Hidden Gems in Voice

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Voice carries with it a wealth of information. Sometimes the information is right out in the open and can be gleaned simply by listening. Other times, more complex systems are required for interpretation and analysis. This issue of Speech Technology magazine covers both situations.

First, I’ll start with the simpler way of gleaning information—listening. Voice and language can reveal a lot about someone’s personality (whether he or she is bubbly, trendy, detail-oriented, etc.). They can also reveal how someone is feeling (eager, happy, playful, etc.). When designing the persona of a speech-enabled interactive voice response (IVR) system, naturally, these elements should be carefully considered. For example, a bubbly teenage girl’s voice doesn’t exactly instill a sense of security and trustworthiness in customers who are making large financial transactions over the phone.

However, when designing a persona for your speech-enabled IVR system it is entirely possible to overdo it. In the feature story, “It’s a Persona, Not a Personality,” Senior Editor Leonard Klie writes, “Customers calling in with a problem on their bill don’t care that the ‘person’ on the other end of the phone is a 30-year-old, blonde housewife with a master’s degree in healthcare.” The persona’s voice, enunciation, and vocabulary can conjure up an image of a young, smart woman; whether she is a blonde housewife or has a master’s degree can be left to the caller’s imagination.

If someone wants to fantasize about a persona’s likes and dislikes, based on its voice, that’s fine, but don’t force all callers to listen to its fake hobbies and interests. This feature might work well on the Web, where information is made available to those who care to find it, but many people simply don’t care and will find it extremely irritating if they are forced to listen to it. Simply put, let the persona’s voice, enunciation, and vocabulary tell the story, not the persona.

Another often unrecognized value of voice is the role it plays in identity. The increasing threat of fraudulent activity is making a compelling case for voice biometric technology, which can identify someone based on his or her unique voiceprint. Our cover story, “Voice: the New Fingerprint?” by freelance writer David Jastrow, covers the emerging voice biometric market and offers some solutions that are available today.

With the latest advancements in speech technology, the above-mentioned features should reveal one common theme—voice can be very telling.

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