Moving Day

‘Moving Day’ – sounds exciting doesn’t it? New house, new beginnings, new routine! Great stuff… well….unless you own a studio and studio gear.

Don’t get me wrong I wouldn’t trade my new (first) house for anything! I have worked very hard to get there and I absolutely love it, it’s just that dismantling a studio, moving it and putting it back together again is quite a job!

For years I have had to be quite creative to make sure sound isn’t an issue in most of the environments (usually bedrooms or nooks under the stairs) that I have had my studio. From building shonky sound booths out of MDF to making ad hoc shelving for storage in a rack and everything in between, my studio has always had a rather DIY feel about it.
That is now all a distant memory of humble beginning as I consider my new studio in my new house. While it is, by no means, a million dollar studio fit for a 10 piece band, it is a studio and ONLY a studio! No beds here!

As I sit and look around my square box measuring roughly 2.5m x 2.5m with a rather large outside window and a door to the hallway, I have a 21.5″ iMac with protools at the ready and a Shure SM7B set up in the corner ready to record some IVR copy for one of my clients! There is a draw full of microphones, a Joe Meek preamp waiting for me to plug my microphone of choice into and acoustic treatment all over the walls!

I can’t wait to get started on the next project!

The importance of sound

We are all familiar with that hypothetical question you ask your mates as a teenager, usually on a long car ride away somewhere “would you rather lose your sight or your hearing?” A very large percentage of the time the answer, not surprisingly, is “oh, definitely hearing, imagine not being able to see your girlfriend or watch your favourite movie etc”

Well, yes I whole-heartedly agree that not being able to see those things would be terrible and, of course, you wouldn’t wish that ill fate on anyone.  However I believe that sometimes sound isn’t given the credit that it is due.  We don’t think about how important it is and how much sound influences and enhances our lives.

Naturally, the counter argument is “You wouldn’t be able to hear your favourite music or hear your partner tell you that they love you” and, of course, there is no right answer to this hypothetical question.

But, consider this scenario: Imagine approaching a busy street corner and prepare to cross, now close your eyes and pause.

In this moment, your brain has already mapped out a fairly accurate approximation of where all the cars, trucks and in fact, anything that makes a sound, are located.

Now, instead of pausing, let’s take a sample of 3-4 seconds and focus in on only one vehicle.  Your brain is able to calculate the direction and rough speed of the vehicle.  You may also even know if it is slowing down, speeding up or if it is travelling at a constant speed.

There are many different factors at play here but the key fundamental is the fact that to tell all of this information, you need only to be able to hear.  Your eyes don’t even need to be open.

In my opinion, your hearing is actually more important to day to day living than your eyes and there are, of course, examples of when this wouldn’t be the case. e.g. Driving a car.

There are many more examples of when your ears are actually the first activation point for your brain realising that ‘something is up’ but the point here is to not discount your ears so easily.

I will leave you with one final thought or rather a test.  If you have 2 minutes to play along then do as follows.

  1. Grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen.
  2. Turn everything that makes sound off (TV’s, Radios etc)
  3. Pop outside and sit down
  4. Close your eyes and write down everything you can hear over the course of two minutes.

 

I bet you will have a list of at least 50-60 different things.  More than you thought you would write down when you first started? Probably!

This list of independent sounds is what your brain is constantly processing and makes your life a lot easier to live..without you even knowing.

What is an IVR?

This month I am going to take a look at IVRs.  I am going to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly and also some things to consider when shopping for an IVR.

Let’s start with the basics. What is an IVR? Well first of all, IVR stands for Interactive Voice Response and it is a technology that allows a computer to interact with humans through the use of voice and tones input via the keypad.

Put another way; it’s that lovely voice that you hear when you dial a company such as an insurance provider, bank or mobile phone provider that says “Hi, welcome to Pat’s Pie Company, for pies press 1, for desserts press 2 or hold the line if you would like fries sent to your door immediately”.

