Why is Voice Mail Important in the US?

Posted On: June 29, 2014

Leave a message when you get someone's voice mail

While many Indians find voice mail alien or impersonal, Americans often rely on voice mail as a reliable relationship building tool. Though these two mindsets are in direct opposition to each other, it’s imperative that Indians working for offshore companies understand some of the reasons why Americans may not answer their phone, and why they rely on voice mail.  

4 Reasons Voice Mail is Important

1. May Check the Caller ID
Many American office phones have caller IDs. Like a screen on a mobile phone, it shows the number from where the caller originates as well as the name of the individual or business. Some offices screen calls. Screening calls is a process where the person picking up the phone looks at the caller ID and decides to attend to the call or not. If your call is a scheduled meeting, your American colleague would pick up the phone. If you call his or her landline (desk phone) without an appointment from an Indian or international number, the number may render as UNKNOWN on an American caller ID. Due to this, some may not pick up the phone. If you are unsure about this, it’s good practice to ask your colleague or client when you call them how your number renders on their caller ID. Unlike Indians, many Americans may resist picking up the phone if the caller ID doesn’t render with a company or personal name and accompanying phone number. 

2. Turn the Phone or Phone Ringer Off
Some offices in the U.S. train their staff not to take calls (or answer IM or emails) during meetings or some times during the day so they can be in uninterrupted silence and do their work. If the person you are calling turns off their ringer, their calls will go directly to voice mail. Employees are trained that all important voice mails are typically returned within 1 business day. It is imperative to leave a voice mail to continue the conversation.

3. Stepped Away or are On Another Call
In other cases, the reason for the call not being attended to is as simple as the person you’re calling having stepped away from the desk to take a break or is on another call. Most U.S. office phones will go directly to voice mail if the person is already talking on the phone. In such cases, it is also important to leave a voice mail as the person many not even realize they missed a call if they were on another line when your call came in.

4. Do Not Have a Secretary
In the US, not every person in a high position has a secretary. This means they are answering their own calls. If they are answering their own calls, they may have many calls to attend to in addition to meetings, e-mails, and other work-related tasks. They may not pick up the phone when you call. In such cases, they would definitely be checking their voice mail later in the day and returning calls as necessary. It is best practice to leave a voice mail whenever the answering machine comes on.

How to Respond to a Voice Mail System
I completely understand that talking into a machine feels awkward, and even impersonal. Many Indians I coach have told me they not only feel uncomfortable but “bad” to get a voicemail system. Indian employees should not take this personally, nor should they continue to call again and again until someone picks up the phone. Instead, Indian employees can attend training programs to learn the fine art of leaving voice mails keeping in mind that eliciting ongoing interaction and answers to queries leaving a voice mail may be a better option than an e-mail, while not leaving a message can cause an end to a business relationship. 

Keeping all this in mind, if you are new to professional phone etiquette and leaving voice mails with your American counterparts, start today by creating a script not longer than thirty (30) seconds, introducing yourself, your company, your inquiry and your contact information. Write your script in the comment section below, and I will offer my critique on it. After compiling a couple that can be used as “skeleton scripts,” take time to practice saying it without talking into a machine. This will help you feel more confident when leaving the message on the actual voice mail system. All the very, very best!

Author, Jennifer Kumar improves the communication between onsite and offshore teams through targeted communication and culture skills and problem solving sessions. Contact her today for more information.

Related Posts:
Mistakes in Cross-Cultural Communication
Why Americans Misunderstand Silence In Team Conference Calls with India  
Why saying “Tell Me” is appropriate in India, but not with Americans or native English Speakers 


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