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Vocal tones in customer experience

The Impact of Vocal Tones on Persuasiveness

Recent Study Could Have Implications for How to Handle CX Interactions

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The results of a study published in February 2022 in the Journal of Consumer Research found that persuasiveness is often driven by vocal tones that denote focus, low stress, and stable emotions. While the research centered on the vocal tones in crowdfunding pitches, the implications of the research can be applied to the CX space, largely in terms how agents and others who interact with customers speak during interactions.

The authors measured speakers that were seeking funding on the Kickstarter crowdfunding platform, focused on the music and technology categories. These categories feature videos that are designed to secure relatively small amounts of funding from numerous non-expert investors. The researchers measured the persuaders’ vocal tones in their crowdfunding video pitches using audio mining technology.

The researchers then conducted their secondary data analyses with controlled experiments that were designed to further investigate the impact of vocal tone dimensions, with study participants being asked to listen to a funding pitch that had been modified in several ways:

  • Modified the pitch so the speaker sounded anxious, tense, distressed, and nervous.
  • Modified the pitch so the speaker sounded overly excited, loud, and unnaturally energetic—as if the speaker was failing to control her emotions.
  • Modified the pitch so that the speaker would sound focused, careful, and diligent.

Following the pitch, respondents first provided the dependent measures of “amount willing to fund the campaign” and brand evaluations, and were led to believe that their responses would have consequential effects. Participants next were asked to answer questions measuring the vocal tone dimensions, which served as manipulation checks, as well as a perceived pitch length question, to capture how fast or slow the persuader’s speech sound. Then, respondents provided their ratings of the speaker’s perceived persuader competence, processing fluency, and perceived persuader trust.

The result of the study found a “significantly increased willingness to fund persuaders who sound focused and a significantly decreased willingness to fund those who sound stressed or extremely emotional.”

How does this research relate to CX?

First, the obvious implication is that live agents should receive proper and ongoing training to ensure they are familiar with your organization’s process, products, and policies, so that they can confidently and calmly convey information during all interactions, which can positively impact the customer’s perception of the agent. Agents that sound distressed, nervous, or overly excited likely will be less effective during interactions, and may not be as persuasive when offering alternate solutions, products, or services.

Another interesting finding from the research was the impact of vocal pitch on persuasiveness, as research found that a low-pitched voice resulted in enhanced brand evaluations, compared to the control pitch. Further, “compared to the control condition, a low-pitched voice resulted in greater signs of focus ratings and subsequently increased perceptions of persuader competence, leading to higher willingness to fund and brand evaluation.”

This does not mean agents should modify their speaking voice; rather, these findings could be useful for companies that are choosing to use computer-generated voice assistants. Vendors often allow a choice of speaking voices for these artificial intelligence (AI)-driven agents, and it may be useful to select a deeper-toned voice for specific tasks or applications (such as AI-generated upsell or cross-sell offers provided through a voice bot).

Ultimately, however, the researchers point out the limitations of their research, and note that persuasiveness in other situations may not be driven by vocal tones alone. That said, the large amount of vocal data being captured by a wide range of organizations could be mined and analyzed to identify whether similar levels of persuasiveness or effectiveness are driven by vocal tones in CX interactions.

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