In Inner Voice by Steve Zarro

It’s very common, when people hear that I am a voice-actor, for them to say something like “Oh, wow, yeah. You DO have a nice voice!”. My reply is always something like “Well, thank you kindly for that, but there’s actually a lot more to it than that.”

A lot more.

One of the things for which I am most grateful, and which helped make me a strong partner for businesses and content creators, is my 20+ years worth of corporate training and experience with customers as well as leadership. I have worked in many different roles during that time including customer service, collections, in-house recovery, credit analysis, supply chain, inside sales, and also training manager/class facilitator.

And to top it all off, these were roles in a call-center environment. So my voice, listening skills, and communication prowess were honed and utilized as well.

One of the earliest things we were taught during our 800# training was how to ask questions, listen to the customer responses in full with no assumptions, check for understanding, and then ask the next relevant question. We were answering customer service calls literally all day, one after another, every day. Dozens and dozens of customer contacts per day.

It was important to be an open receiver of information when the call starts and not be a sender until we have all of the details needed. Take it all in without anticipating or assuming what they are trying to say. Get the full scope, the big picture from the caller, and then respond. We would also check for understanding along the way by repeating their concern back to them and ensuring that, before we answer anything, we understand what exactly is being asked.

And when all was said and done, there was the single call resolution piece. Before letting the call go, we’d do one last sweep to verify that we’d addressed all their concerns, and ask if there was anything else that we could help them with that day.

This training was in 1998 when I was in my early 20’s, and I worked there until the end of 2018. Everyone was trained the same way back then. There were over a dozen people in my training class, and there was a new class rotating-in every 1-2 weeks.

They were also very gung-ho about making sure that the “customer can hear your smile”. Voice actors are extremely familiar with this, as it is a direction that’s commonly given. “That was a good take. One more like that, please, but more smile! Ready, aaaaand…GO!”

If you are unsure of what I mean, take a moment and search online for the animated show “The Cat in the Hat” featuring Martin Short. In all my life I don’t think I’ve ever been able to more clearly “hear a smile” in a voice-over performance than his in that role. Every word he says in every episode, plus the theme song he sings, sounds like he is wearing a gigantic grin while performing. It’s uncanny.

Nowadays if you call an 800#, or speak to a front-line contact at a medium to large company, you are highly unlikely to encounter that type of attention, active listening, and cheer. Employees seem to not receive that kind of training anymore at all, almost as though it has been deemed outdated and unnecessary by the employer. Customer care has a much stronger ‘drive-thru’ vibe now than ever before, in my opinion. Single contact resolution is not a priority, seemingly. Checking for understanding? Nah. Strong listening comprehension and communication skills? Nuh-uh. And an audible smile? Nope!

This quote of mine was originally a social media post from several years ago. One of my core values.

As I started to make my transition into professional voice work I was still working at the company in question. But their training was so well ingrained that I found myself applying many of these same tools in communications with my corporate clients. They definitely seemed to appreciate and respond well to my listening and my giving their words attention and priority. The professional business-like conduct was well received and beneficial, and even seemed to catch some by surprise at times.

By applying my “800# training” as well as my knowledge of corporate training, business communications, leadership expectations and approval, forward-thinking, attention to detail, and my qualifying and soft-closing skills from my years as a sales rep (and sales trainer), I was easily able to differentiate myself from many in the field.

My awareness of and fluency in the language of business and the language of arts and creativity became one of my biggest assets. Many artists remain immersed in the art world only, and go to great lengths to avoid venturing into white-collar jobs. However, many others have done and are doing both in long-term temporary capacities as I did. Bills have to be paid and families need benefits, etc.

This is what I mean when I say that there’s a lot more to being a voice actor than just having a good voice. Combining the knowledge and wisdom of both worlds makes for a well-rounded freelance artist who fits and functions well in each. This has helped me go from being a mere “vendor” to being considered a true partner by my clients on their current (and ultimately future) projects. This fluency has also aided in my marketing efforts and networking with businesses and creators.

Now if only I could stop trying to coach the reps I speak with when I call 800 numbers…

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