Allison Smith

What “Flavor” Speaks for Your Company?

You probably gave a great deal of thought to your Web site and the image you wanted to convey to customers the moment they landed on your page. You knew  people would make an instant (and sometimes unforgiving) decision about whether they wanted to delve deeper into doing business with you based on seemingly ethereal factors like the layout, the colors in the background, how slick your logo looks, or even something as arbitrary as what font you chose for the text.

The same kind of soul-searching and exploration into what “type” of company you are—and what the end-result “flavor” you want to sample to prospective customers—comes into play when deciding on IVR scripts for your company’s other front end, your phone system. It amazes me when during a phone consult with someone who is interested in me voicing their system I ask what “mood”, “feel” or “vibe” they’re trying to create with their prompts….and the question is met with silence. Or stammering. Or the admission: “That’s a great question! I hadn’t really given that any thought…”

Just like those first golden seconds of someone landing on your page, the opening greeting on your company’s IVR sets the tone; establishes who the company is, and can make a powerful impression—positive or negative.

Are you a fun, casual, upstart? A stoic grandfather in your industry? Family-run? One guy in his basement who wishes to sound like Apple? Is your product bubbly, fun, and playful? Or would your customers, who are calling to find just that right ball hitch, be confused by a fun, bubbly, playful voice welcoming them to Ball Hitch Inc? Even an industry like funeral homes—where a certain amount of delicacy and soothing is always called for—has room for “identity” if the funeral home is appealing to a younger market instead of to families who have been using the same home for generations and expect to hear organ music behind their IVR every time. You need to be crystal-clear in your mission and know exactly where your company stands image-wise in your market and have the ability to convey that to the voice talent who will be voicing your script.

Here’s some audio examples of what I mean:

This is me voicing in a straight-up, old-school telco automaton style: we mean business, we have no time to mess around, every “t” is crossed, and we make sure every “i” is dotted for you if you decide to do business with us (just click on the link below):

STIFF FORMAL

The voice is neutral, almost devoid of personality; there’s no commentary; it’s just a straight-ahead we’re-busy-people-but-we’ll-look-after-you-too kind of delivery.

Some firms are young, over-caffeinated, fun, and irreverent, and you just know from calling their offices that there have to be beanbag chairs in the boardrooms:

CASUAL FRIENDLY

Shoosh! You can almost smell the Red Bull, can’t you? Anyone tired of dealing with stuffy, conservative companies will listen to that IVR and say: “This is more like it. These guys get me.” Those looking for someone to design a plain-Jane brochure for them using stock images and Goldenrod paper will run screaming from this company, thereby pre-screening their clientele, to a certain extent.

There are many possibilities and many stops along the way in-between those examples. I try to default to a confident, friendly, professional timbre unless directed along a specific path.

I did an IVR for an independent publishing company that focuses on mystery novels, and to my delight, the company wanted me to read the IVR in an almost “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night”-style: What fun! It tells  callers that the company is ‘re creative, open and willing to play, and implies that callers, too, should have an innate spirit of fun and creativity to be good fit.

When drafting your phone prompts, the question of what kind of company you are, and what message you are endeavoring to convey with all promotional materials, bears consideration. You’re establishing an identity. And while your Web presence takes priority, it’s a good idea to include your IVR prompts as a vital part of your “identity package”.

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, having voiced platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Bell Canada, Vonage, Twitterfone, Hawaiian Telcom, and the Asterisk Open-Source PBX. Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.