Paula Zahn Now
Thursday, July 8, 2004

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WOODRUFF: Ed Chen and Tom Rosenstiel. And we're sorry about those blackouts during the interview. Some kind of gremlin has gotten hold of the line.

Finally, when we come back, you've never met her, but her voice rings a bell



LIZ RAPHAEL HELGESEN, VOICE OF ANSWERING SERVICES: Sorry. We still didn't understand that.


WOODRUFF: Our own Bruce Burkhardt meets the angelic voice of voicemail hell next.


WOODRUFF: You wouldn't recognize her face, but her voice is unforgettable. She's the person who answers the phone when you're not at your desk, when your boss is away, or simply when all the operators are busy with other customers.

Bruce Burkhardt introduces us to the woman behind the voicemail.


HELGESEN: Please hold while we access your records.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): That voice! I keep hearing that voice over and over and over and over! We all do.

HELGESEN: For residential, press one.

Please enter your telephone number.

We are unable to locate your loan.

BURKHARDT (on camera): She's everywhere!

(voice-over): In this day and age, a phone call hardly ever gets through to a real person. Or does it?

(on camera): Are you a human being?

HELGESEN: Sorry. We still didn't understand that.

BURKHARDT: A likely story. It's time to peel back the curtain.

HELGESEN: Press four to replay the message, five to listen to message header. Press pound to skip to the next message.

BURKHARDT: Liz Raphael Helgesen is very much a real person -- a real successful person.

HELGESEN: This call may be monitored or recorded.

BURKHARDT: From a small recording studio in the basement of her suburban Atlanta home, Liz Helgesen talks to us.

HELGESEN: If that's not what you wanted, just say, "Go back."

BURKHARDT: She likes talking to us.

HELGESEN: It's about my passion to get a message across and to make sure that when you have ended your interaction with me, your experience with me, you've gotten what you needed.


BURKHARDT: From cell phone companies...

HELGESEN: Wachovia

BURKHARDT: ... to banks...

HELGESEN: Charles Schwab.

BURKHARDT: ... to investment firms and even when you're not on the phone...

HELGESEN: The next station is Five Points.

BURKHARDT: ... it's hard to get through a day without hearing Liz.

HELGESEN: Catch it.

BURKHARDT: About 20 years ago, this one-time majorette was working in human resources for a telecommunications company, one of the first to offer voicemail products.

Someone around the office asked her if she wouldn't mind lending her voice. That was her start.

(on camera): This is where the voice emanates from?

HELGESEN: This is it. And this is our unfinished basement.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): With her voice insured by Lloyd's of London and an annual income above $200,000, Liz is now in a position to be both a stay-at-home mom with her four kids and one of the top voices in the business. (on camera): Have you, in your experience, ever been anxious -- you know, trying to call somebody, anxious to get through to a person and heard your own voice and "Damn it!"

HELGESEN: No, that's never happened. You know, I've heard my voice and I'll laugh. I mean, sometimes I'm just returning normal phone calls, administrative phone calls for myself or for my company or my family. And I'll come across myself and it's -- it's thrilling.

If you ever need help, knowing what you can say, just say help.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): For so long, this pleasant but disembodied voice has led us through the techno age, and now she's out of the closet.

HELGESEN: I don't want to be a secret. You know, these voices that you hear that guide you through your life are typically unknown. I'm the most popular person that no one has ever known. Well, I want the world to know me.

BURKHARDT (on camera): If I want to do a bank transaction over the phone, can I just call you up here at home and do it?



WOODRUFF: Now, we can put a face with that voice. That was our Bruce Burkhardt, lending his voice from Atlanta. We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: Thank you for being with us tonight.