Saturday, December 26, 2009

Voice of experience.(Nuance Communications helps companies develophumanoid personas).

Holiday 2008

Meet Jenni McDermott. She's a 24-year-old Leo, a 5-foot, 5-inch brunet with an art history degree from Berkeley. Museum jobs were scarce when she graduated in 2001, so she settled for a barista gig in a local cafe. When not whipping up espressos, Jenni takes her dog, Brindle, down to Big Sur for beach walks, or hangs out with her jazz-playing boyfriend, Rob. She's a scuba buff and a fledgling guitarist, and two of her paintings adorn the cafe walls.

It's a pretty detailed biography for a person who doesn't exist. Jenni is, in fact, just a voice. The product of Nuance Communications in Menlo Park, Calif., and voice actor Deborah Ben-Eliezer, Jenni sounds much like the person her history suggests: friendly, fun, and capable. Subscribers to Yahoo! by Phone--which delivers headlines and user E-mails from Yahoo!'s Web site via handsets--talk to her each time they call. But they never learn about Jenni's meticulously crafted history, because her conversational repertoire is limited to prerecorded phrases such as a cheery "You got it!" in response to customers' requests, or "My, you're popular!" for callers with overflowing in boxes.

The humanoid touch. Jenni and others like her lend a human voice to the computerized speech recognition systems that are taking the place of call-center attendants and touch-tone menus. Using these unflappable, efficient, and entirely fictional "personas" to handle customer calls yields real savings for companies: It costs $5, on average, to have a human field a call. Personas can whittle that by at least half. And while they don't really fool anyone, their quasi-human touch can make talking to a computer feel more natural. "Our brains are deeply, profoundly, sensibly evolved" to conclude that only humans speak, says Clifford Nass, a professor of communications at Stanford University. "The brain is not built for 21st-century technology," where machines talk.

Hence, the neurotically detailed histories: We know Jenni's not real, but we still make judgments about her personality. Yahoo! believes Jenni's past is crucial to her performance: "Online, Yahoo! conveys a sense of fun, innovation, and ease of use," says Madhu Yarlagadda of Yahoo! Everywhere, which runs Yahoo! by Phone. Jenni's carefully constructed girl-next-door vibe helps make her voice the embodiment of those traits, he says.

Nuance and other consultants help firms tweak personas obsessively. When California's Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission wanted a persona for fielding traffic calls, it imagined an "experienced," "trustworthy," and "avuncular"-sounding voice. Nuance produced Cal North, a retired cop who likes football and kids and hates decaf coffee. Such seemingly random details are meant to help voice actors achieve the right tone: "I couldn't direct him to put a slight warmth in his voice," explains Nuance dialog design expert Rebecca Nowlin, of the actor who played Cal North. "But if we know Cal likes kids, [the actor] can go at it with friendliness in his heart."

Word choice counts too. When Nuance crafted a hypothetical U.S. News persona, the best match for the magazine was deemed a serious-minded middle-aged man exuding objectivity and intellect. "So he probably wouldn't say `gotcha,' or `sure,' " noted Nowlin. "He's probably a `certainly' guy."

Still, the intricate bios and scripts can't always liven up the actual work of recording a persona's lines. "Today, I did cardinal and ordinal numbers," says voice actor Christopher Sullivan, standing outside the cozy black cubicle that is Nuance's studio. Sullivan is creating "Reed," a snarky surfer whose speaking duties will include reading back callers' credit card numbers or ZIP codes. Sullivan--who, tanned and blond, looks much as you might imagine Reed--says he likes the challenge of infusing sometimes dull patter with personality. But, occasionally, he admits, "I honestly don't know how I don't sound bored."

Source Citation
Perry, Joellen. "Voice of experience." U.S. News & World Report 12 May 2003: 60. Academic OneFile. Web. 26 Dec. 2009. .

Gale Document Number:A101257709

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian USA, LLC*******Personalized MY M&M'S® Candies (Web-Page)
Lowest Prices and Hassle Free Returns at / Profile) the Official Coca-Cola Store!
ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)DeutchEspanolFrenchItalianJapaneseKoreanPortugueseRussian

No comments: