Allison Smith

Never a Dull Moment in Front of This Mic!

As someone who voices the telephone prompts for a vast selection of companies, I get a front-row seat to the inner workings of a wide variety of industries. Most are unassuming and straightforward; others are so extremely bizarre they provide great fodder for dinner party talk—and now that I’m blogging, endless material for my articles. I’m provided with a constant flow of projects that keep me shaking my head and perpetually entertaining friends and colleagues with amazing stories about voicing for largely unbelievable—but very real—projects.

Case in point: There is an online company (which shall remain nameless, as will all companies I mention in this article since I have not been paid to promote them nor have I obtained clearance to use their real names.) which—for a modest subscription fee—will break up on your behalf. Boyfriends to whom you need to give the heave-ho; girlfriends you need to send packing; a job that you need to resign from but don’t actually want the discomfort of quitting face-to-face; a needy friend from whom you hope to extricate yourself once and for all—these sticky entanglements and many more can be assigned to this company, which, diplomatically and gently, and ever-so in the third person, will relieve you of your responsibility. The question that initially came to my mind was: “A subscription service? How often or ongoing would this need be? Wouldn’t you think that any given person might have one sole messy situation in his life that he would gladly pay to outsource? A subscription that entitles you to several such get-out-of-jail-free cards? And like a coffee card that gets punched with every fill-up, is the 10th breakup free?

An incredibly witty friend of mine asked if the IVR I voiced for this company was turnkey to the point of a vocal form letter being drafted, not unlike an autodialer: “This is a message for (RECIEPENT’S NAME). It turns out that (SENDER’S NAME) is no longer interested in seeing you. (SENDER’S NAME) would like you to know that it’s not personal, and that it’s not you; it’s him. (SENDER) wishes you all the best in your future relationships. Please do not contact (SENDER‘S NAME) again.”

As far as I know, it’s a live operator who “breaks up” with your former paramour/job/friend — or does it via email. But it provides hours of amusement speculating on the bizarrely cold and detached nature that such an automated call would present. Nora-Ephron-film-like.

Recent Bizarre Job #2: The IVR for an importer of hair—human hair to be made into wigs, falls, hairpieces, etc . Natural human hair pieces have always been very prized  and extremely expensive. What gave me pause for thought for this client was its “feature product,” the jewel of its product line: Virgin Indian Hair. Yep,  you read right. Apparently highly sought after. It made me think about all the virgin wool sweaters I have in my winter arsenal and how little I care about what the sheep was up to before it became my sweater. Would “virgin” be a deciding criteria for my purchase of a hairpiece? Is the hair from a non-sexually-active woman compositionally different from a donor with a busy social schedule? More desirable/less sullied/purer? (Fewer dates = less hair product residue?). And how do they screen donors who might have an incentive to lie about such a thing? As with blood donors, in markets where money crosses the palm in exchange for a donation, there might be the inclination to lie about the “purity” of the sample for a profit.

Which brings me to strange contract #3: Awhile back, I was enlisted to voice a short infomercial for a company that will bank your DNA. The reasons for doing so were vast: Your loved ones are worried sick about your remains being among those found in a fiery plane crash and need a way of definitively identifying you fast? Not sure if the baby’s yours? Need to be acquitted of a crime right quick? For a paltry fee of $39.99, this company will catalogue and store your DNA for future testing in a safe, neutral, fireproof location until needed. And what is in this amazing, never-seen-before-on-TV kit? Tweezers, cotton swabs, small scissors, a series of re-sealable plastic bags, and a postage-paid envelope to ship all your goodies back to them. Although it would save time if this evidence could be stored in your own fridge, I thought about the implications: “Let‘s see what‘s for dinner here in the freezer. We have porterhouse steaks, lamb chops, edamame beans, oh, and……um….looks like toenail clippings. Wanna go out?”

The last of the interesting recent jobs was the IVR for a rather large medical marijuana collective in California, which was, for all intents and purposes, so normal and corporate it fairly screamed out to have fun with it. I wanted to add fake mailboxes such as: “To be connected correctly to the Cheetos hotline, press 8,” or, after all the options had been given, chirp in an exasperated voice: “If you’ve already forgotten which option you need…” The clients took their service very seriously, and I sensed that there wouldn’t be a positive reception to riffing on their material, but I desperately wanted to.

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