Is letting calls go to voicemail costing you money?

Are you hurting your business by letting calls go to voicemail?

If you’re someone who depends on new clients reaching you via the phone, the answer is probably yes.

Researchers Yuri Miyamoto and Norbert Schwarz studied human behavior when confronted with voicemail. When nothing but a recording answers their call, at least half of people will hang up and leave no message.

For those of us who depend on clients calling on the phone, that's a lot of missed connections from potential business.

Miyamoto and Schwarz also examined the difference in behavior between American people and Japanese people. America is generally considered an individualistic culture—people are motivated by doing what is best for them personally. Japan is considered to be more of a collectivistic culture—people are motivated by doing what is best for the group. When looking at these two cultures separately, Miyamoto and Schwarz found that Americans would avoid leaving a voicemail about half of the time, but Japanese people would avoid leaving a voicemail a staggering 85% of the time.

Individualist perspective on left; collectivistic perspective on right. 

Individualist perspective on left; collectivistic perspective on right. 

The researchers theorized that people with individualistic tendencies are more goal-oriented when they call. They are more comfortable leaving a voicemail because their focus is conveying particular information that helps them accomplish that goal. People from collectivistic cultures may have a mix of goal-focus and relationship-focus. Leaving a voicemail may help them accomplish a goal, but it would not go very far in creating a better relationship with whomever they are calling.

To give some very general examples, America, Western Europe, Australia, and New Zealand would be considered individualistic. Japan and other Asian countries, most Hispanic countries, certainly Mexico, Middle Eastern nations, and India are considered collectivistic.

If you have a tendency to let calls go to voicemail, which, let’s face it, most of us do, how do you improve your call-to-voicemail-ratio?

1.     Answer the dang phone:  Make a concerted effort to answer the phone. Stop telling yourself that they’ll leave a message if it’s important or you can call them back. Just pick up the phone. Yes your uninterrupted thoughts are important ... but so is your client!
2.     Turn your “annoying callers” into contacts:  Am I the only one whose dentist reminds me of my upcoming appointments about a half dozen times? If calls like these are part of what keeps you from answering your phone, program your “annoying callers” as contacts so you can safely send them to voicemail without missing potential new business.
3.     Consider not giving out your number:  If you’re self-employed, don’t give your number to clients. Rely on other technology. Your business may require speaking over the phone, and then, this technique is not an option, but many people middle-aged and younger prefer using email to communicate, especially when making an initial contact. If you know that you’re not good at answering your phone, don’t give it out as number at which people can reach you. The phone is no longer de rigueur. 
4.     Keep voicemail space available:  Please, please, please. Don’t let your voicemail get full! I can’t count how many people I have tried to call at official work numbers in recent years whose voicemails were completely full and seemed to permanently stay that way. If it’s a required part of your job to have a voicemail, you need to maintain it.

What’s the takeaway? We all need to avoid using voicemail as a crutch, but those of us who do business with people from collectivistic cultures need to be especially vigilant about actually answering the phone when it rings.