Scenario: you leave a voice mail. You wait. You wait some more. You call again, leave another voice mail. You wait. You wait some more.  Rinse and repeat.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's never been more difficult to get somebody to call you back.  (I'll explain why in a minute.)

Difficult but not impossible, fortunately.  Getting that call-back, however, requires a radical change in approach. (I'll get to that, too)

Voice Mail Basically S_cks

The reason that people don't call you back is, well, voice mail. As a technology, voice mail is clunky, awkward, time-consuming and increasingly ignored.

For callers, it's a huge hassle.  It forces you to navigate poorly-designed, non-standard menus ("listen carefully because our options have changed") using a gimpy keypad.

Second, despite all the hoo-haw about AI taking over the world, voice recognition software hasn't noticeably improved in the past two decades.

More important, voice mail is usually set up to make it as difficult as possible to get to the right person. (Whoever invented the "general mailbox" concept should be shot.)

If voice mail is a hassle for the caller, it's an even bigger hassle for the recipients of those calls. 

To listen to your voice mails, you need a quiet place, and a way to take notes. You must then listen to the message and write down the caller's number.

Then you've got to call back, in full knowledge that you'll probably end up playing voice-mail tag.

Let's face it: voice mail is just plain stupid and inefficient, which is why it's falling out of use.

People Now Ignore Voice Mails

Voice mail is such a waste of effort that it's disappearing. According to the New York Times, most millennials neither like nor use it.

And it's not just the young-uns. The number of voice mail messages that remain un-retrieved is almost doubling every year, according to a recent study from Vonage.

That's why you keep running into people whose voice mail inbox is full. They've decided that the voice mail isn't worth the hassle.  And they're not alone.

Even conservative, bellwether firms like Coca-cola and JP Morgan have given voice mail the heave-ho.  Dozens of other companies are following suit.

Unlike 20 years ago, it's now considered OK to ignore your voice mails or leave them unanswered.

I unplugged from voice mail about two years ago.  My outgoing message says "Don't leave a voice mail because I don't listen to them. Instead, email me at..."

I have not gotten a single complaint from any client, friend or relative. More importantly, anybody who really wants to get in touch with me, does so.

As more people get smart and dump voice mail, it's going to get harder and hard to get people to call you back.

How to Get the Call-back

How, then, do you get somebody to call you back.  Here are some practical steps:

  1. Stop leaving voice mails. It should be obvious from the above that voice mail is a lousy way to connect.  So why are you still trying to make it work?
  2. Find the person's email address. Rather than wasting your time in voice mail, use these nine ways to find the email address of the person you're trying to reach.
  3. Write a compelling email. I've repeatedly posted ways to write emails that get a response. I also publish a free weekly newsletter on this subject.
  4. Get into an online conversation. Use the "5 Taps" method to get into a back-and-forth using email. Develop the conversation so that you can naturally...
  5. Segue into a phone discussion. Use email to set an appointment for a telephone call. Voila, you've got the call back.

In other words, if you want people to call you back, stop leaving voice messages entirely.  Contact them with a technology that they actually use.

Published on: Jun 29, 2016
Like this column? Sign up to subscribe to email alerts and you'll never miss a post.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.