Voicemail messages: What is it that tells you within milliseconds that you're not speaking to a live person?

Perhaps because we're conscious that our voicemail message may be the first point of contact with a prospect. Perhaps because we know all the rules: don't waste the caller's time by rambling on, exude a professional and businesslike image, encourage the caller to leave contact details and so forth.

Whatever the reasons, voicemail messages typically have all the charm and immediacy of an airport announcement. In our determination to get it right, gone is the natural intonation, the false starts and hesitations, the easy feel of a one-on-one conversation. Gone is our personality.

The same thing can and frequently does happen with email autoresponders.

Living Up to the Promise of the Autoresponders (or Not)

Here's an example. I'm currently looking for an email management solution. A couple of weeks ago I signed up for a free trial period with a company with a Web site that looked promising: written well, inviting, reassuring.

When I signed up, I received the autoresponder confirmation: polite, enthusiastic and from a named person. “Call or email me any time if you have questions!” So far, so good.

Two days later came the follow-up. Again, nicely written, encouraging—without being too pushy. I started playing with the software, and as it happened I did have questions.

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Robin Houghton advises small businesses and nonprofits on how to make the most of their marketing budgets (especially online) at http://www.robinhoughton.com. Reach her at robin@robinhoughton.com.