Applying common sense to phone greetings


When I called to make a doctor’s appointment the other day, I was greeted with a long pre-recorded message that contained the office hours and other info that people probably ask them a lot. I can certainly understand the logic in this approach. By answering common questions up front with a recorded message, fewer calls have to be handled by the receptionist — leading to shorter hold times for people who need to make an appointment or perform other tasks. So far, so good.

However, the boilerplate statement that came after the initial message surprised me: “If this is a medical emergency, please hang up and dial 911.” Sure, a person would have to be pretty misguided to call a regular doctor when they’re having a life-threatening problem, but it’s still not a good idea to make those people listen to 40 seconds of office information before telling them to call 911. That information should be presented at the very start of the interaction.

Generalizing this a bit, if one part of your phone greeting is vastly more important than the rest, common sense dictates that this information should go first. Even if that part only applies to a small percentage of callers, it’s reasonable to place it at the very beginning. If you’re worried about that initial message scaring off your regular customers, either cut it down or rephrase it until it flows naturally with the rest of your greeting.

While something like an emergency message won’t be relevant to every caller, it can still be used to build confidence in your organization. You want callers to come away thinking that your company is always looking out for them, even if the particular piece of advice you’re offering isn’t relevant to them right now.