Technologically Speaking, You're Available

Being an employee in 2018 means you are available 24/7, 365. Before you get all defensive and freak out about technology running your life, take a deep breath.

There are digital versions of you such as your voicemail, email, or Skype account working tirelessly [as you] for you and the customer around the clock. They are are your SUPERHEROES! They don’t need lunch, naps, or holidays. These are also great tools to let people know when your response time is changing and you won’t be responding as usual. Don’t confuse ‘being available’ with responding.

Unfortunately, we can undermine ourselves -- and the customer -- simply by the way in which we use the out of office messaging. How we use technology to communicate with each other is sometimes making us our own worst enemy.

Long, convoluted voicemail greetings and auto-replies focus inward, not outward. It’s about me and my perceived self-preservation, not the customer. It's simply virtual presenteeism.

With this in mind, we turn to the strange and puzzling ways people use their ‘out of office’ replies. Below are three crazy examples we see often, along with the customer interpretation of that message.

Crazy out of office reply #1:

I will be visiting our Washington office March 21st - 25th and will be in meetings for most of the week. If this is urgent, you can reach me on my mobile, although I will have limited access to phone and email both while traveling and during meetings. Thank you for your patience as I get back to you!

Customer interpretation:

Okay. So you’ll be in meetings most of the week just like you are when you’re in the ‘home office’. Not feeling so good about that if I have an urgent need or request. You’ll have limited access to phone and email -- does that mean you’ll be in the mountains with no service? Are you leaving your phone somewhere or will you have it with you? How patient do I need to be with my urgent request? Do you even CARE?

Crazy out of office reply #2:

Hi There!
I'm traveling a bunch this week, so I may be slow responding to email and phone messages. Thanks for your patience.  Cheers!

Customer interpretation:

Good for you, you’re traveling this week. In other words, you have a great excuse for slow response. By the way, how “slow” might you be? Should I just assume you’ll be unable to respond (those pesky airports -- they just aren’t conducive to responding to emails). Wait. Isn’t this the 21st Century? And I always have to be patient with you. If it’s not travel, it’s some other random excuse. I really don’t care if you’re traveling. I still have a need. Who is going to take care of it? And ‘cheers’! Yeah, I sure could use a beer about now.

Crazy out of office reply #3

Hi, I love working for Acme Corporation. This place is absolutely amazing and has a mission that is driven by an incredible group of committed people called Acme Coordinators. They inspire me by working so hard to make such a difference in the lives of others that I do all that I can to support their efforts. Even so, I've decided that it's time to take a little vacation and will be out of the office through Friday, April 13th. I will try to respond to your email while away but have a packed schedule and may not have a chance to do this. Still, if you really need to get in touch with me just call or text me at [phone] whenever it is convenient for you. I'll do my best to get back to you as quickly as possible. For anything related to Human Resources or Operations, please also try to contact [name] at [email].  For anything related to training, please contact [name], [email].

Customer interpretation: 

SERIOUSLY, who is going to read all of that? ‘I love my job so much! But alas, I must go on vacation. However, I’m so dedicated I’ll try to respond to you even though my vacation is jam packed with activities!’ Blah blah blah.

Let’s get real. If you are traveling, in meetings, or at a conference, you are working. Think of the boy who cried wolf. If you use your out of office reply for every little thing, people will just think you’re lame and will stop reading/listening to it. It’s not customer focused, it’s ME focused. ‘Look at how busy I am! My company lets me travel! They invite me to a lot of meetings! I’m SO IMPORTANT!’

Use your out of office reply only in the instances you’ll truly be unresponsive for an extended period of time -- like vacation (if you so choose to disconnect from work). Be clear and concise about when you’ll be responding. Nobody cares about where you're going or why. Trust us, they don’t.

The following is a good example of a customer-focused out of office reply:

Hello, you have reached [name]. I will be responding beginning February 1. Please let me know what you need and when you need it.  If you need assistance before February 1, please contact [back-up person’s email/phone]. Thank you.

It’s clear, customer-focused, and it’s not filled with socially acceptable ‘get out of work free’ excuses. 

Action Item

If you want to start prompting your co-workers and customers to focus on outcomes right now, you can change your everyday outgoing voicemail message to this:

Hello, you have reached [name]. Please let me know what you need and when you need it and I will respond. Thank you.