Your choice of voice talent is crucial in creating the perception of your company, as the front-end of your phone system establishes who you are and in many cases, how serious you are about what you do.
There are no hard-and-fast rules about your selection of voice talent to voice your IVR — existing preferences with regards to male versus female; the deliberate decision to go with an older voice as opposed to a younger sound (or vice-versa) — all are negotiable and not set in stone. What was once the preferred and valued convention in a vocal style can suddenly fall out of favor and the converse can now be the “norm”.
I have been asked to voice the IVR prompts for many companies and industries which were, before, considered to be the domain of men: I recently voiced an online training module for welders (their thinking being that a woman’s voice would be calming to candidates writing their exam); car markets — from sales to accessories and customization of vehicles — once the turf of male announcers, are rapidly leaning in favor of a female voice. It could be a matter of “sex sells”; I like to think that it has more to do with the psychology of how a voice hits your ears. You know how some voices just irritate? And you don’t know why? A voice can “agree” with your ears, without you even really knowing why.
A young, energetic sound — with the gravelly, almost sleepy cadence of a Jersey Shore girl, will most definitely fit with a young upstart alternative clothing company and likely wouldn’t fit with an upscale high-end clothier targeting a 35-55 market. A straightforward conservative male voice might sound stodgy and not dovetail well with a hip, urban record label, in much the same way that callers to an importer of high-end housewares might find it incongruous to encounter a telephone voice who sounds too hip or “street” — or even a “young” sound, which could create doubts of competence for callers phoning gem dealers or art auction houses, where a seasoned, experienced sound would inspire confidence.
Define The Sensation You’re Attempting to Create
It is important to have it worked out in your head — and to able to express to your voice talent — what “vision” you have of the company’s image, and how the talent can help to create that. Articulate what you are; and articulate what you *aren’t* all about. Provide examples from other ad campaigns or phone systems you’ve heard, or even examples of what’s worked well for you in the past or what *hasn’t* worked well — but only as a rough guide and not as a template which you expect the talent to replicate exactly.
Ask for a Custom Demo…but not too many
It’s completely acceptable (and highly recommended) to request a custom demo of your material, to make sure the talent’s on the right track — with a few caveats. Make sure the material is short (two or three lines or prompts should be sufficient to establish the direction they’re heading in). Be aware that most talent will not read an entire spot or a full script for audition purposes; we are vigilant about making sure the clip isn’t actually used without remuneration and rather than embed a low-grade tone under the sample (a watermark which effectively makes it unusable) we will deliberately change prices or transpose phone numbers to make sure it won’t be used. If the talent doesn’t hit the mark the first time, feel free to suggest a retry on the demo — but if, after that second attempt yields results which still aren’t sounding right, move on and audition someone else. Most often, understanding the material and being able to convey the vision is an instant “get” — when it’s not there, it’s probably best to farm other avenues.
Know Your Demographic — And Have a Clear Idea What They Respond To
Knowing what works and what doesn’t work for your customers is as important for your IVR persona as it is to have a website which you know your customers will find intuitive, or knowing what type of radio commercial draws your customers in. And sometimes, it’s all about context. No surveys or testing would be required to know that callers to a Women’s Health Clinic will likely *not* respond well to a male voice greeting them on the telephone system, but callers to a grocery chain (where women are still the principal consumers) might find a reassuring, “let’s-cook-dinner-together” male voice to be just the right tone.
The More People You Ask — The More Messy the Process Will Be
We know that many aspects of the corporate environment need to be done by committee, taking many, many people’s opinions into consideration. If it were just up to the person who contacted the talent, it would be a simpler, more direct process. It is rarely up to one single decision-maker. It is important that the vision be agreed upon and solidified corporately before even approaching the talent; it is essential to narrow the parameters of what you’re looking for early in the process, and it will be a valuable nugget of information to articulate to the talent that *many* people will be reviewing not just their demo but all of them (and that this may cause more of a delay in obtaining feedback). For bonus points, decide to set a limit on the amount of demoing which will be required of the talent.
It’s an amazingly creative process to hunt for and obtain just the right sound, which closely mirrors your company’s persona, and provides the best, most accurate impression of your company at the outset. It’s the indefinable moment when the voice hits your ear “just right”.
Next week, I’ll be exploring a staple in the world of telephony which refuses to become an anachronism: The Yellow Pages.
Thanks for reading!
Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, and Asterisk. Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.