How to Take a Phone Message… The Abstract Way

I’m assuming some people reading this are going to be like “wtf? does he think I’m an idiot and don’t know how to take a phone message?” but you would be surprised how many people absolutely suck at taking phone messages. Coming from an industry where the phone is king it’s amazing how many people in my office couldn’t take a decent phone message…. And seriously, it’s not that hard but it’s such an important skill to have and an effective message can make or break a deal.

There are 3 elements to a message:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Reason for call

These elements are non-negotiable. If you want to add additional elements to the message, feel free, but the BARE minimum should be the above 3 points.


The persons full name, with spelling. MAKE SURE YOU GET THE SPELLING of both names! To make sure you have spelt it correctly, repeat the spelling back to them or ask them to spell it for you then repeat the spelling to confirm it is correct. This is so important and there are few things more annoying than “please call Dave on 111-222-3333”.

Contact information:

Phone number and company (or relationship to the person they are calling, friend, sister etc..). Again, make sure you repeat the phone number. You could also consider taking a secondary number (land line) and an email address.

Reason for call:

This is the big one that people usually let slide. But it’s amazing how much of a difference it can make knowing why someone is calling. If someone has started working for me and one week later resigns, and I get a call from my client saying that the person I placed has just resigned, I sure as hell want to know about it before I pick up the phone and call them back. The reason for the call gives the person who has to return the call a chance to prepare before they pick up the phone. A chance to call other people first and find out what is happening so you are not walking into a bear trap!


There are a number of ways to deliver a message. In my experience, the two most common are hand written and email. But I can envision social media could be a pretty good way to take messages also. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn could all be used.

My messages are always taken in email. As soon as I pick up someone else’s call, I open a new email and make the subject line “message”.

I then structure it with the above 3 points. Below is an example.

There are a few of short cuts I use, but before you start using them make sure the people you are taking messages for know what they mean. I think these are made up, I’m not sure. But you can make short cuts for certain functions that relate to your job. Off the top of my head here are a few:

RYC = Returning your call

PCB = Please call back

JE = Job Enquiry

MC = Marketing Call

Inv = Invoice related

You get the picture…

The benefits of email (besides saving the environment) is that its highly visible, instant, doesn’t get lost and is traceable. If you write your message on a post-it note or loose piece of paper then 2 hours later the person you took the message for comes up and says – why didn’t you give me that message? There isn’t much you can say in your defense.

Sorry if I hurt anyone’s intelligence with this post.

What’s the most annoying message you have ever received?

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