Companies go to great lengths to set up voicemail systems they think customers will use. In many cases, however, that is more fantasy than reality. The sad fact is that many corporate voicemail systems are clumsy, irritating and confusing all at the same time. Rather than helping customers solve problems, they actually add dissatisfaction to what was already there. Frustrated and annoyed, customers often decide the voicemail system is a dead-end and hang up.

Here's how to change that and set up voicemail systems your customers will actually use.

Signs Of Human Life

Far and away the biggest annoyance people have with corporate voicemail systems is lack of human contact. Correctly or incorrectly, many customers believe that the only way to solve their problem is by talking to a support rep. These are the folks who instinctively dial zero (for the operator) the moment voicemail picks up. And while you might think your company is being clever by forcing customers to deal with a machine, think again.

A great many of your customers simply do not have the patience for this. Others will decide that your company must not care about them, since they can't be bothered to staff a support center with real people. Solve this problem by biting the bullet and hiring a salaried support representative. And make it obvious how customers can reach live support - not a guessing game.

Offer Intuitive Options

Offering intuitive options is another way to make your voicemail system more customer-friendly. Too many voicemail systems resemble a maze. Customers are presented with fifteen different paths rather than being given a few common-sense options to choose from. This is a mistake. It should be obvious that the more obstacles you put in front of someone (the more buttons they have to push, or the more information they have to supply) the higher your drop-off rate will be.

People want things to be easy. Don't fight this! Your voicemail system is not the time or the place to wage war on human nature. When designing the system, ask yourself at every turn 'is this the simplest way to go?' Keep adjusting until it is.

Let People Skip Long-Winded Audio

There is also a direct correlation between how much audio you force someone to sit through and their willingness to stay on the line. Never forget this: when it comes to support, people don't care about what you have to say unless it relates directly to them. Announcements about new corporate initiatives or how your support options have recently changed may as well be spoken in Greek.

Dodge this trap by making it crystal clear how people can skip to the menu options they need. 'For customer support, press 1. For billing, press 2.' Better yet, do away with any information that isn't immediately pertinent to customer problem solving. Save miscellaneous company announcements and information for press releases or blog posts.

Don't Incessantly Re-Route To Online FAQ

Some companies use their voicemail systems as little more than a redundant referrer to online FAQ directories. We've all been there. You call a company in search of concrete answers to a question, only to be robotically reminded of the 'extensive help library' available on the company's website. Now, although there's nothing wrong with occasionally referring people to your FAQ, this should never be the basis of your voicemail system.

It's true that some customers are just lazy and never bothered to check your online FAQ. But it's also true that other callers did check and were genuinely not helped by it. When it comes to these people, indignantly refusing to provide personal assistance and reminding them over and over about the FAQ that didn't solve their problem does nothing but make customers angry.

Promise Specific Follow-Up Times

Of course, there are times when immediate personal assistance cannot always be provided. Perhaps it's a weekend or a holiday, for instance. But even in these cases, you can make customers more confident that using your voicemail system will lead to a solution. Before asking them to leave a message, give them a specific follow-up time. For instance:

'Thank you for calling Acme Co. Although we are currently out of the office, we promise to personally return your call within two business days. Your call matters to us and will absolutely be addressed.'

Contrast this with vague, un-comforting messages like 'please leave a message and we'll call you back.' Who will call you back? When? Having been burned by negligent companies before, many customers assume the answer is 'never.' This is the perception you have to fight while creating your voicemail system.