Automated voice systems are often used in place of human customer service representatives. New research suggests the gender and tone of these voices can impact a caller's user experience.

In the study, participants interacted with an automated phone system, also known as an "interactive voice response" (IVR), that collected information about their health. The participants were asked to rate the user-friendliness of different systems, featuring male or female voices that spoke in different tones (upbeat, professional, or sympathetic).

An IVR with a male voice often was perceived as more usable than one with a female voice. However, a male IVR typically was not considered more trustworthy, the researchers found.

"Anyone who uses an IVR knows how frustrating they can be," study researcher Philip Kortum, of Rice University, said in a statement. "Much of this frustration stems from poorly designed IVRs, not from the form of interface being intrinsically 'bad.' This research shows that some simple modifications to the design of these systems can have an impact on the usability of voice interfaces."

A recent survey showed that more than eight in 10 consumers will avoid a company after a bad experience with an IVR.

The new study will be presented at the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society annual meeting in Boston next month.

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