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Why Do Companies Stick with Voice Menus? 260

Posted by Cliff
from the would-really-prefer-to-talk-to-an-irate-human dept.
eliot1785 asks: "We've all had to put up with this at one point or another — you call a company for customer service or tech support, and rather than getting traditional touch-pad menu options, you encounter an annoying system that wants you to 'just say' how it can help you. Invariably, the system fails to understand your input, or picks up background noise or coughs as intended inputs. After a few failures, you have to press '0' to speak with an operator. Why do companies think that customers like these voice menu systems? Is there any research to suggest that they do, or are companies simply embracing the systems because they are new technology? More importantly, when will they realize that the systems don't work and go back to the traditional touch-pad menu option systems?"
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Why Do Companies Stick with Voice Menus?

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  • The voice menu system I've used most often is that of AMTRAK when visting the States, and it always manages to understand me.
    • by Konster (252488)
      News for nards. People who mumble.
    • by daeg (828071) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:29PM (#15986958)
      IIRC, the AMTRAK system was recently praised on CBS News as being the "most user friendly" system. There was a recent coneference/expo of voice system vendors and apparently the most-desired system was the one that AMTRAK used or ones that could copy what AMTRAK does.
      • Cool. So they got that end covered. Now all they have to do is get revenues to cover costs!
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Joe U (443617)
          Good luck.

          Unsubsidized travel doesn't make money.

          Now, if Amtrak could have the state and federal government run all their stations and maintain their tracks at a fraction of the cost, (Like they do with airports) then I'm betting they could turn a nice profit.
    • by Joe U (443617) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:26PM (#15987285) Homepage Journal
      Amtrak's 'Julie' is actually one of the most advanced systems out there. It rarely misses a prompt and recovers gracefully if it does. (It even works while calling from a train doing 90mph in the middle of nowhere Iowa, that's an achievement all its own)

      Between their website and voice system, there is a lot going on behind the scenes. Train travel is actually pretty difficult to book trips and maintain status, it's all the stops, and the literally hundreds of possibilities you can have for one trip.
  • by CohibaVancouver (864662) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:19PM (#15986899)
    I've had several successful interactions with these systems, most recently with United Airlines just the other day. Anecdotal, to be sure, but proves the systems have at least some worth.
    • by EvanED (569694)
      Agreed. I even had UPS understand an entire tracking number that I read out without making any particular attempt to enunciate. The only problems I faced during this were just finding my way around the menu in general (figuring out what to do if you know a package is being shipped to an incorrect address is NOT fun) and feeling stupid talking out loud.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Walzmyn (913748)
      I am amazed at the people here saying that these systems work for them. I have never had one work. There have been problems with understanding me (I try to speak clearly, but I am from the deep south and sound like it) but i've also had problems with the menus looping, or the "for anything else just wait" option wanting you to say something. That was Amazon's this week. My particular situation was odd and didn't fit a catagory. I was given a list of 3 or 4 options and told to just wait if I didn't fit. I wa
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Bertie (87778)
        You're what's known in the trade as a "goat". There's some people that, for reasons we don't really understand, just can't make themselves understood, and it looks like you're one of them. Sorry!

        (Ironically enough, I'm a bit of a goat myself, and I design these bloody systems for a living - makes testing endlessly hilarious, I can tell you)
    • by Metex (302736)
      United Airlines is a good system only if you arent in the airport or on a plane trying to figure out which gate to go to catch your plane. In those conditions all I can say is that I have to say the words repeat it about 40 times which makes me look hard of hearing.
    • My thoughts exactly. I used American's system a number of times recently due to a death in the family, and it worked just fine.

      I liked it better than the touch tone systems. And it works *much* better for phones where the keypad is on the handset; then you have to keep moving the handset away from your head to push a button, and hope you don't miss any of the next voice part.

      I would much rather just deal with a human, though.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by TheDauthi (219285)
      I'll pass that on to the guy who wrote it. Yes, the systems do have value. The problem is when a company thinks that an IVR system _is_ customer service. The real job of these systems is to handle specific types of easily-automated calls ["give me my account balance.", "I lost my card, close it.", "Transfer me to John Smith"], and let a CSR of some flavor handle the problem calls, "[My desk was delivered broken, can you fix it?", "I think there's something wrong with my bill."]. Also, many IVRs do routi
  • Real question? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:20PM (#15986906) Journal
    It is obvious. Companies DON'T want you to contact them. They want self-service or no service. They can give the sorry illusion of TRYING to help you by offering phone systems. In reality, they hope you give up. Service costs money. They'd rather have high maintenance indivduals go to another company and be a burned to them.

