Why it pays to have test voicemail

Back in 2005, I was working for a start-up that had a traditional punch-key PBX system. It wasn’t the start-up’s choice; the commercial office space that it occupied came equipped with the system. The manual for the phone system that the previous tenant (another start-up) had left behind looked like a mini-yellow pages. It became the IT director’s new part-time job to figure out the new branches and extensions for each employee, as well as set up voicemail boxes for each. And one could commonly hear, “How do you transfer a call again?” or “I’m going to try and transfer you, but if I lose you then call…”. Visual voicemail was considered an exotic luxury back then.

phone But like most start-ups, we were short on time and patience. So we went ahead and used our phones as they were, accepting the small shortcomings of our punch-key system as just tiny nuisances in the daily grind of business.

One day, I got the bright (OK, obvious) idea to try calling our support and sales numbers individually at night, just to see how quickly each got back to me. I called the numbers listed on our website (our support had a local DID number; our sales line had a toll-free) and waited to see what happened.

Support got back to me the next day, sales never did. A couple of attempts later and I realized that voicemail messages left for the sales team after-hours were not being received by anyone. The IT director (who likened dealing with the phone system to having a hernia) explained to me that daytime calls to our inbound toll-free number had a “PBX hunt-group” effect instead of more intelligent call routing, so it would just rotate inbound calls from desk to desk until someone picked up the call. After a number of rings it would default to a voicemail box, but no one thought to check that box, because none of the sales reps knew it existed. And none had thought to ask themselves (or the IT director) what happened if someone called after-hours.

When we figured out which voicemail box the after-hours messages to our sales department were going to, we discovered over 200 messages by potential customers going back as far as three months. These people never got called back, and most of them never entered our sales pipeline. In the era where most businesses cannot afford to lose potential customers, it’s a mystery to me why more people don’t check this phone function more routinely. All one needs to do is call the numbers listed publicly for the company and say, “This is _____ conducting an internal test on our phone systems. Can the person that gets this voicemail message e-mail me at _____ or call me at ____? Thanks!”

You never know what you’re going to discover.

Photo by Glen Bowman