Glad to be podcasting again! Enjoy this 5-min podcast on female and male voices applied to phone customer support. A transcript is provided below.
There is a legend well-known in the startup world: an email has twice as much chances to be opened if it is sent out from a female name (says a CleverTouch study). Some startups even use a made-up female name in all their emailing. Supposedly, a female name is more reassuring than a male name or a generic brand name. For cultural reasons, femininity expresses nurturing and trust, as opposed to spam.
If this works for email support, is it true for phone support? Admittedly, it is much harder to make up a female voice, yet there might be lessons to learn from male and female voice comparisons.
Cultural perceptions at the root of male / female voice differences
Physiology does not impact female and male voices as much as one might think. Yes, there are differences in the size of the larynx and vocal folds. In particular, when reaching puberty, men’s hormones make the larynx larger and the folds thicker, entailing their pitch to lower. This phenomenon can also happen to women with high levels of testosterone – and some men do no face it and keep a high-pitched voice. People who wish to change their gender can also work on their pitch to reach a culturally acceptable tone.
Female and male voice differences rely indeed in cultural perception. Adolescent boys artificially lower their voices to project a more masculine attitude while women used to be encouraged to adopt a higher-pitched voice.
Speech patterns also impact our perception: “gender-identified mannerisms and vocabulary can sound like “one or the other” – says Brian Lee, “Voice teacher”. Many voice professionals, like singers, consciously work on their voice to reach a lower or higher pitch. Training a voice is definitely doable, it just requires some work.
Speak to your customers as your product would
An extensive study has been conducted by Adweek and Harris interactive a few years ago. The goal of the study was to understand gendered voice perception in advertising to enhance TV- and radio-ads. The results are rather enlightening, even from a customer support perspective.
The study seems to second what science previously established: there is no clear difference between female and male voices. 49% of the participants in the study says neither female or male voice is more forceful or more shooting. 64% says that neither is more persuasive (and the other 36% is split equally between those who think the female is more persuasive and those who think the male voice is more persuasive).
Not everybody agrees with that study. According to Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass:
“It’s much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes (…) It’s a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices.”
There can’t be any general rules drawn from studies or science when it comes to gender voices. Yet, the science of marketing says:
- consumers want to identify themselves with their brand: if you’re in an industry where most of your customers are females, it might be easier to interact on the phone if you are a female.
- along the same lines, according to what your product is evoking your customers, it should be reflected on your phone strategy. If it evokes nurturing or caring, female voices are more suited. If it evokes a more technical issue, male tend to be more suited.
Behavior on the phone is, in fact, the most impacting strategy one can have
Phone experts tend to break difference by gender when it comes to behavior. Some communication skills are considered more feminine while some behavior are interpreted as masculine:
- easiness to understand. High pitches – understand “feminine voices” – tend to be less easily understood, especially by the elderly. Yet, articulating, speaking slowly and breathing obviously compensate a high-pitched voice.
- dominant personality: consumers tend to be convinced more easily from a dominant personality. It usually comes with a male, lower-pitched voice, but also relies mainly on the content of your speech.
- argumentation strategies could also be broken down by gender, according to some. Females tend to have a more circular argumentation while men are more straight-to-the-point. Again, there is no biology in that and can be turned into an advantage if applied to a smart phone strategy.
Is gender a part of your phone strategy? Have you managed to draw conclusions from using female and male voices with your customers? We’d love to get some fresh data on the topic!