    And in reality, customers flock to the low cost provider. Serves them right when they get what thy paid for.
    • Re:Real question? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Moofie (22272) <lee@ringofsaturn. c o m> on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:27PM (#15987288) Homepage
      I don't mind getting what I paid for. usually, when I'm calling one of these jokers, it's because I HAVEN'T gotten what I've paid for. Hence the problem.
      • by attemptedgoalie (634133) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @12:27AM (#15987902)
        I work in tech support. I've been a part of the decision process that has watched us go from live pickup to a touchtone system to voice.

        I've watched upper management decide that we need to push people to the web.

        Well trained people cost money.
        Poorly trained people cost less money.
        Poorly trained people who you don't have to worry about accents cost even less.

        But make it hard enough to get support, and the support costs become profits when support is completely unused.

        Upper management has decided that the people who call support in the corporate world are not the people who buy the equipment or have buying influence.

        So, piss off the techies, and they just won't call. Their company will still buy from us.

        More money for the shareholder.
    • by AusIV (950840)
      No, the real question is why don't they go back to the less fallible touch tone menus? Companies want to eliminate cost by having the fewest and cheapest people operating the phones, and if the menus take care of their customer's needs, they won't have to talk to a real person. With a touch tone system you may have to screw around with different menus, but you never have to deal with the system misunderstanding you.

      Personally, I'll spend more time navigating a menu when I can't find what I want than I'll sp

      • Re:Real question? (Score:4, Informative)

        by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @08:41AM (#15989122) Journal
        Except when the menu system has the guy rattle on for minute about the new menu structure and all the services they can offer you online. My colleges finanial aid system phone menu rattles on for a few minutes then provides 7 different options all of which provide you directions on how to do that self-help on the phone. There is NO option for an operator or anything dealing with having a problem. Eventually I just pressed '0' (even though it wasn't an option) and it said I was being transfered to an operator, and then gave me a busy signal. Called back and it hung up on me. After about 7 calls I got an operator, who told me to call a different number.
  • Pulse Dialing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bieeanda (961632) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:20PM (#15986910)
    You might be surprised, but there are still a lot of people out there with their phone lines (and phones) configured for pulse-dialing/rotary instead of touch-tone. Unfortunately, speaking from personal experience, they make getting through a traditional digit-entry interface impossible.

    Personally, I haven't had any real trouble using the voice interaction services that my cable company provides. I do try to call from a quiet spot though, and do tend to have to speak more clearly and loudly than I do to the service rep that I eventually get.

    • Unfortunately, speaking from personal experience, they make getting through a traditional digit-entry interface impossible.
      No they don't. Just flick the switch on the phone to tone after you dial the number, and then just use the menu normally.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by FuegoFuerte (247200)
        My phone doesn't have such a switch. My phone has a rotary dial. If I want a 5, I stick my finger in the hole above the "5," and I spin the rotary dial clockwise till it hits the little metal hook and stops. When I release it, it spins backwards and clicks 5 times into the phone line. This is how I dial when using my home phone (obviously my cell phone is not rotary dial). So you see, it really *isn't* always that easy.
    • I guess I am surprised. Thanks for the blast from the past... that was about 30 years ago that we switched our phones to tone dialing back when the phone company charged extra for that "feature". I didn't know there were phone companies which still allowed pulse dial.
       
    • I've definitely heard them say "Press or say one". What about a front-door choice: Say "voice" to get the voice menu, press 1 to get the touch-tone menu.

      It's especially annoying with serial numbers. Really, at this point, if they can't let me use my touch tones for that, they should have a rep writing it down.
  • Most of those systems will still understand a yes as 1 and a no as 2. Even the Microsoft product activation voice menus will let you use the number pad, even though it instructs you to tell it all those numbers.
  • They don't like these voice systems because they are more efficient, they like them because people now expect them but can't bring themselves to hate them enough to demand change.

    Figure that if you can lower your support budget by 30% because people simply give up in voice hell, then any self respecting pointy headed boss would install this thing instantly.

