Ryan Snook

First impressions mean a lot to potential clients. You have to seem trustworthy and likable enough that they’d welcome you into their homes. If they get your voice mail and are so turned off they don’t leave a message, you might need to rethink your greeting.

According to communication skills expert Dana Bristol-Smith, president and founder of Speak for Success, voice mail has become more important in the last few years because everyone expects instant access. “If you don’t return that call within a couple of hours you could be losing out to someone who either answered his phone or returned the client’s call quicker,” she says.

Your voice mail greeting should plainly state that you will be returning calls as quickly as possible and ask for a number where the caller can be contacted. “The days of asking for a detailed message are gone. We just want to know the easiest way to get in touch,” Bristol-Smith says.

And it’s not just the content but how you deliver that content that is key, according to Steve Hughes, president of Hit Your Stride, a communication training firm. “You can dramatically improve how your voice is perceived by simply standing up,” he says, adding that even though nobody can see it, you should smile as well. “People can definitely hear a smile through the phone. In call centers, the people who smile get higher rankings than those who don’t when reading the same script.”

Bristol-Smith says you don’t need to leave instructions on your voice mail: “You don’t have to tell them to ‘wait for the beep!’”

—Mark A. Newman, senior editor, REMODELING.