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Little niceties and social amenities, what I call “the half-percents,” can mean the difference between simply existing and gaining the edge so necessary in today’s fiercely competitive business environment. This holds true even when communicating electronically. Recent studies have shown that voice mail is one of the most effective forms of business communication. Based on one study, 78 percent of voice mail users surveyed reported that the technology improved their productivity. But communicating via automation can also be frustrating when not done properly. VOICE MAIL TIPS � Leave a personalized greeting. When used properly, voice mail boxes are like having a person on call 24 hours a day to answer your line. Studies have shown that callers are more likely to leave a message when your greeting is personalized. Your personal greeting should give callers an idea of your schedule, and most importantly, when they can expect a return call. � Give callers an easy out rather than trapping them in voicemail jail. Let callers know early in your message how to reach a live person rather than making them listen to your entire message (For example: “Good morning. This is Mindy Jones. Today is Monday, Sept. 20. I will be in meetings this morning. If you would like to speak to a live attendant, dial zero. If you would like to leave a message, please press 3. I will return to my office this afternoon and will return your call at that time. Thank you.”). � Answer your line when possible. Rather than using voice mail as a screening device, etiquette dictates that you pick up your line when you are available. Callers will appreciate having you answer your line — at least occasionally. COMMON VOICE MAIL MISTAKES � Not leaving your full name. Rather than being presumptuous, make it easy for the people you are calling. Even if you talk to the person on a regular basis, telephone etiquette recommends that you leave both your first and last names. This will prevent you from being confused with someone else. � Not leaving your telephone number. No matter how many times you have talked with others, it is still in order to include your telephone number in the message. By leaving your number, you will spare the person returning your call the extra step of looking it up. You may also get your call returned more promptly — especially if the person is returning calls from outside the office. � Not leaving a clear and concise message. Think before dialing. Plan what you are going to say. Your organization skills will be much appreciated by the person receiving your message. � Not leaving a time when you can be reached. One of the many advantages of voice mail is the elimination of telephone tag. If the nature of your message requests that you receive a call back, be sure to leave a time when you can be reached. E-MAIL ETIQUETTE Online interaction today is as common as picking up the phone, faxing or dropping by someone’s office. With hard copies, you have the texture of the paper, with voicemail messages, your inflection sets the tone, with in-person interaction, your body language communicates. But with e-mail, the only “non-verbals” on which the receiver has to base the message tone are your words. Following are some pointers on adding warmth to your messages. � Use a form of thanks in the first 12 words of the message (For example, “It was a pleasure receiving your e-mail message.”) � Use the person’s name in the first 12 words of your message. Like it or not, when sending an e-mail, a letter or a fax, you are judged by the quality of your writing. No matter how casual you choose to make the tone of your message, capital letters should be used at the beginning of sentences and with proper names. One way to ensure correct spelling is by using spell-check. Also, proof your message by reading it aloud or printing a hard copy before sending. Although your message is a reflection of you, the style of your message should be tailored to the person receiving it. For instance, if you have a rapport established with the person and your message deals with a “light” topic, a more casual tone is acceptable. However, if you are at an arm’s length with the recipient, and your topic is more serious in nature, a more formal tone is in order. When unsure of the appropriate tone, write the way you would talk to the person. 10 E-MAIL MISTAKES � Not checking your e-mail with the same regularity as your voice mail. � Not labeling the subject of your message to reflect the content. � Not responding to e-mails in the same prompt manner that you do other forms of communication. � Not proofing an electronic message with the same attention that you give a document in hard-copy form. � Being verbose in your e-mail rather than being succinct. � Sending unsolicited mass-mailings that could be considered junk mail to recipients. � Labeling a message as “urgent” so the receiver will give it priority unnecessarily. � Not listing a phone number and fax in your message so that the recipient has this information at hand. � Trying to be humorous in your messages when it could be misinterpreted as sarcasm. � Sending copies of e-mails to people in address groups rather than being more selective about who receives the messages. Ann Marie Sabath is the founder of At Ease Inc., a Manhattan business protocol and development training firm. She is also the author of seven books on domestic and international etiquette.

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