Archive for August, 2010

What’s In a Name?

By the time they hire me to voice their IVR’s, it’s probably too late to talk to people about why they’ve named their companies what they have —  many late nights have already been spent and reams of legal yellow paper consumed brainstorming about how to make their company’s name as unique and significant as possible; coming up with imaginative and innovative ways of spelling ordinary words to make them their own, riffing on existing words and modifying them to make them unique, or building a name from several different components which represent their company; a name which will identify their organization and which will no doubt look great on letterhead, website, booth banners, and business cards.

I am astounded at how many companies have me re-do their opening messages — after having voiced them to the best of my ability — due to mis-pronouncing their company’s name. I’ve even had clients — at the outset of a job — send an intonation file of *them* voicing the company’s name — or they schedule a pre-recording call with me — because (in their words):  “The company name is kind of tricky — in fact, almost everybody gets it wrong!  But it’s really important that you voice the opening message with the definitive pronunciation..”

I’ll say! I would think it would be crucially important that *everyone* say it in the “definitive way”, from the receptionist to the UPS delivery man to the people manning your booth at a trade show to someone seeing it for the first time. While it’s important that your company name be unforgettable, distinct, not apt to be confused with your competitor’s, and easy to recall, it should also probably not need a special tutorial on how to pronounce it properly.

I’ll add even further to that list, and suggest that not only is it important that your company’s name visually *look* impressive — I submit that it is crucial that the name actually “scans” to ear effectively. You will be *saying* your company’s name probably more than people will see it in its written form. You need to take into consideration how easy the name will be to “hear” — and to “say” — and imagine someone hearing your company name for the first time and immediately turning to type it into a web browser — wouldn’t you want to ensure that they hit *your* website every time; that your site is as easy as possible to find, and that the complex and unique spelling of your company’s name isn’t snagging their search?

I, of course, wish to protect the identities of valued clients (and to not offend, ever), so the examples I’m going to use to illustrate my point are company names *I’ve* manufactured, but hopefully get the point across.

Suppose — after much late-night workshopping,  you’ve decided to call your exciting, innovative company “Ignyshyn”. Cool, right? A play on the word “Ignition”! It sounds just the same as the mainstream word, but it’s spelled so……imaginatively!

I’m officially begging you to re-think any and all clever liberties taken with the spelling of words to snazz up your company’s moniker. It needlessly complicates the name, and makes it almost impossible for customers to find you — especially if you don’t take measures to have your voice talent painstakingly spell out the website (“Go to That’s I-G-N-Y-S-H-Y-N, dot com”) — which a surprising number of clients don’t have me do.) Do they just presume people are going to magically type in “” or “”? Chances are, (especially if the difference in spelling isn’t pointed out in the copy), they’ll follow what their ear is telling them and go to “” and “”, experience brief confusion, and move on to your competition.

Doubly befuddling to me, as a voice talent, are the instructions I occasionally get to make the unusual spelling stand out — but not stand out too much (for example, if I’m voicing for a company called “TechKNOWlogy”, and they want me to emphasise the appearance of the word “know” in the title, (which is darned clever, you have to admit)  but not at the expense of ruining the flow of the word…..customers should still “hear” “TECHNOLOGY” but just “nudge” the play on words by hitting the “KNOW”…but not too hard. Tricky, even for an experienced vocalizer of prompts.

Especially vexing are company names with numerals written in — some seem straightforward (“Innov8”) but even those also frequently come with instructions to point out the play on words (“but try not to really say ‘eight’ at the end..”) and others are just plain befuddling (“4ti2de” — “fortitude”. Gah!)

I recently read the opening greeting for a company who decided to make their name an amalgam of the founder’s first names — similar to “Johareth, Inc.” Given no guidance as to the pronunciation, I went for the pronunciation: “Joe-HARR-eth.” Turns out, the names the title is based on were actually Johann, Harry, and Ethan — it would be more like “Yo-HAIR-eeeth.” But how was I to know? And how will the customers of Johareth possibly know? Especially without the “tutorial” on how to pronounce it. The company name “Keyknowt” *might* be pronounced “Keynote”, except if it’s for a UK-based voice synthesis engine manufacturer wanting to emphasise a hands-free, no-typing feature of their product, and their play on words involves the British “Nowt” — literally “nothing”. “Key Nothing” — get it? Me either.

