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Voice Mail "Triage" - Do you simply return calls in the order in which they were received?

I am the owner and broker for a relatively small company in west Austin (we have 14 agents currently). I also handle my own sales, most of which come from referrals, past clients, and friends at this point, since I have been in business for just over 11 years.  Additionally, I do a lot of networking, both locally and now nationally, through my involvement with ActiveRain.

As such, there are days when I get a LOT of phone calls.  Today was a good example.  I had some friend calls, along with calls about two separate items that are currently being repaired (our TV and one of our notebook computers).  Turns out the TV cannot be repaired at all, but the notebook is an easy fix.  I managed to spill a soft drink on it TWICE. 

At any rate, when I get a lot of voice mails all at once, I typically write them down along with the pertinent info for each call.  Then comes the fun part - voice mail triage.  If you are not familiar with this term, it's because I just made it up today.  I then Googled it, and apparently this was not a completely original thought.  Oh well...


If you are not already familiar with the concept of triage, it is a medical term that they use in emergency rooms to describe the process of determining who to see first.  If you have a detached limb, you will likely be seen very quickly.  If you have a respiratory infection, prepare to wait at least 12 hours to see a doctor.  If your last name is Crouch, prepare to sleep on a cot. 


So, in order to best handle voice mails, I have my own version of triage to determine whom to call back first


Here's how things typically go:

First message.  "Hi, Jason, this is Audrey with Advanced Dental.  I was calling to re-schedule your appointment."  Yuck.  Skip. 

Let's see what else we have here.

Second message.  "Hey, Jason, this is Steve.  Gimme a call, man."  That one can wait for the moment, too, I suppose.  Skip.

Third message.  "Hi, Jason, this is Donna.  I have a closing that is supposed to happen...well, right now.  The buyers are threatening not to close - call me PLEASE."  I guess that one sounds important.  Better write it down.

Fourth message.  "Jason, this is James.  I have some questions on a contract I am writing for some clients.  Call me when you have a second."  Also sounds important.

Fifth message. "Mr. Crouch, this is Joe at Centex TV Repair.  We ordered the part and installed it, but it turns out that the LCD screen is out, too.  We can't repair your television.  It would be cheaper to buy a new one.  Please call me."  Well, dang.  So much for going with a "quality" brand.  That lasted about two years - they really don't make them like they used to.

Sixth message.  "Jason - How are you today?  This is Karen.  Could you please re-fax a copy of your license to the apartment place?  They are giving me a lot of grief over sending a $300 check.  Sorry to bother you.  Thanks for your help.  The number is 343-XXXX."  I need to take care of that for her.

I could go on like this, but I think you get the point.  It may sound like I never answer my phone, but I do.  However, if I am at home, and my cell phone happens to be downstairs in the kitchen, I don't feel like breaking my neck on the stairs (or straining my MCL by falling, which I did about two years ago), so I will let it go to my voice mail.  Otherwise, I am generally pretty responsive. 

So, with regard to these particular calls, even though James clearly needs some a little bit of help with writing a contract, it doesn't sound like he is in imminent danger of losing money, so I will call Donna first (neither of these are their real names, by the way).  After a few minutes on the phone, I think we have a good solution in place, and I didn't even have to call and serve as a mediator with anyone else this time, or ease a skittish  seller's nerves, or explain to a buyer's agent why his client will not be seeing his earnest money should they decide to cancel 20 minutes before the closing, or break someone's legs.  Whew! 

James' question is very easy and takes about 45 seconds.  So, that clears the most pressing stuff.  I re-assure Karen that I will re-fax the license within five minutes, although it turns out that I don't get it done for a few hours.  More phone calls just happen to arrive in the interim.

The point here that I am clumsily trying to make is twofold:


  • Make the hardest and least desirable phone calls first.  As Zig Ziglar famously stated, "If you have to swallow a toad, you don't want to have to look at him on your desk all day.  Get it over with early."

  • Have a mental system in place for sorting calls.  Personally, I can make several quick business phone calls in the car on the way to the grocery store, but I may wait until I have a larger block of free time to call my friends.

Thanks for reading!

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