The Value of a Professional Voice

I regularly contribute blog articles and speak at telephony conferences about IVR Best Practices. One of the key points that I always wish to impart is: getting your auto-attendant and IVR prompts voiced by a professional is not only be a great idea – it’s a move which will inform your callers of your professionalism and overall image awareness.

One popular line of thinking is: “Let’s just get the person answering phones at the front desk to voice the message. They talk all day, how hard can it be?”

And it’s true: your front-office staffers are probably very capable, and even willing to voice your custom prompts – and they may even do an acceptable job. But there can be issues with using staff instead of hiring a voice-over pro.

The Employee Working the Front Desk Can Change. The staffer that you enlist to voice your auto attendant might move to a different position or leave the company. Now making changes to your IVR becomes an issue. Do you just use another employee? I recently called the IVR of the largest cable provider in Canada, and I counted 15 different voices on their IVR. It sounds inconsistent, disorganized, and amateurish. You want to demonstrate continuity and professionalism when clients call your business. A professional IVR, using the same voice for all the prompts in your system, will give callers a sense of consistency, familiarity, and stability.

Employees Will Be Recording Directly Into the Phone. When you hire a voice-over professional, you’re getting clean, clear digital files, recorded in a professional environment. The files can be converted into any format/codec your system requires. You want to project an image of a professional company. Editing is included, removal of breathing, unnecessary pauses and background noises make the professional difference.

Professionals are Available and You Are Not Taking Them Off a Project. Chances are – even though a staffer might be on your actual premises – they may not be available for corrections/additions/updates the way a dedicated professional would be. Your staffer was hired for a purpose – and voicing telephone prompts isn’t what they should be busy with. A task like voicing and editing prompts for the phone menu will likely get stuffed down on the list of importance, and not be given the proper attention – whereas it’s my core competency.

There’s a Reason Why My Husband and I Go Out for Sushi Instead of Making it at Home. I’m a pretty fair cook, and can actually make my own sushi at home – but not easily and not quickly. It’s a skillset – and if making sushi was my job, I’d be pretty darn good at it. Letting a professional prepare your sushi means you don’t have to worry about all the ingredients and steps; you simply get to enjoy a great experience. So it is with IVR.

Computer-Generated Voices Sound like Computers. Another perceived “shortcut” which many view as a work-around to hiring a pro to voice your system is the implement a Text to Speech utility – where phrases are typed in and the utility spews forth sentences. While a good stop-gap measure/temporary replacement for “holes” in your IVR, even the well-executed ones will always have an “automated” sound to them. There are many people that are turned off by a machine recording, saying it feels impersonal. (When I voiced the Allison TTS Engine – Cepstral’s #1-selling TTS voice – clients kidded me that I’ve replaced myself with a “machine”. Even the one built on my voice is a poor substitute for custom IVR recorded from scratch.)

The takeaway: while everyone can speak, hiring a professional to voice your auto attendant, IVR, greetings, and on-hold systems makes a much better impression on customers, setting your company above your competition and demonstrating your professionalism. Professional IVR is an easy and affordable investment in your corporate image and should be a serious consideration for anyone building a phone system your customers will use daily.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, heard on platforms for Cisco, Vonage, ShoreTel, Bell Canada, Cincinnati Bell, Mitel, and the Asterisk Open Source PBX. Web: Twitter: @voicegal. You can purchase her custom professional voice prompts easily and directly from Sangoma in the FreePBX Store.

Roll Out the IVR Welcome Mat

You Wouldn’t Make Guests Wait on Your Doorstep – Would You?

Imagine that a friend invited you over to their house. You arrive and ring the bell — but instead of a warm greeting and an invitation to take off your shoes and come inside for a cup of tea and lovely conversation — you were left standing there, listening to a series of strange commands and forced to make a choice before you’ve ever granted access inside.

  • If you would like to come in out of the cold, say “May I come in”.
  • Once you have removed your shoes, say “shoes off”.
  • You’ve indicated you’d like a cup of tea.
    • Say “hot” for hot tea
    • Say “iced” for iced tea.
      • You’ve selected hot.
        • Say “Chai” for Chai
        • Say Grey” for Earl Grey
        • Say “Darjeeling” for Darjeeling…

It would be a little….strange, yes?

Unwelcoming, off-putting, and the opposite of graciousness.

Yet, this is what Interactive Voice Response (IVR) , or phone menu trees as they are commonly called, do every day.

The caller is faced with a gate which ominously crashes down in front of them. Then, in an almost Monty Python-style line of questioning (“What is the airspeed of an un-laden swallow?”), callers are expected to maneuver through untold levels of confusing (and sometimes contradictory) questions; only to be rewarded with personalized service at the end of it all… if they’re lucky.

How did IVRs get so unwelcoming?
In the desire to sort callers, which is the basic function and utility of an IVR, we’ve gotten to thinking of the IVR as almost like a test. It has become a maze which the caller must successfully navigate in order to get to the level of service they need.

Not very welcoming or hospitable!