Now, at this point, you are probably all thinking.  “Oh yeah..those” and we immediately think of some of the not so nice IVRs we have had to ‘deal with’. Weather your experience was good or bad really depends on a few different factors:

As in all situations there are two way of looking at it.  You have the User Experience (UX) and you have the business strategy.

What do customers want and what should their journey be? Coupled with, what can the business afford and what is the right balance of customer service vs cost?

If I put my customer hat on, I would say. “When I call, I want to speak to someone and I want the first person I speak to, to answer my query. I don’t want to have to press 10 buttons to get to where I want to be and I don’t want to be confused as to where my call is within the company. e.g. I don’t want to think that I am talking to accounts but I have the sales team”.

If I put my business hat on, I would say, “The system needs to be slick, professional and smart and direct customers to the right area. It needs to help the customers without them speaking to an agent if possible and it needs to not cost the earth to design, how much money can you save me?”.

Immediately, we are at a bit of an impasse as to the different expectations of both the customer and the business.

If you are considering an IVR or you have one already and you are looking for ways to improve it, here are some tips to help with designing a great customer service tool.

  1. Keep it simple. The more confusion that there is, the longer things take to resolve. Also consider; what is the use of something that is so intricate in detail that only the most elite users can navigate your system?
  2. Make sure you route calls to the correct parts of your business. Customers absolutely hate being transferred from place to place.
  3. Make sure that your announcements (copy) is short and concise and that the action is always at the end. e.g. “To hear about our fantastic services, Press 4”, as opposed to “ Press 4 if you want to hear about our fantastic services”. It may seem like the same thing but the customer is more likely to remember the action and end up in the right area.
  4. Test, test and test your IVR before you launch it! Make sure that when you have the copy recorded, that it flows nicely together.  The voice talent may read the copy as individual scripts but the company intends to run them together. There will be different inflections and it needs to sounds natural. As a listener, it is not very pleasant to listen to a voice that jumps out every time a particular number is said.
  5. While we are on voice talent., consider who will be listening and what voice you want. When I am commissioned to record IVR scripts, I always ask who the audience is. I also ask what the image of the brand is so that I can reflect that in how I speak. For instance, is your brand casual Kiwi or professional and will there be a lot of English as a second language listeners? All of these should dictate how your IVR sounds.

So what can an IVR do for your business?

The common objections I get are “Do I really need one? They seem really bulky and my receptionist does a pretty good job directing the calls where they need to go”

Well yes, the first question is do I need an IVR?  The simple answer is, it’s up to you! But consider what the benefits are and what will it cost?

Let’s look at a case study

John owns a small/medium sized electronics business. He sells electronics and also does repairs, he also has an accounts team and a mobile technician.

John doesn’t have an IVR but he has a receptionist who fields all the calls and is pretty good at directing them to where they need to go. Sometimes the calls come back and they need to be redirected if they aren’t picked up and the receptionist will need to take a message and then tell the person the next time her/she sees them. Typically, this takes up around 40% of the receptionist’s day.

How might an IVR help?  

  1. Well first of all, if set up correctly, the IVR could handle 95%+ of the calls and direct them to the correct area meaning that the receptionist could be freed up to concentrate on other tasks more pertinent to the growth of the company. (I won’t get into the nuts and bolts but long term this could end up saving thousands of dollars).
  2. Professional and consistent messaging – Because the IVR delivers the same consistent message every time, nothing is left out and you can customise a new message for every month or quarter, direct them to a website or even talk about a new product, meaning the receptionist doesn’t have to do the same ‘spiel’ every single time.
  3. Customers are no longer transferred manually to the department they want, they simply press a button and they are talking to Steve or Lauren  in accounts
  4. John can now choose how his company is portrayed simply by how he chooses to set the IVR up.
  5. If John adds another department into the company or Bob from sales has left, then he can easily talk to his voice talent and they can get a recording done pretty quickly.  You can then interchange the recording or add the new recording as an option and you are away.
  6. If something happens in the IVR, you can simply flick a switch and direct calls back to the receptionist, who by the way, is now learning the ins and outs of accounts payable and is helping Lauren and Steve with their pretty hefty work load. 😉

So what should John do? 

