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Come Again? Garbled Words Drive Prospective Clients Away

In any given week, I probably retrieve 15 or 20 business-related voice mails.

  • For at least half of them, I cannot understand the person’s name. Period.
  • Almost half leave their phone number so quickly that I have to go back through the voice mail several times to get the whole thing. 
  • There are always a few that I can never return because I cannot understand the phone number left for me no matter how many times I listen.
  • And then there are the ones that leave no phone number at all, but expect me to call them back anyway.

Now – for my business, it’s usually worth it to me to figure out the message even if it takes some effort. It may be a call from a potential new APHA member, or a PracticeUP! student who phones with questions. No matter how frustrated I get by garbled phone messages, I try my best to retrieve those names and numbers.

But suppose I was a patient, one who doesn’t feel well, who is fearful of my new medical reality, and seeking help…. and I get a message from you that is at all difficult to understand? If you make me struggle just to figure out how to call you back, I may not have the wherewithal to do so.

And YOU have lost a potential client.

Here are a few DOs and DON’Ts for leaving a professional voice mail message:


  • Speak clearly. Even if you were born and raised in North America, you may have an accent that is difficult for others to understand. If your name is at all unusual, you ought to repeat it, too. (Unusual in the sense that it’s not a commonly heard name in the geography where your potential client lives.)
  • Speak slowly. OMG I can’t believe how people whiz through their phone numbers, with each number on top of the next!  Your potential client may have to write it down, and in particular if the person is quite ill or elderly, it may take a moment for them to do that. There’s no hurry! 
  • Repeat your phone number. If I have to write it down, I won’t have to go back to listen to the whole recording if you leave it for me twice. Speak it slowly the first time, and you can speed it up slightly the second time.
  • Leave the time and day of your call.  “This is Jane Advocate. It’s Monday at 10:30 AM and I am returning your call.”  It sounds very professional, very official, and timestamps your call for the listener.
  • Finish with something pleasant:  “I look forward to hearing back from you.”


  • Don’t assume the person you will leave a message for can hit a “return call” button on their mobile phone – because you may not have dialed a mobile phone. Landlines don’t always have that capability. ALWAYS leave your phone number (repeated!)
  • Don’t try texting a return contact either. Same reason as above. If it’s a landline, there may be no texting capability.
  • Don’t assume the person can get your phone number from Caller-ID. My office phone is a landline, and while it has caller-ID, most of the time it’s just a number, no real “ID” aspect to it at all. If I have been out and return to several messages, I don’t know which one came from which number.

Phone manners need to be as professional as any other aspect of your practice.

Clarity of your voice mail is crucial to the foundation of your business.


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