers when you respond?
  4. If possible, designate a single help desk team member to handle all voice mails. Set times for this person to log off the telephones and check the voice mailbox. The designated team member can then assign each call to the appropriate support person or answer the call personally.
  5. If you’re not able to designate a single person, have help desk analysts rotate the task of answering voice mail throughout the day. Answering voice mail is a great way to take a break from the phones. It’s all too easy to let your team spend all day taking calls, not realizing that doing so settles people into a rut. Look upon voice mail as an opportunity to vary the day’s work.
  6. Use voice mail to train new help desk personnel. Voice mail allows the support analyst time to formulate a solution before making the return call, which ultimately benefits the caller. In addition, this process is perfect for introducing new analysts to the help desk routine without throwing them directly into a live call situation.

Your voice mail tips

Now it’s your turn to share your ideas and suggestions for successfully handling voice mail. Post a comment or write to Jeff Dray and let us know what you think.