January 28, 2019 - Robert John Hadfield

The Need for the Human Voice in Business

The Rise and Fall of the IVR


Like many people who start businesses, I started Audiomover in my home. We had an unfinished basement, so I put up a few walls and built a recording studio. I had been involved in media production since I was a teenager, so having a recording studio was pretty exciting. Although the Audiomover service took over our business early on, we still had many artists come in and use the studio.

Over the years we recorded everything from Rap groups to audiobooks. One day in the studio I was visiting with a singer who is very well-known in the Denver area. During the course of our conversation she shared an interesting philosophy about music. It was a simple idea about the power of the voice. To paraphrase our conversation she said, “No matter how good the music is, people want to hear a human voice, that’s how they connect to the music.”

In retrospect it seems like such a simple and obvious idea. Although there are people like Eddie Van Halen, Buddy Rich and Miles Davis who are world famous for their prowess on a particular instrument, their number and notoriety pales in comparison to the number of people who are world famous for being singers. And many of these virtuosos, like Eddie Van Halen, have vocalists who sing the music they create. When you consider cultural phenomena like “American Idol” and “The Voice” they are really about singers. Even “America’s Got Talent” has more singers than any other category.

This week we received a customer quote that got me thinking about how this idea applies to business. Here is the quote:

I want to thank you for doing such a great job converting my 20 year old audiotape into a CD. I really appreciated being able to call and talk to you before sending it. I loved that you texted a photo of my package when you received it so I knew that it had gotten there safely. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend your service to anyone. Thanks again!
Lyons, NY

I have heard a similar sentiment from many people who have called the studio. People seem to love the fact that we have a phone number displayed prominently on the web site, and that they can talk to us in person. It seems like such a simple and obvious thing, but these days it really isn’t. It’s interesting to consider how we got to this position in society. The position where we are actually grateful to talk to someone.

The trajectory that landed us here started around the early 1980s. Back then the idea of a call center was new, but it entered western business with a vengeance. Companies set up 800 numbers and developed technology where hundreds of low-skilled workers could be trained to answer specific questions, receive orders, etc. It added a level of efficiency for companies and it provided a rapid way to interact with an organization for customers. It was a revolutionary idea that seemed to benefit everyone.

As technology improved those call centers were moved to different parts of the world including third world countries. And although the different accents and language barriers created some frustration on the part of the customer, the ability to interact with a person was still there.

During this time another form of technology was being perfected, it was called an Interactive Voice Response system (IVR). This is where a recorded human voice guides you through choices like “Press 5 for tech support.” Initially this new technology was used to help guide a customer to the correct human being, But over time these IVRs became a tool to reduce the need to talk to a human at all. They became more robust and could handle 99% of the issues that would come through the phone.

Although these IVRs were recorded human voices, it never really felt like you were talking to a human. Interestingly people still yelled and cursed at the recorded voice as if it were. Some systems were set up so that the act of shouting or cursing actually triggered the IVR to send you to a person. But even if that didn’t work, there was frequently the option to press “0” to talk to a customer service representative.

Over time the “0” option became less and less common. And today we are in a place in business where even finding a phone number is challenging with many organizations.

For the most part I personally don’t mind how things work these days. I prefer not to make phone calls if I can avoid them. In many cases talking on the phone is slow and clunky, especially with so many other options for communication. But in some situations you need to hear that human voice on the other end of the phone. You need an answer or a sense of security that can come in no other way.

And just like the human voice gives us the feeling of connection to music, the human voice can give us the feeling of connection to a company. And I believe sending one-of-a-kind irreplaceable items to a company like ours is one of the times you need to hear that voice.

As part of our commitment to that need, this year we have added an additional phone in the studio to help us make those voice connections with customers. We have a phone number and we encourage you to use it.

If you want to discuss your project, or if you simply need to hear a voice to feel comfortable before sending your project, please call us at 303-255-9921.

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