Among HVAC professionals it happens frequently. You make a telephone call with the intention of speaking with a contractor, a supplier, or a customer, but instead you get their voice mail. Initial disappointment gives way to the reality that you must deal with the situation, and you begin to struggle with what to say and how to say it. Had you reached a person, you would likely start your conversation with a greeting or perhaps a question about how the other person was feeling. Then you would be prepared to respond with how things are going with yourself. All in all this is the makeup of a pleasant social interchange.

But now you must speak to a machine that doesn't care about you or the person for whom it is taking messages. The machine is merciless, unbiased, and highly efficient. It will capture in great detail every nuance of your voice if you struggle through a cryptic, unintelligible, or rushed message.

Voice mail gets a bad rap. It's true that speaking with a person is the optimal interaction, however from time to time we all must use voice mail. Like it or not, voice mail is here to stay. I believe that most complaints about voice mail are primarily a manifestation of a systemic problem. The trouble is one of cause and effect, i.e., Garbage In Garbage Out (GIGO).

In technical terms, GIGO occurs if invalid data is entered into a program, the resulting output will also be worthless. GIGO is usually referenced to the fact that computers, unlike humans, will unquestionably process the most illogical input of data resulting in unsound output.

I view a voice mail system as nothing more than an input-output device. If we insert garbage, we will likely receive garbage. In terms of voice mail systems, garbage includes messages filled with one or more of the following problems.

Rapid pace of speech makes it almost impossible for the person hearing the message to capture pertinent information.

Some listeners have been known to replay the same message numerous times in an attempt to write down a telephone number. This clear waste of time frustrates the person listening to the message and also tarnishes the image of the fast-talker who left the message.

Verbal junk usually manifests itself in the person who is uncertain as to what to say and instead stumbles with sounds like "Uhhhm," "Duuuh," or "Hmmm." The voice mail system captures their ramblings for public record as the caller attempts to pull together their ideas. Business professionals ought to be careful of what they say into voice mail as these messages are digital files that can be shared or distributed among others.

Noncontiguous details are a phenomenon resulting from inadequate preparation prior to making a telephone call. The person leaving the voice mail message skips from one detail to another with no regard to the sequential flow.

Voice mail messages would be of higher quality if the above three maladies could be avoided. The more quality that goes in, the more quality will inevitably come out. I believe that voice mail greetings can invite a quality message by asking callers to speak slowly, state their telephone number twice, and leave only vital or important details, along with a best time for a return call.

An HVAC professional should acknowledge receipt of voice mail messages with a return telephone call to the person who left the message. This is important even if the subject matter in the message will not be immediately handled, resolved, or dealt with. Acknowledgements go a long way towards keeping customers informed and at ease.

Depending on the nature of your business, voice mail greetings can also include information about your whereabouts, e.g., whether you are in the office, out for part of the day, or on the road.

HVAC professionals should check their voice mail messages frequently each day, preferably once an hour. By doing so, if an urgent matter arises, it can be dealt with or acknowledged sooner rather than later.

Voice mail is a powerful business tool in the hands of a competent person who understands the systemic implications of GIGO.

Steve Coscia, president of Coscia Communications, is a 20-year customer service practitioner and telephone skills specialist. To learn more, visit or contact Coscia at 610-853-9836.

Publication date: 06/19/2006