Would you believe that the personality and gender of the automated voices you hear when calling, say, a credit card company or sales hotline, may have an unconscious effect on your perception of it and even affect your behavior? That’s exactly what The Economic Times recently claimed, reporting that human factors/ergonomics researchers have proven that the gender and tone selected or found in an interactive voice response (IVR) system can affect such things as its user-friendliness.
“IVRs have become increasingly popular, particularly with the introduction of mobile technology such as Apple (News - Alert) Siri and Iris for Android,” The Economic Times says. “Past studies have indicated that users are more responsive to actual human voices than to computer-generated voices, but little research has been completed on the role that voice characteristics play in user perceptions of technology.”
It’s true; while we’re well aware of how individuals feel about automated voices when compared to a live agent for conducting business and increasing productivity, we know little to nothing about what effect this could potentially (or in fact, does) have on us mentally or internally.
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Researchers Rochelle Edwards and Philip Kortum conducted a recent study which required that participants interacted with a medical IVR that collected information about their health, where they responded to both male and female automated voices that spoke in different tones. After interacting with the tones, which ranged from upbeat to professional to sympathetic, users were asked to judge the system’s usability, the article explains.
The following research will also be displayed at their upcoming annual meeting presentation, “He Says, She Says: Does Voice Affect Usability?” and what was found was quite extraordinary.
Not only did they find that IVRs with male voices were perceived as more usable than those integrating female voices, but that users conversely perceived the male voices to be less “trustworthy.” Obviously, this points to the fact that not only were Edwards and Kortum correct in their assumptions and basis for conducting this study, but that voice characteristics continue to be a major influential factor when designing successful future systems.
"Anyone who uses an IVR knows how frustrating they can be," Kortum says. "Much of this frustration stems from poorly designed IVRs, not from the form of interface being intrinsically 'bad.' This research shows that some simple modifications to the design of these systems can have an impact on the usability of voice interfaces."
To stay up-to-date about everything IVR, be sure to follow forerunner in the industry, Plum Voice, on Twitter (News - Alert) @PlumVoice.
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Edited by Rachel Ramsey