Part of evaluating IVR is knowing what makes a good IVR.  One obvious critically important component is the voice itself.  Recently, we were fortunate enough to have the chance to talk with with Marcus Graham, CEO of GM Voices. GM Voices is a leader in the Voice Talent space, giving voice to scores of IVRs and electronic devices. They’ve pioneered the term voice branding to describe their approach to matching voices to organizations.

Full disclosure, we’ve been happy clients of GM Voices and would recommend them to anyone in need of professional voice recordings. Our positive experiences led us speak to them and get their unique insight on the IVR industry.  We think the value they bring to their customers aligns neatly with our 14 Point Quality diagnostic criteria, and that’s why we’re happy to share our discussion with them here on our blog.

Highlights from our conversation follow:

  • How long has GM Voices been in business?

“GM Voices has been in business since 1985. In the beginning, we mostly provided after-hours and on-hold messaging. With the explosion of automated technologies and self service, we branched into IVR, auto attendant and call routing. We then expanded from telephony into GPS/telematics, multimedia and business storytelling services.”

  • How does GM Voices differentiate itself from other voice talent providers?

“GM Voices is unique in that our entire business model is geared specifically toward large IVR applications that require continuous updates. Our weekly session recording model—where a voice talent records on the same day each week—is designed to make it economical and easy to keep the caller experience top-notch and consistent.
“We also record in over 100 languages and dialects, which is the largest selection of any provider. Any language, any media, any market—GM Voices is your voice to the world.”

  • How can GM Voices help clients with IVR Maintainability?

“This is another advantage of our weekly session model. Our voice talent record on the same day each week, and are contracted for long-term availability. If a company chooses Danielle, for example, they know she records every Tuesday. Voice prompt updates can be easily incorporated into the development process.

“GM Voice maintains audio reference files for each order. This ensures we can match the style, playback and technical consideration of previous recordings, so new voice prompts will sound seamless when combined with files already loaded in the system.

  • How can GM Voices help clients in the area of improving voice user interface (VUI)?

“GM Voices provides a service called a Voice Brand Audit that documents the existing caller experience in “secret shopper” mode. We record the phone calls, exploring the menu trees and documenting the unique pain points—usually a mix of voice prompt critiques, implementation considerations and scripting suggestions. We do abbreviated versions as prospecting tools, and then in-depth versions as consultative engagements.

  • How about IVR efficiency?

“By delivering high-quality, professionally-recorded voice prompts that sound crisp and professional, callers can more quickly navigate menu prompts and complete their objective within the system. Often with internally-recorded prompts, the voices read too quickly, are muffled and suffer from inconsistent volume. All of this contributes to IVR slowdown, more errors and angrier callers. Having a professional voice read the prompts cleanly and clearly speeds up the process.

  • How does TTS fit in with GM Voices’ business model?

“Our voices are the ones featured on many TTS engines, including Nuance and our new partner, IVONA Text-to-Speech. GM Voices advocates a single-voice customer experience, where the natural voice matches the TTS for seamless interaction. Record your greeting and menu prompts with the talent’s natural voice, and then use the lifelike TTS any dynamic, data-based messaging.

“Through IVONA, GM Voices offers matching natural voices in American English, German, French and Castilian Spanish, with many more in development. A top-of-the-line service is the custom IVONA TTS, building the engine with a voice of the client’s choosing. And of course, supporting it with the natural voice for ongoing updates.

  • You’ve created the term voice branding. What is your approach to this? What are the benefits of voice branding?

“Companies pour tons of money into the brand through traditional advertising, the Web, an in-store experience… it goes on and on. But so many forget about the brand when it comes to telephone. Voice Branding is our term and offering to align the automated voice with a company’s overall image in the marketplace. We seek to greet and guide customers with a brand-consistent sound that reaffirms their decision to do business with you in the first place. An effective Voice Brand keeps customers calling and buying.

  • More generally, as a vendor with a window into many IVR systems, can you speak to your definition of GOOD IVR and BAD IVR?

“A good IVR does what it’s intended to do; automate calls and save money without sacrificing the customer relationship. If you can get callers to happily take care of business, guided by a voice that speaks to the brand and connects with callers, that’s the mark of success.
A bad IVR makes completing an objective difficult and painful for the customer. It might be poorly designed, poorly maintained, and is usually fronted by an internally-recorded (or bad professional, “radio announcer”) voice. It may reduce live agent dependency, but at the expense of the relationship and, eventually, the bottom line.

  • How often should I change the voice of my IVR?

“Cost considerations often limit (or even eliminate) the ability for companies to change the voice of their IVR.     Our recommendation is to put in the time and resources to make sure that the voice you select with us will work for the long haul. Our team helps you through this process. All of our voices sound great and provide a great experience. It’s just finding the right voice and giving the talent the right direction that creates a unique sound and world-class Voice Brand.”

  • What matters about the IVR voice? For example, is there any advantage in some cases to using a female voice rather than a male?

“Above all, the voice needs to assist the technology’s purpose, which is to automate more calls and save money. But it also needs to connect with the calling audience. Some companies have stronger, more distinct brands, but if there’s an opportunity to align the brand with the voice, you have to take it.

“Most automated applications feature a female voice. Generally, female voices are warmer and more soothing. We think this preference goes back to the days of traditional phone operators, who were usually women. If your IVR caters to seniors, you should consider using a male voice. As people get older, they lose the ability to hear higher frequencies, most prominently featured in female voices. A male voice, with its lower range, may enhance the efficiency and overall performance of the IVR.”

  • What can the IVR prompts tell you about a company?

“The IVR Prompts can tell you how highly a company values the customer experience. It tells you how serious they are about putting the IVR in the best position to succeed. And it also tells you how unified it is in its overall positioning—its voice—to the market. An IVR is the modern day front door to a company. Is the company answering that door as it should?

Look out for more insightful discussions with industry leaders!