    Think of the jobs you can cut!!!
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by lvcipriani (764022)
      It can be a much more than that. AT&T was able to reduce the number of long distance operators by 99% and replaced them with a voice recognition system ( I worked on this product ). This was the first use of speech recognition in the US long distance phone network, see:
      http://www.research.att.com/index.cfm?portal=27 [att.com] ( scroll down to 1992 ) and look for VRCP.
  • Your computerized "operator" is NOT my friend - just route my fucking call to one of your marginally competent live operators, and dispense with the virtual pleasantries already. Sprint/Embarq/whatever the fuq they're called now is the worst.

    Oh, and you damn kids, get off my lawn!

    *shake fist*
    • by TopShelf (92521)
      Heck, many of the customer service organizations aren't any better. For many functions, voice-response systems work just fine for me, and it's the live operators who have the scripted formalities they need to read through, wasting both of our time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      Having personally worked as both a representative and a team lead at an inbound call center (for Virgin Mobile, actually) I can say that these things can be necessary. We had one of these systems named Simone, and I can't begin to explain how many times I heard customer's complain about "her". One day I decided to try to get through the process and see how long it would take me following various routes to get to a live advisor, and it was NEVER over 2 minutes, and only 20-30 seconds for most requests. We
      • by scdeimos (632778)

        Without Simone's routing we would have spent an incredible amount of time just transferring between representatives, and the temp reps would have never worked.

        That's complete and total bullshit. Interactive touch-tone menus have worked just fine for years and the only people who can't use them are the stubbourn people still using decadic phones (rotary dial for your tweens). My bank used touch-tone menus for years with no problems, but recently switched to a voice-activated menu system. You absolutely po

  • by way2trivial (601132) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:24PM (#15986934) Homepage Journal
    I use ivr systems all the time, I almost NEVER have them misunderstand me.

    ennunciation at times helps.. pausing between #'s helps.

    I know a lotta eastern europeans, they all scream bloody murder when they try...

    you could always refer to http://gethuman.com/ [gethuman.com] if you just can't take it
    The most popular part of the gethuman website is the gethuman database of secret phone numbers and codes to get to a human when calling a company for customer service. (See also our general tips.)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by tverbeek (457094)
      pausing between #'s helps
      It's too bad no one's tried putting a numeric input pad on telephones, to make this unnecessary.
    • I don't find you really need to know any secrets to those, you just say "operator" a few times. It's usually set up to recognize that, but even if not it'll get confused after a few tries and give you one.

    • by GoofyBoy (44399)
      It depends on what you are trying to do.

      For something that the programmers expect and is common, I'm sure that its pretty good.

      The one time I used this type of system was to remove a a part of my service. I had to start guessing what key words they wanted, the system kept on interpreting that I wanted to add a service or remove my service entirely. Insanely fustrating.

      I finally said "Problem. billing." and got to a human that could then forward me to the correct number.
    • by CAIMLAS (41445)
      here's the thing... they don't work for me, normally. I've been told by many people that I've got a "radio voice", and I just happen to hail from the midwest - the demographic part of the country that is considered the easiest to understand.

      I ocntinually have problems, just the same. yes, I'll admit that I end up getting frustrated with the damn things and start raising my voice on a 'bad day' or when I'm in a rush (especially when I had to wait on hold for the damn machine - what kind of sense does that ma
  • by eyeball (17206) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:25PM (#15986937) Journal
    We all try to follow the rule: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." IT follows a similar rule: "if it ain't broke but fixing it justifies my job, we'll fix it."

  • I use telephone voice recognition systems regularly and I have no trouble at all. The clunky touch tone menu systems make you listen to 30 seconds of options before you reach the option you need. The voice system is both faster and easier.

    If you are having trouble with voice recognition then perhaps you should enunciate your words more clearly.

    • by kent_eh (543303)
      If you are having trouble with voice recognition then perhaps you should enunciate your words more clearly.


      Or maybe learn to speak english without an accent, or speech impediment.

      That can't be too hard, can it?

  • I believe that is being used to demonstrate that a company it a H-tech company, or that is the way that it is being marketed. It may be OK for phone directory help, but totally wrong for just about everything else. I work for a company that gets wrong calls all day long because we have a name similar to another company, it is costing our company money because of the use of these systems.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dhasenan (758719)
      It is totally NOT okay for telephone directory assistance.