The IVR is meant to “organize” callers and send them on to your staff who are best equipped to deal with the caller’s specific issue or problem. But it’s so much more than that. A good phone tree should establish what it will feel like to be a customer and will enlist the caller’s help in arriving at a solution together. The experience should leave the caller empowered, instead of frustrating them and making them feel like they’re being shuffled off to Robotland.

IVR is the virtual “front door”; the imaginary “lobby” of your company. Your guests should be treated like guests not intruders, or an interruption to your business.

I have been attempting to get clients to try a more accessible, open, and human way of greeting callers. No barking of instructions, no series of complicated roadblocks, and you’re never again allowed to make the caller feel like they’re standing on the porch; confused, cold, and unsure if they should stay or head back home.

So *greet* that caller enthusiastically; even give them that subtle virtual hug. Make them as comfortable as possible. And leave them with the feeling that the IVR is not a puzzle they have to solve or challenge they have to win; it’s a method for you to make them feel at ease…and served.

Questions to Get You Started
Improvement is never-ending (if you’re doing it right!), so where do you start making improvements to your IVR?

  1. Call your number and act like a customer. Then ask yourself:
    1. Does the greeting sound friendly and professional?
    2. Do you feel like you want to stay on the line?
    3. Is the menu you’re offering short and to the point?
    4. If you have multiple levels are they consistent in tone
    5. Do you have more than 3-4 options to choose from?
  2. Time how long it takes to work your way through your current choices. Can you delete or combine any of the choices?
  3. Who did the recording? If it was someone that works in the office and answers calls, it can create an awkward situation for the caller. When they finally get through to a live voice, and are not sure if it is still a recording!

Sangoma offers the option to purchase professional voice prompts in various packages, you can check out the selection in the Sangoma Portal

To learn more about IVR, you can check out the FreePBX Wiki here: IVR Module

Allison Smith – The Voice of Asterisk and Free PBX — is an internationally-recognized professional voice talent, and one of the top telephone voices working today. Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Sprint, Cingular, Verizon, Qwest . Clients include Marriot Hotels, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America and EBay among many others.


Recipe for an Effective IVR – by Allison Smith, Guest Blogger

IVR Recipe

How to Cook Up a Great Interactive Voice Response (IVR) System for Your Callers
  • 4 large handfuls of a distinct company personality
  • Massive scoops of understanding of company’s position in your industry
  • Several tablespoons of compassion for the caller – to be added in gradually and liberally throughout
  • Several dashes of humor – to taste
  • Brevity

Start with a clear understanding of *who* your company is. This should be considered the main — and perhaps most important ingredient; because without this as a foundation to your recipe, you will make a bloated, bland IVR, devoid of flavor.

*Be absolutely sure of your company’s personality.*

Now, measure out an approximation of where your company *is* in the industry — are you on the forefront and driving change? Or flying under the radar? Keeping up a steady, yet unobtrusive profile, or shaking things up? Sift this in with the first ingredient, making sure to integrate everything together.

Next — and this is critical for taking your IVR to the next level — gently fold in several tablespoons of compassion of the caller — remember your last frustrating experience maneuvering through an IVR which threatened to take up your whole day. You felt helpless and powerless; like being elbow-deep in flour, halfway through a Julia Child recipe, realizing that your dried mushrooms have not been soaking in merlot for the past 12 hours as directed. Add liberal amounts of compassion throughout — the caller just wants to get where they want to go. Don’t make it difficult for them.

Flavor your recipe generously with humor and lightness: too many IVRs are a serious concoction of dry, flavorless content — sitting there like a massive pound cake. Use your IVR to tempt the taste buds; serve as an unforgettable appetizer — a preview of the “main course” — which is the actual service and live interaction that the caller can expect.

Now that you have all ingredients prepared, keep in mind that brevity is at the heart of all great call flows; think of a small, eye-catching appetizer which leaves the caller wanting more. People are busy; time is limited. We’re not taking about fast-food here; bland, forgettable, but served quickly: think of your IVR as a delicacy, bursting with flavor, and never heavy, time-consuming, overwhelming, or filling.

Serve immediately; proudly. Knowing that your IVR has greeted callers brightly, tastefully, and respectfully. Enjoy!

About the Author

Allison Smith

Allison Smith is an internationally recognized professional voice talent, specializing in voicing telephone systems. Allison is also a Certified FreePBX Partner. If you’ve maneuvered through telephone prompts while calling a Fortune 500 company, participated in a telephone customer satisfaction survey, signed onto a conference call, listened to the public airwaves, took an online training module, or even received an automated call notifying you of an upcoming medical or dental appointment — chances are, you’ve heard Allison. One of the most prevalent and widespread telephone voices working today, Allison has voiced platforms for Vonage, Bell Canada, Sprint, Cingular, Verizon, and Qwest, as well as the Open Source PBX Asterisk. Clients include PetSmart, Kennedy Space Center, 3M, Pfizer, Toyota, Victoria’s Secret, Bank of America, and eBay among many others. Her voice is pre-installed in the FreePBX Distro, and she provides the basic stock prompts for voicemail and IVRs. Allison’s web site is