Well as I said there is no right/ wrong answer so I’ll leave that up to you. But if you do decide to implement an IVR, or would even like to talk about one – get in touch with us here at Recording Solutions.

Please comment below and tell us what you think.

Ever wondered why ads are so damn loud?

The common myth is that they play them so loud because they want them to be in your face to SELL SELL SELL right?

Well actually, not really. This is simply an ‘added bonus’ from a marketer’s perspective or a ‘bloody pain’ from my father’s perspective. In fact this annoys him so much that he actually mutes the ads when they come on and then scrambles for the remote in an attempt to hear the first 10 seconds of audio after the ad break is finished.

Anyway, enough about the grumblings of an old man, let’s look at why this happens and why they are so ‘loud’

Well first of all, are they actually that loud? Not really… When an ad comes on it actually is no louder than the loudest ‘program material’ contained in the show you were just watching, it is the actual length of time that it is loud for. Advertisements tend to be consistently in their volume for around 3 and a half minutes.

But why?

Well advertisements and television shows are very different things and are designed to have different effects. If you are watching a show like Game Of Thrones for example there will be very loud parts, say in a battle scene. Then there will be very quiet parts, let’s say when two characters are talking. This is done intentionally so that the viewers feel certain emotions in sync with the storyline (and is a huge part of why we feel so connected to TV shows but I won’t get in to that in this blog)

If this was all at the same ‘perceived volume’ then it would be very uncomfortable to the listener. Imagine having a quiet conversation and then no volume increase when it cuts to a battle scene…

Advertisements on the other hand are designed so that the listener hears every detail and that the audience’s attention is captured. This relies on people’s curiosity. (Think when you hear a loud bang, you turn around to see what it was right. Naturally you are curious…)

The technique used to make sure this happens is called compression. Engineers use either outboard gear or digital plug ins to reduce the ‘dynamic range’ of the audio presented to them.

Dynamic range is the difference between the quietest and loudest parts of a portion of audio (program material.)

Typical compressing means that you take all of the volume peaks in a portion of audio and you squash them down. Now that you have squashed them, you now have space at the top (where the volume peaks were) called ‘head room’

The second part of compression is to then turn up the volume from the output of the compressor so that the newly squashed audio is louder as a whole. Engineers call this ‘Make Up Gain’

For those that are a little more visual, here is an image that shows :

1. The original audio signal.
2. The loud peaks are compressed (and overall loudness reduced)
3. Make up gain is applied and the overall sound is now louder despite the peak volume level never exceeding that of the original (1.)

Compression Illustration

Advertisements have heavily compressed audio and because it is so compressed they use the make up gain to make the overall sound louder and in your face.

If we compare this to our TV show from earlier, often the sound, especially the voice component is only very lightly compressed if it is even compressed at all. There are very quiet sounds that you will struggle to hear unless the room is very silent and then there will be loud parts that you will be able to hear at the end of the hall way. These loud parts will be at a very similar level to the consistent volume of the advertisements.

So what does this all mean?

If we put these two different pieces of audio side by side (as happens in real life) then what we have is 3:30 of very consistent volume followed by 8-9 minutes of very dynamic audio.

How does this sound? Well, as previously stated, the 8-9 minutes of audio gets just as loud as the adverts however they may only hit this level for 10-20 seconds total in the 8-9 minutes. The adverts of course are hitting this same ‘loudness’ for around 2.45-3.00 of the 3:30.

The natural perception to the human ear is that “Oh gosh” moment when the ads first hit and you find yourself scrambling for the remote.

A cool little test is to listen to the audio right before a set of ads plays. You will notice that if the audio was loud before the ads (think battle scene) then the ads don’t seem as harsh. Conversely, if there is a low volume level scene right before the ads then when they play it might be a shock to the system.

I’ll let you do the test.

I will be very interested to hear what you discovered.