Near the end of my professional baseball career I developed a joint venture relationship with the executive director of our local United Way organization.
In the time I got to know the agency’s ED I was impressed by one thing he did in leading his agency and being a community leader.
Whenever I would call his office and get a recording on his personal office voice mail, the message always ended with, “and I promise to return your call within 4-hours.” He always lived up to that commitment. I was so impressed by that.
Then, fast forward to 2006, about six years after I left baseball and I had moved on from the the relationship with the United Way director, I met one of my most impactful business mentors, Alan Weiss. Alan, has a policy of returning client phone calls within 90-minutes. Now that was even more impressive.
So, in 2007, in taking the lead from those two experiences I decided to change my outgoing voice mail message and promise all callers “a reply by phone or e-mail within 3-hours.”
You would be amazed at the comments I get from people leaving messages for me. At least the ones that notice and pay attention to the outgoing message. Sometimes I think people are so busy to get on to the next thing they don’t even hear what I’m saying.
I get some messages after 6pm on a Friday night, who give me their permission that I do not have to cal them back in 3-hours. Since I don’t qualify in my message that I mean during regular business hours and if you call after 2pm I will extend that through noon the next business day as out of respect I want to keep the outgoing message for callers to 15-seconds or under.
In this day of increased competition and every business owner and sales rep I know professing to want to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, this is one easy and simple way to do it. Put a message on your outgoing voice mail that people will take notice of and one that will set you apart.
Now, the other part of that is you must follow through and be consistent with the promise you offer in that message. Which, I guess is why not one of my coaching clients in the last 5 years since I made that change and have suggested this approach to every one of my clients since then has not joined me in that market differentiating approach.
It’s a shame. I can tell you I do it solely to keep myself honest and accountable. Knowing that my message promises a return call within 3-hours it is something I have to plan for and commit to. I believe I succeed about 95% of the time, and the other 5% I make it within 4-hours, never more.
Some of us need outside accountability to keep us sharp and at our best. This is one way I do it for myself.
Has this brought me any direct business. Not that I can tell, but I don’t care. I know it offers callers a unique approach they don’t hear 99% of the time when they leave messages for others, some of whom may be my competition. If they listen to the message I know it is setting an expectation of quality, commitment and most importantly it is fulfilling one of their basic human needs of “certainty” they are getting from few other places.
“Certainty” is a vital human emotion and in the work I do with my clients I try to do everything I can to provide it for them. Certainty around the realistic results we can achieve together. Certainty around what they can expect from me regarding the support they need to succeed.
Any other, non-committal, wishy-washy “I’ll return your call as soon as possible” outgoing message just doesn’t cut it.
In this economy, with the increased competition coming from all sides and every business owner professing that “customer service” is so important, then put your voice mail message where your mouth is and commit to something concrete to offer your customers and prospects “certainty” as to when you will get return their call (even if its an unsolicited sales person trying to get your business, they deserve the respect of a return phone call, too. Especially, if you’re in the same business. Isn’t that what you would like when you call on your prospects? You’ve got to put the right energy out there first and it will come back to you.)
So, in closing this long post, let me challenge you to change that “I’ll return your call as soon as possible” and commit to a time frame that gives your callers “certainty.” It doesn’t have to be 3-hours, it could be by the end of the week, or 48-hours, or by the end of the day, or 12-minutes.
I don’t care! Just commit to something you feel comfortable with, and then follow through. I guarantee your business and your business relationships will be better for it!
Try it and let me know how it goes!