Ernestine the OperatorI have a pet peeve. Yes, I know it’s hard to believe that someone as loving and wonderful like me would have a pet peeve. And no, it’s not a pet peeve like a pet rock or something like that. Oh, no. This is more like a pet hornet – it gets all up in my bonnet when it happens. It’s this: the majority of people these days simply do not know how to use that new-fangled contraption Edison done invented called a tell-ee-fone.

In my job, I deal with a lot of people calling and leaving voicemail message. Some days my boss sends me a bunch of them on which to follow up, some days it’s just a few; other days I just grab them myself before they go to voicemail, and still go through all the voicemail steps as a precaution. It’s part of my job to follow up on these messages, but before I can do that, it’s up to me to interpret the messages and discern (a) what it sounds like they’re saying, (b) what the hell they’re actually trying to say, (c) a name, (d) a phone number, and (e) a reason why they’re calling. Most times, it’s a simple return phone call. They leave a message like:

Hi, my name is Michael Smith – S-M-I-T-H – and I’m calling about a mailing I received regarding [insert client name]. I have some questions, and I can be reached at 123-456-7890. Again, my name is Michael Smith – S-M-I-T-H – at 123-456-7890. Thank you. <click>

Well, okay. Maybe I dreamed that message because I surely have never actually gotten a message as perfect as that in my life – and I think I would be called home to Jesus if I ever did. But you get the idea – I am able to understand the pertinent information in their message so I either know how to respond, or know who else needs to respond to their message.

No. Instead, I get messages like this:

Hi.MynameisShaneequa.Igotapaperinmymailanyouneedatellmewhatitabout.Callme.Bye <click>

I get messages that are so thick with accents I have to slow down the recording to try to understand bits and pieces of it. People mumble on the phone like it makes them sound really cool, but all I hear is “duh-biduh-biduh-biduh-biduh.” For crying out loud, take the friggin hairball out of your mouth and speak!

So let me give you a few pointers when talking on the phone and leaving a message – that is, IF you are expecting an intelligent return call:

  • Speak clearly and deliberately. It’s a phone, not HDMI. There is background noise, there is foreground noise, and frankly, all cell phone networks suck. Stop talking so fast like you have to tell me your life’s history in 2 seconds. Slow down. Breathe. Enunciate.
  • Say hello. You’re not an animal (then again, if you talk like “duh-biduh-biduh-biduh-biduh” we needn’t go much further…). Act like your momma raised you the right way.
  • Introduce yourself and at least spell your last name. We all know that you know how to spell your last name, but that doesn’t mean anyone else does – especially if your last name is Wolfeschlegelsteinhausenbergerdorffvoral. It’s just not rolling off my tongue, and if you think I’m going to spell that phonetically, I’ll just call you Mr. Smith.
  • State your reason for calling. Seems straight-forward enough, but you’d be surprised how many people just mumble and stammer. Get to the point! I know voice mail systems will let you leave long-assed messages, but that doesn’t mean you are required to do so. Perhaps you could even collect your thoughts before you make that call – now wouldn’t that be a great idea?
  • Leave your phone number. Wow! I never imagined I would need to make this point. But believe it or not, I regularly get these people who leave a voice mail message that gives me their name but nary a phone number. They just say “call me” and then hang up. Like I’m Carnac the Magnificent or something?
  • Repeat your name (with spelling) and your phone number. Again, all cell phone companies’ networks suck and you never know when you may have been in a dead zone, so at least repeat the two most critical pieces of information I need to get back to you; we can work out the rest later.

If you follow these simple little points when you leave me (or anyone) a message, you’ll get a very happy and pleased return call.

And to summarize for those who still can’t talk on the phone, let me say: “Duh-biduh-biduh-biduh-biduh.”