The interactive voice response (IVR) system has really risen to prominence in the last couple of years, thanks largely in part to mobile offerings such as the iPhone's (News - Alert) Siri or Iris for Android. While most simply consider IVR as a fun toy or a good way to help navigate their mobile devices, there is much to say on the topic of IVR. For example, the quality of voice used in an IVR system can have a profound impact on the way the user views it.
Human factors/ergonomics researchers Rochelle Edwards and Philip Kortum have conducted a study, the results of which they will present at their upcoming Annual Meeting presentation, "He Says, She Says: Does Voice Affect Usability?" In this study, participants simply interacted with a medical IVR that collected information about their health. These participants were exposed to both male and female voices, which spoke in different tones, such as upbeat, professional and sympathetic.
The results were certainly interesting.
Participants tended to perceive male voices as being more usable, while female voices were considered more trustworthy. While this barely scratches the surface of how different tonality can affect user experience with an IVR system, it is certainly something designers should take into consideration when developing one.
"We have been systematically looking at what affects user performance on IVRs for some time now," said Kortum. "Voice is the major element in an IVR interface, as graphical elements are for a Web page, and this study was a first attempt to understand the impact voice might have on the perceived usability of such systems."
The results of this study are of particular importance as IVR systems are being used more often, even for important events such as political campaigns. However, voice companies like Acapela Group (News - Alert) are also quickly advancing the quality of artificial voice. For example, the company's Acapela TTS Voices app for Android (News - Alert) features around 50 voices in different languages with different accents, each of which is impressively lifelike.
All in all, the future looks bright for IVR, but fully understanding the effects of voice on the human brain is still a long way off.
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