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Thank you for calling the Smith Insurance Agency.

If you are calling for a quote, Press One.

If you are calling to report a claim, Press Two.

If you are calling about a change in coverage, Press Three.

If you have a Personal Lines policy, Press Four.

If you have a commercial lines policy, Press Five.

If you need life insurance, Press Six.

If you need a bond, Press Seven.

If you are sick of voice mail, tough luck it’s here to stay.

Whether or not you like voice mail depends on whether you are the caller or the person being called. Most people hate getting put in voice mail because they feel it is impersonal, confusing, and frustrating. People who have voice mailboxes like it because there is no chance for the receptionist to incorrectly record a message. The person leaving the message can leave as detailed and as confidential a message as he or she wants. Voice mail is here to stay but a little planning will make it an agency asset instead of a liability.

Agencies spend months designing and planning how they will utilize a new computer system. Yet these same agencies don’t spend much time designing how their voice mail will work. They rely on some telephone sales rep to design how the public will be greeted. An insurance agency operates differently from a law firm or a catalogue sales company. Likewise, their voice mail systems should operate differently. Whether you currently have a voice mail system or are planning on installing one, the following recommendations will make your system more client-friendly.

Automated Attendant – Ever call a company and have your call answered by an automated attendant? What’s your reaction? For most people, it’s a negative one. During regular business hours have your receptionist answer the calls. The client’s first contact needs to be a friendly, human voice, not an impersonal recorded message. When the client asks to speak with Bob Jones she can put the call through regardless of whether Bob is in, out, or on the phone.

If the receptionist knows Bob is out of the office or on the phone, she can ask “Would you like to leave a personal message in Mr. Jones’ voice mail?” This way the client is given an option, leave a message in the mailbox or with the receptionist. More often than not, the client will leave a message in the mailbox. If the client leaves a message with the receptionist, the receptionist should take the message and then put the message in Bob’s mailbox.

Obviously, if the phone is so busy that the receptionist can’t handle all the calls, or during non-business hours, an automated attendant should be utilized. It’s better than a busy signal or no answer at all.

Agency Directory – During non-business hours, a client accesses the automated attendant. The client should be able to reach an employee’s personal mailbox by typing in the first couple letters of the employee’s last name. You have a problem if the client only knows the employees first name, but the client can always leave a message in the general mailbox (which must be reviewed first thing every morning).

Employee extensions should be included in client correspondence and consider issuing an agency directory to your carriers. If the carriers have a directory, they can always call a back line to access the automated attendant and input the employees extension, thereby bypassing the receptionist.

An Easy Way Out – Many companies have a tendency to layer options. The client is asked to enter a number, and then given options and asked to enter another number, and so on. Always, always, always, make sure the client can get to a human (usually the receptionist) with one keystroke. Getting trapped under layers of options angers clients, and makes them hang up and dial again.

Group Messages – This is used internally rather than externally. Set up logical groups that messages can be broadcast to. Examples might include: management, CSRs, producers, support staff, commercial lines department, personal lines department. Remember, a person can be in more than one department.

Emergency Mailbox – Most voice mail systems have an option that when a message is placed in a mailbox the system can dial the employee at home or another designated number. This allows for an immediate response. Consider installing a separate mailbox for emergencies. A client with an emergency can call and get immediate action.

Remember, you will have to choose employee(s) to receive the emergency message and act upon it. And just what is an emergency? Needing coverage on Saturday afternoon when the client wants to buy a new car? Wanting to know whether a rental car is covered by the clients auto coverage? House burns down? Emergency mailboxes can be a pain, make sure your customers know what you consider an emergency.

Should you install voice mail? I say yes, if you are willing to take the time to design it and do it right.