Archive for September, 2009

IVR 101

My very first contract voicing telephone prompts was with Telus — the telco conglomerate in Alberta — who hired me to voice their mobility platform. I attended a meeting where they were discussing which prompts were needed, and what time committment would be required of me (in the formative stages: considerable. I remember a particular session where I was kept captive for hours voicing every country, city, town and hamlet on the Globe. Even Burkina Faso.)

I kept hearing the term “IVR” and was forced to pipe up — completely showing my newbie status — and asking: “What’s IVR?” The project manager smiled, and apologised for presuming that a (then) outsider to telephony was up on the vernacular.

“It’s “Interactive Voice Response”, he explained — and it means any time you encounter an automated phone tree which either responds to keypad presses or vocal commands to direct your call for it to be processed in a more effcient way, rather than a receptionist sorting everything out at the point of the main entry telephone line.

He further illustrated it with an image that I’ve never forgotten: it’s like a bunch of people boarding an escalator. When they get to the top, there’s someone “sorting” everyone into specific groups — for example — people with red jackets are directed to the left, the people wearing blue jackets are directed to the right. In each individual stream there can be further sub-categorizing: red jacket people with blond hair are directed in yet another direction; red-jacket people with brown hair are directed in another direction, and so on. It’s a way of ensuring that calls are organized and ultimately handled by the appropriate person or department — eliminating the human costs of making those decisions — and, ultimately, getting you to the right person to begin with. At least that’s the dream.

Next: I’ll outline what I preceive to be the Top 10 Mistakes of IVR Systems — and simple things to do to correct them._MG_5590


Offbeat Clients Need IVR Too….

Allison Smith 06_Telco_HighRes

In my career as a professional telephone voice, I can tell you that the work is fairly formulaic — almost everybody requires a front-end (“greeting”) message, a message once people get to their various department selections, an after-hours greeting, and occasionally, an extended absence greeting.  That’s it. Sometimes, there’s deviation from that, but not often. Pretty straightforward!

What can really shake up my day is when I’m in middle of recording something, and I can’t believe I’m actually saying it. Sure, there are the big corporations and mainstream businesses I record for — but every now and then I’ll record conference intro prompts for meetings of tin-foil-hat societies banding together to thwart the dangerous rays being emitted via Keith Olbermann or from the pizza ovens at Sbarro’s. I voiced some prompts recently which assured the callers that they are automatically a litigant in a class-action lawsuit if they were prisoners who were strip-searched in a particular cell block of a certain prison during a specificed span of time. I voiced an entire IVR system for a dog (“If you are one of Scout’s friends from the neighborhood, bark once..”), and when I voiced the IVR system for a noted Los Angeles divorce attorney, and joked that a prominent celebrity — who is famous for her multitudinous and messy divorces — should have her own extension, the office administrator who hired me to do the system insisted that I tack that onto the end.

The oddest moment was a few years ago, when my phone rang one morning, and a woman from San Fransisco explained she was interested in having me voice her phone options. She asked if I would be open to calling her existing system and giving her an estimate. No problem! I dial in — and don’t you know —  she’s a Call Girl. On her opening greeting, she had a veritable menu of everything she does and *does not* do (and how the items on the *does* menu costs extra outside of a certain radius.) Stymied, conflicted, and feeling very, very Amish, I called her back and respectfully passed on the job. I explained that I have a pretty high-profile clientele, and it just wouldn’t be a good venue for my voice. Frustrated, she sighed and said: “You’re the *fifth* voice talent to turn me down!”

I was *fifth* on the list? Now I was really depressed.

Have you encountered some strange/offbeat/unusual phone trees? Write me a comment and let me know about it.

Next blog: IVR 101 — some basics for those thinking of delving into writing IVR prompts.

The Telephone Lady Speaks

My name is Allison Smith, and I have — to say the least — an unusual job.

Most people listen to automated voices on telephone systems on a daily basis and never really give much thought as to just *who* does those recordings — or even that they are articulated by an actual living being.

Well — I *am* that being — or one of them. I have been described as one of the most prevalent telephone voices in North America, having voiced platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Vonage, Bell Canada, Twitterfone, and Asterisk — an Open-Source  VoIP platform that has the honor of being the fastest-growing telephony platform in the world.

Headshot With Phones

It was brought to my attention by a valued client that at any given time, my voice is playing in someone’s ear — somewhere around the world.

I work for a vast clientele globally, in a wide assortment of industries, and it seems that the applications to which my voice can be applied is limitless. Visit my website at for a full sense of my client base — and next blog, I’ll write about some of the more…exotic, strange, and just plain wierdball requests I get.

Thanks for reading!

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