A vocal fry is an “epidemic” speech affectation in which one elongates the ends of words with a low, creaky voice. It is employed by The Kardashian klan, as well as two thirds of female college students. And yet, despite this prevalence, most employers find the vocal fry to be indicative of a person who is “less competent, less educated, less trustworthy, less attractive, and less hirable,” according to a study done on the vocal fry and the labor market. And it’s not just this speech affectation that we form judgements off of. From foreign accents, to male vs. female bias, to even regional American accents (Southern vs. Northern), whether we like it or not, we associate these ways of talking with particular characteristics. One study found that employers associate male voices with competence and consistently rank female voices as belonging to a person who is less competent. The reality is, as open-minded as we all should be, every single one of us possesses some level of sight and voice bias.
1. Make A Good Impression
A slew of services designed to eliminate this bias in the hiring process have recently cropped up. Blendoor hides a candidate’s name, age, employment history, criminal background, and photo, so that a hiring decision can be made purely on merit. Interviewing.io (currently in beta) even masks a candidate’s voice for phone interviews.
When it comes to conducting business, eliminating bias produces a more frictionless experience from hiring to selling. Make it about your product and service, not about the sound of your voice.
2. Eliminate The Bias
This is why chat is such a great alternative to call centers for support (in addition to the fact that it is much, much cheaper). As long as you are hiring agents who can effectively communicate in writing, you eliminate bias. You furthermore reduce the amount of tone that goes into a support call- it is much more difficult to mask annoyance and frustration in one’s voice than it is via writing. Since support interactions are often emotionally charged, anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of bias will dramatically improve the interaction.
In fact, customer satisfaction is much higher with chat than on any other medium: “The chat feature has become the leading contact source, as 42 percent of full-service customers indicate using a live online chat feature vs. email (23%) or other social media forum (16%). Additionally, online satisfaction is highest among customers who use the chat feature (784), compared with among those using other forums to find information (756).”
Granted, this discrepancy could be due to myriad factors: an increasing consumer preference for mobile communication (which privileges text-like communication), the prevalence of obnoxious hold times with call centers, unintelligent voice bots and transfers, or the fact that chat allows one to multi-task. But isolating the reason why consumers prefer chat is not really necessary, because the fact is, all of these factors, including voice bias, contribute to this consumer preference, and it’s the job of customer service departments to listen to this preference.
3. Enable Superior Customer Service
Voice bias exposes much of the ugliness in all of us: the sexism, ageism, racism, and regionalism that we have internalized. The beauty of chat is that leaves only one way to judge someone: their competence. And in support, where the goal is to enable a customer to successfully use your product, one’s competence in achieving this goal is all that matters.