GREAT QUESTIONS OF OUR AGE - Who's the Voice of Voice Mail?
FORTUNE MAGAZINE - Monday, November 26, 2001 - By Reed Tucker
Do those voices belong to real people?
Pop quiz. The voice you've heard most frequently over the past couple of years belongs to: (a) your spouse, (b) your mother, or (c) one of those automated voice-mail systems. If you're like most business people, you didn't have to think twice before answering (c). (Neither does your neglected family.) But do those voices even belong to real people? And if so, to whom?
Though digital compression often makes them sound more HAL than human, the voices for industry leaders Avaya and Nortel Networks' corporate voice-mail systems do come from people. Dial into Avaya's Audix system, and you'll hear Lorraine Nelson, 47. Nelson, a former jazz deejay and newscaster who currently heads her own communications company in Portland, Ore., admits that the friendly voice heard on some 100 million mailboxes around the world is just a character. "It's not my normal personality," she laughs. "I'm not that nice."
If that automated voice isn't Nelson's, chances are it belongs to Dr. Joan Kenley of Oakland. She's a wellness expert, voice coach, and former actor whose voice now springs from Nortel Networks' 14 million Meridian and CallPilot voice-mail boxes. But her ubiquity does come at a price: She runs into her own voice a few times a day. "I can't get away from myself," she complains. At least she's stuck with someone who's easy on the ears.