Marge Frazier is on the phone, and she needs to double-check a piece of information.
“May I put you on hold?” she asks.
When she does, the company's auto attendant comes on the line to fill the void.
“We appreciate your call to us. Thank you for your patience while holding,” the voice – Frazier's voice – says.
Yes, Frazier, 61, is that voice. The voice you might have heard when you called your doctor at Fort Wayne Orthopedics or your child's school in Huntington.
Hers is the voice you heard when you last scheduled your car for service at the Bob Thomas car dealership on Coliseum Boulevard West or checked your balance at First Federal Savings & Loan or inquired about the hours at The History Center downtown.
That ubiquitous voice – cheerful, confident, reassuring, unfailingly patient and polite.
The voice that some call “the voice of Fort Wayne.”
Becoming the auto attendant of scores of area companies, institutions and non-profit organizations is not exactly what Frazier, a lifelong city resident, expected when she joined Allstar Communications, 3810 Superior Ridge Drive, as a customer service representative 15 years ago.
“Auto attendant” is what folks in the business call those pre-recorded telephone greetings that advise callers to “Press 1 to speak to a pharmacist” or “Please hold, and your call will be answered in the order in which it was received.”
Frazier says she unexpectedly found herself out of a job in 1997, when the company for which she had been working as an IT specialist, McJon Photo, was sold to Fuji, which decided to consolidate its operations in New York.
She had done business with Allstar, liked the company and called its previous owner, Kevin Caldwell, about working there in a capacity similar to her former job. He agreed, and even gave her the summer off to be with her kids.
“I thought I was going to work here for a year or two and get a résumé together,” says Frazier, now director of customer service. “But when I came here, they were such wonderful people to work for that I stayed.”
She began coordinating phone system installations and training people how to use the technology – tasks that still form the main part of her duties.
But she discovered she had a problem when it came to having employees at the client company speak as their new phone system's greeter.
“ ‘I have to say this? I don't want to say this. I can't say this. I can't do this.' That's what they said,” Frazier says.
“So, one time, I was there, so I did it. And then I started doing all the auto attendants we put in. People started to recognize the voice, and it became quite a selling point for us. It became a marketing tool.”
Frazier says she's not quite sure why people took to her voice – after all, she doesn't have any formal vocal training and doesn't sing, even in her church choir.
She readily agrees she sounds a lot like somebody's grandmother, which by the way, she is. Frazier has two grandchildren, with a third on the way.
She knew she was doing something right when one of the company's accounts, a doctor's office, experienced technical problems that obliterated the messages. Technicians fixed the system and re-recorded the greetings.
But then the client called.
“They said, ‘Our patients are calling in and wanted to know what happened to you. They missed you,' ” Frazier says. “Could you please redo our greeting?”
She obliged. Of course. Could that voice do otherwise?
When Frazier started doing the messages, she says, she was incredibly nervous.
“At first, I had to be in a very quiet place, in a quiet room. I had to be alone. I couldn't have anybody watching. I was so nervous,” she says. “But now, I can do it anywhere. I can sit by the side of the road and record something.”
To do that, she uses a recording app on her cellphone. Technicians, she says, can remove noise.
She reads from a script, except for short messages. “I have to have that,” she says. “I've written (scripts) on napkins on the fly.”
Her recordings don't have to fit into a certain amount of time because everything is script-driven, she says.
Most recordings take 30 to 45 seconds and generally are no longer than a minute, except “for medical facilities and insurance companies where there's a lot of options,” Frazier says.
“You don't want to go too fast because you want to keep it good and understandable for the people who are listening.”
Frazier also uses a tip she learned during a customer service training to get her pleasant sound.
“You have to smile,” she says. “I think it's the smiling that does it all. I think it projects into your voice.”
While the world has gotten used to automated voices telling them when to get off the bus at the airport or that there are three Chinese restaurants “fairly close to you,” Frazier says that trend hasn't diminished the demand for the company's work.
“Right now, I probably have about 15 installs in the next month,” she says. “I'll meet with them up front and gather information about how their phone system works and what they need and coordinate with the technicians on the day of the install, do training and messages and then turn them over to our support staff for follow up.
“I think the demand has currently grown,” she adds. “It has that personal touch, and in our area, that's important. They know it's not a generated voice. It's a voice they recognize.”
Even in grocery lines and restaurants, Frazier says. It still tickles her, she says, when someone says, “I know you. You're the lady on the phone at my mom's work.”
Something like that happens probably every week, Frazier says.
“I just love it,” the voice says. “I meet so many people every week, and I love that personal contact with our customers – I'm a people person.
“It's a very good fit. … I think it's my niche in life.”