      Understanding human speech is quite difficult. Directory assistance requires the computer to parse pretty much arbitrary words, which is the most difficult task in understanding speech--you have an entire lexicon and can't weight any set of words much. On the other hand, if you're creating an automated flight booking system, then you only have a limited range of vocabulary that you even need to consider. That is much easier--or at least, you get a mu
  • Good reasons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BoneFlower (107640) <[george.worroll] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:29PM (#15986955) Journal
    Surveys have been done that show more people get more pissed off about being transferred than they do for having to sit through a menu before they speak to someone. Automated information available on many can save the customers time, which is another reason they are so popular.

    They aren't specifically for driving people away. They exist to reduce teh need for them to speak to someone in the first place, and if that fails, to help ensure they speak to the right person right away.
    • by Dynedain (141758)

      They exist to reduce teh need for them to speak to someone in the first place, and if that fails, to help ensure they speak to the right person right away.

      9 times out of 10, when I have to punch in my account number or other identifying information in the automated system, I still have to give it to the live person for them to pull up my information because the machine doesn't give them the info. What's the point of having me indicate who I am to the machine, if the machine can't tell the operator who I am?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Hillman (137883)
        You're gonna hate this.

        It's usually not for the agents. In the call center I work in (not on the phones, thank god!) they use the account number to access your account to prioritize your call depending on how much money you bring in. In other words, the more money you spend, the faster you'll speak to someone.

        • by Dynedain (141758)
          Oh I have no doubt it's not for the agents. I imagine plenty of other nefarious uses like auto-flagging frequent callers, or tracking how long different account holders will deal with the system before punching 0, or even just giving the PHBs data points to drool about without them ever having to talk to their employees.
  • by gnu-sucks (561404) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:30PM (#15986960) Journal
    I'm pretty sick this week. Having never used my insurance with a doctor before, I called in.

    "Welcome to bla bla... to speak with someone regarding covered facilities press 6" ::beep::
    "If your Insur-ID begins with a W, press 1" ::beep::
    "If the W is followed by three numbers and a hyphen or dash, press 1" ::beep::
    "Please type in your complete Insur-ID. You can enter letters by-" ::beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:bee p:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:beep:bee p:beep:beep::
    "If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911." ::pause::
    "Please hold." ::pause::
    "Due to unusually high call volume [8am saturday], we are experiencing higher-than-usual wait time. Your expected wait time is Two. Minutes. And. Five. Seconds. Please continue to hold." ::pause::
    "Thanks for using Enormous insurence inc, may I please have your date of birth, Insur-ID...."

    That's as verbatim as I can remember it. Seriously. Can you imagine an elderly person trying to do this... up hill, both ways, with a rotary phone, in the snow?
    • Indeed, I've never understood why they ask you for something in the phone menus only to have the person who picks up ask you for it again.
      • by Em Ellel (523581)
        Indeed, I've never understood why they ask you for something in the phone menus only to have the person who picks up ask you for it again.

        My understanding was that it is not a 100% sure thing that the info they get from IVR system belongs to the person whose call they were transfered (most IVR systems are actually fairly descrete systems loosely tied to other systems, such as CSR's info screens, and errors may occur during handoff.) So in the case of sensitive information (Banking, Healthcare, etc_ they wil
  • skip them all (Score:5, Informative)

    by mz001b (122709) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:30PM (#15986962)
    A very useful site: gethuman database [gethuman.com].

    I lump the voice and keypad menus in the same boat -- I just want to talk to a
    person as quick as possible.

    • by gnu-sucks (561404)
      I remember calling my great grandmother collect once, and it was in the days where you could hear the other person accept or decline charges. It went like this:

      "Hello. You have a collect call from SAY YES ITS ME. Do you wish to accept charges?"
      "I'm sorry what'd you say hun?" ::click::
  • Usually the first thing I say over one of these numbers is "I WISH TO SPEAK WITH AN OPERATOR." Slow, loud and clear. And then the damn machine tries to dissuade me from speaking with an operator. >. I just would rather state my situation SIMPLY, than deal with some bot on the phone line that can't understand my unusual mode of speech.

