Avoid this Big Lie on Your Answering Message


“I’m either on the phone or with another customer”


How might you feel when you hear that recorded message? Do you believe that message? Do you believe that the person you’re trying to reach is actually on the phone or with another customer?

Let’s dissect that message to expose the purpose, value and credibility.

Covert Purpose
What’s the purpose of that message? Is the person trying to make you feel better by suggesting that they are busy and hence doing their job? Do you care? If you’re trying to reach that person and got their voice mail, you probably want to leave a message for them. You don’t really want to hear their excuse for not answering the phone.

That message doesn’t help you or make you feel better because it’s simply an excuse. So, who is that message really intended for? Perhaps it’s for their colleagues or boss. That person wants their boss and colleagues to believe that they are busy and hence working diligently. Not that the two mean the same.

Questionable Value
Does that message add value to the client relationship?  Was the information useful to the caller? Was the message believable? Did the message build trust? Did that message save time?

The answer to all five questions is “No”. That message wasted time, wasn’t believable and diminished trust.

Questionable Credibility
The message states that there were only two possible reasons for not answering your call. Either the person is:
a) on the phone or
b) with another customer

That suggests that if the person is on the phone they are not talking to a customer. The natural question is, “Who are they talking to on the phone?”

Are those the only two possibilities for not answering the phone?

A reasonable person might recognize that there might be other reasons for not answering the phone. 

That might be that the person is:


  • In the bathroom
  • On a coffee or smoke break
  • At lunch – early or late
  • Arriving late today for work
  • Left early today
  • Off sick
  • On vacation
  • Planning your next vacation
  • This a weekend or holiday
  • Posting on social media
  • Chatting with office buds about the weekend
  • Consoling a colleague about their problems
  • Updating their resume
  • Preparing for a meeting
  • In a staff meeting
  • Dealing with a personal or family issue
  • Or doing something else


As you can imagine, there are many reasons why a person might not answer the phone. It’s insulting to suggest that there are only two. It’s also likely a lie.

The message states, “I’m either on the phone or with another customer” isn’t for the benefit of the caller. It’s self-serving.

What should the message say?

“I can’t take your call right now” is one choice. At least it’s the truth but it’s obvious. But, it wastes time. You also don’t need to tell callers to “leave a message after the beep”.

Instead, state your name and promise. State your name so the caller knows they got the right number. Don’t use the anonymous “The person at this number is not available”.

State your promise about when you will return their call so they know what to expect.

Now that you’ve read this article what will you say when you reach a phone message that claims “I’m either on the phone or with a client”?

You might be justified in leaving this message “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”







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