I submit some very strong cases in point: some of the most recognizable and profitable companies operating today do so under names which have practically no chance of mis-interpretation, mis-pronunciation, and have zero confusion associated with the names: Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google. Nobody’s inclined to say “Ibbim” instead of saying the individual letters of “IBM”; I would wager that there has never been an operator at Microsoft who had to correct a customer calling in: “Well, actually, it’s pronounced “MY-crow-soft”, not “MEEK-ro-soft…”, and even at first glance at the nonsensical, entirely manufactured word “Google”, you instantly knew how to say it, and I’ll bet you never slipped and called it “Goggle” (or typed in “Gewgal” as a search term.)

Simplicity, accessibility, and a turnkey approach to naming your company is key — the name should speak for itself. It should stand alone. It should not be an unpronouncable in-joke, and it only benefits you and your company if you create as simple a path as possible for customers to find you.

The blog will be on a brief summer hiatus for the next two weeks — I’ll be back blogging in September and look forward to marking one whole year of the Voicegal Blog! Thanks to all of you for reading, and thanks for making this blog so well received, and such a passion to write!


SpeechTEK 2010

This week, I attended SpeechTEK in New York, a gathering of experts in Outbound Messaging, Security/Voice Biometrics, Speech Deployment and Voice Interaction Design.

Naturally, as a voice for hire, I was interested in approaching prospective clients and plying my wares as a voice talent — while many of the companies exhibiting already have their Text To Speech (or TTS) engines and IVR platforms built, its surprising to me that many of them have used a “stop-gap” voice — literally a staffer doing a one-off — just to get their systems up and running. It was hugely beneficial for me to make the rounds and introduce myself, and I found many of them to be excited to have met a voice talent face-to-face — and I even had to put on the “Asterisk Voice” for a CEO over a cell phone, when his employees manning the booth found out that I’m the voice of Asterisk (they had been running Asterisk for awhile) and thought they’d freak their boss out with a live call from me.

What I was pleasantly surprised to find at SpeechTEK was the emphasis on Customer Relation Metrics and the overall goal to improve the Customer Experience through simplified, well-designed and expertly executed IVRs and voice recognition platforms — aspects I’ve been evangelizing about since this blog first started, almost a year ago. If it’s confusing, choppy, misleading, or irritating to use in any way, your automation may be doing more harm than good.

The idea that Natural Language Processing (NLP) can improve our interactions with computers with fine-tuned dialogue systems is key in averting customer frustration (there’s a huge difference between dictation engines and conversational recognition engines) and its an aspect which is integral to efficient call routing and sorting.

Emily Yellin -- CRM Guru!

Emily Yellin, author of Your Call Is (Not That) Important To Us delivered the Opening Keynote — she has an amazingly entertaining style and imparts her concerns about customers being left behind in a maelstrom of technologies which overwhelm them (and thus make them disengage). Her anecdotes resonate, and her passion about streamlining and simplifying customer interactions over the telephone reminded all attending to take this technology — which is ever-advancing — and never lose sight that it is only as good as its usability. And only as valuable as the impression it leaves on the customer.

I love to think that my small role in the whole automated customer interaction experience helps to enhance call flow; create less work for live agents who eventually might interact with the customer one-on-one, and my goal is to make the customer’s experience navigating through an IVR as smooth as it it can possibly be — calm, friendly, helpful tones which leave the impression of being guided through the maze by a friend instead of a robot.

SpeechTEK was definitely an informative and comprehensive gathering of companies with a vast array of Tutorial topics (from Alphanumeric Pattern Capture of Automobile License Tags, to profiling how AstraZeneca became a vanguard in Call Center efficiency), the industries which benefit from the study of how speech and technology meet are limitless.

Join me next week as I delve into “What’s In a Name..?” — what you call your company — and how that name “scans” with the spoken word can mean the difference between success and failure.

As always, thanks for reading!