2 Rules for Ignoring Voicemail

Both of these should be totally obvious, but they aren’t, apparently, because people frequently break them.

  1. If they don’t explain, don’t call them back. I get caught ignoring this rule, repeatedly, but it just doesn’t add up. If that caller doesn’t tell you what it’s about, it’s not that they’ve forgotten, it’s that they don’t want to say. They’re betting that you don’t think you want what they’re selling but they will be able to change your mind. “This is Ralph Smith. Call me back at 555-555-1212.” No dice, Ralph; if you don’t have the courtesy to tell me why you called, I’m not calling you back.I admit I’ve broken the rule a few times when the teaser is too much to resist. For example “I want to tell you why your business sucks” or “I’m very unhappy with your customer service” is hard to resist, but in truth, even those calls are blatantly unfair, obviously trying to force a return phone call. I’ve only gotten a handful of these in 19 years running a business dealing with something like a million customers, and I called every one, but not one of them was really legitimate. People who have a real gripe say what it is. People who don’t say leave that out because they know that if they do, you won’t call back.
  2. Even if they do explain, if you don’t want what they’re selling, don’t return the call. In my case, that would be calls from recruiters, accountants, fulfillment businesses, or programming and development houses, not because there’s anything wrong with those businesses per se, but just because either I don’t want these services, or I already have a vendor. If the vendor calls you, unsolicited, you have no obligation to return that call.

Is it rude to not return calls? No. At least not in either of these two cases. And yet, amazingly, don’t you occasionally get people who act like you were supposed to call them back, and it was rude of you not to. I know of one case in which a phone vendor making unsolicited cold calls called somebody back, angry, after she had quietly hung up on her. “Why did you hang up on me?” she demanded. Incredibly, that’s a true story.

I’m particularly annoyed at tactics intended to either trick you or guilt you or intrigue you into calling back when they know you wouldn’t. Oh, and those people who say they are just following up on an email they sent last week, or a letter they sent last week, unless they are really polite and friendly about it and they make it clear you’re not supposed to call them back unless you want to.

Ironically, it makes me wish for the sentiment expressed in that most famous of all spam opening lines: “We don’t want to waste our time, or yours.” Prove it.


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