Callers Take on 'Phone Voices' to Convey Emotion, Serve Their Needs

Speaking styles change over phone to convey cues of face-to-face conversations.

ByJEREMY HUBBARD via via logo
November 7, 2009, 7:59 PM

Nov. 8, 2009— -- Does your "phone voice" sound different than your regular voice?

When you make a business call, do you try to sound "official?" When a telemarketer calls, does it seem like they're being a little flirty? Or, when the phone rings and it's a bill collector, does their gruff tone send the message that they don't like you?

Scientific evidence shows we all have a "phone voice" that's different than the voice we use in our regular, face-to-face conversations. Whether we're aware of it or not, we often use specific techniques to convey an emotion to the person on the other end of the line.

For telemarketers, the right "phone voice" is crucial.

"If you don't have the right tone, right pitch, if you're not able to adapt, you're done. You're going to get hung up on," said Amanda Bush, program manager at Call Center Services Incorporated of Lowell, Mass.

"We try to kind of imitate what we're hearing on the other line. If someone's talking quickly, you want to be quick. They're fast-paced, you want to be fast- paced. They're slowing down and they're being comfortable with you and casual, you want to be the same thing. That makes them feel more comfortable on the phone," Bush explained.

"Even if you're in a bar and talking to a woman, you want to change your voice and project more confidence, you want to puff up your chest," said Dennis Kimmel, who also works at the call center. "It's something you do unconsciously," he added.

And researchers say he's right. Even if you're not a telemarketer, studies show you probably use several tools to impart an emotion while talking on the phone. You can manipulate your voice by changing the frequency to sound assertive or the tempo to sound happy or sad.

Smiling While Speaking Translates Over Phone

Julie Seitter knows all about these tools. Hers is the perky voice you hear on the phone when you call Amtrak, Bank of America and the United States Postal Service.

What makes her voice perfect for those automated recordings? She says she sounds like "the helpful, friendly person next door, the receptionist you really want to talk to, the one that will really help you get things done, the customer service representative that doesn't blow it, that gets you right where you want to be. That's what they want, and hopefully I give it to them."

Her phone voice is her livelihood. And she owes it all to her hands and her smile.

"One of the tricks of the trade, and I'm not the only one who does it is, I use my hands, when I'm doing a script sometimes to emphasize certain words. And also I smile. There's a difference between your regular voice and your voice when you smile, even if you're not happy. It actually sounds happier. You can hear a smile over the phone or in person, and it makes a big difference."

Something to think about next time you pick up the phone.

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