If I say voicemail jail, you immediately know what I’m talking about. No one likes voicemail jail, but many businesses subject their calls to this phone purgatory. In the name of good customer service, we need to put an end to voicemail jail, which tells you “For customer service, press 1; for sales, press 2; for accounts payable, press 3,” and so on. Though people call it voicemail jail, these annoying recordings that businesses play is actually called auto-attendant, effectively an automated receptionist that doesn’t listen to you and compels you to force the reason for your call into one of their predetermined boxes. From the callers’ perspective this provides no benefit and merely serves to cause added frustration. In theory these auto-attendant recordings speed callers to the right person. It seldom happens this way, with options that too often don’t apply but which callers must endure. It also sometimes has multiple levels to navigate. Another frustration is that even though you’ve entered your account number, the person who you finally get to talk to will ask for it again—but that’s assuming you actually get to talk to a person. Too often voicemail jail keeps you incarcerated with no release date as you bounce around from one option to another. Smart businesspeople are getting rid of their voicemail jail and actually serving the needs of their callers when they unplug their auto-attendant and hire a telephone answering service. An answering service provides these tangible benefits that no machine can duplicate: A Real Person: Unless you’re calling to get your account balance, the reason you picked up the phone in the first place is to talk to a person, not a machine. Answering services provide real people who can talk with your callers. A Listening Ear: Have you ever gotten so frustrated that you yelled at the recording and the limited options it provided? Unless they’re equipped with speech recognition, machines can’t listen to what you’re saying and respond in an informed, intelligent way. Answering services can. Thoughtful Interaction: If you leave a message in voicemail, you have one chance to communicate. If you leave a confusing message, the person who later listens to it (assuming that eventually happens) will be confused, too. And if you leave out a critical piece of information, they won’t be able to help you anyway. But when you talk to a real person at an answering service, an effective dialogue takes place. People make the difference. The Opportunity to Clarify: “Is that P as in Paul or T as in Tom?” This is a critical question that a machine can’t ask. Or how about “Did you say you did need it before lunch or you didn’t need it before lunch?” That one word carries a huge distinction that can mean the difference between success and failure. A machine can’t do that. An answering service can. If your callers and customers are important to you, don’t force them into voicemail jail, but offer them freedom with the personal services of a professional answering service. When you use an answering service, a real person helps your callers skip all this automated nonsense, which makes everyone happy. Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider for the call center and telephone answering service industry—and who helps businesses and organizations find the perfect answering service. Contact Janet at email@example.com or call 800-901-7706. Peter Lyle DeHaan is a freelance writer from Southwest Michigan.