    -uso.
    • It's true, usually after sitting there for two minutes going through options I need to get transferred around at least once, maybe even twice, to get to the person I really need to talk to. I actually found e-mail and those online tech support chats have faster and better turn-around then even using the phone these days.
  • Voice menus save companies enormous amounts of money. Its called self-service. The less the company has to spend on human beings, the lower their costs. They try to take care of the most common items via IVR. For example, if 45% of callers want to know their current balance, then having a menu item for that prevents 45% of people from having to sit on hold or talking to a rep.
    • That's absolutely true. But the original complaint was primarily about systems that "want you to 'just say' how it can help you", as opposed to those where you can push numbers on the keypad to select the option you want.
  • Noise level (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Trevin (570491)
    My complaint about these system's isn't that they're harder to use -- most of the ones I've tried work well, as long as you use the limited vocabulary that the computer is programmed to understand. I don't like them because they're less efficient than the keypad for numeric input, and because (in many cases, though not all) you aren't given any option other than to speak aloud.

    What if you're in a busy office environment and you don't want to disturb your coworkers, or have people listening in to your conve
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by _tognus (903491)
      What if you've lost your voice through injury or illness?

      Would you be using a phone in that case?

  • I've had some good experiences with voice-activated menus (and some not-so-good ones), however my favorite part is usually just saying "representative" will get you to talk to a live rep - saves me a lot of time listening to options etc (although 0 sometimes sends you to a rep, sometimes it doesn't).
  • Personally, I prefer the voice menus to the touch tone menus. Rather than having to listen to some recording drone on about options, I just say what I want. The only difficulty is when my issue is beyond the scope of the options -- which is a problem with touch navigation, too. And once I've found where I need to go, it's easier to just say it next time than to remember some arcane sequence of numbers to press.
  • Invariably, the system fails to understand your input, or picks up background noise or coughs as intended inputs.

    Invariably the posted article makes assertions in the superlative to which the lazy will wag their heads yes. Let me tell you what is invariable.

    Invariably, company call centers are an expense, not a profit. Invariably companies want to save expense, and call center automation improves over time due to improving recognition and voice application technology.

    Invariably the systems that stay

    • by Khyber (864651)
      And invariably when I call up these bots with voice recognition and say "(X product) is having some issues, here are the symptoms" that bot's going to be not smart enough to diagnose and repair the problem at all, and there's no way in hell you could program a bot to supply a pre-programmed response to every minor problem or glitch that comes along. No thank you, either give me human voices or I don't buy your shit, PERIOD.

      Thank god Linux support is 100% human-based, and free at that. I'd really fucking
  • Contact center managers are being pushed to reduce costs. For instance a customer call costing $3.50 to complete with an agent only costs $0.35 if it is processed by the automated system. On top of contact centers are mostly seen as loss centers (as apposed too profit centers). So the pressure is on to use anything that could get more people to process there questions with the automated systems. The vendors that offer voice recognition systems are pushing their offerings hard contact center managers will tr
  • Swear a lot (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Darth_Burrito (227272) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:01PM (#15987147)
    I had an AI prof who used to work on these kinds of systems at Lucent. He told us that one of the usability bits they ran into was trying to detect when the AI was in over its head. Apparently, swearing proved to be a good indicator. So if you ever want to bypass the machine, just say "earmuffs" to your kids and start spewing profanity into the phone. I've never tried it myself, but if nothing else, I imagine it would be somewhat satisfying as a last resort.
    • This works (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Zadaz (950521) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:50PM (#15987397)
      You might get modded funny, but I'd give it a +1 informative.

      After moving last month I navigated quite a number of these systems, ranging from Not Completely Infuriating to Horrible. (Yes, I enunciate clearly, you smart asses)

      After the sixth time the electric company's system misunderstood me I said "Fuck you!" very clearly to which it responded with "I thought I heard you say you'd like to talk to an operator. Please wait while we connect you."

      Subsequent use of that colorful phrase gave me an operator in about 3/4 of the voice menus I tried.
      • Re:This works (Score:4, Informative)

        by anticypher (48312) <anticypher@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Sunday August 27, 2006 @08:52AM (#15989142) Homepage
        There is a system like that here in Belgium. The first thing it has to do is determine which of the two official languages the caller would like to work in.

        [in dutch] if you would like to speak in dutch, say "vlaams"
        [in french] if you would like to speak in french, say "français"

        I say "fuck you" rather strongly

        the machine responds in english, "please wait while we connect you with an operator"

        It seems they haven't completely translated all their voice prompts yet. At least english language profanity is built into the system. I've tried a number of french and dutch curse words, but the shortcut doesn't work.

        the AC
    • If nothing else, it will provide some emotional release while the system tries to figure out what to do with you. Even better if some QA tech listens to the recording later to try to improve the system.
  • for a large company, like say Citibank, it saves miliions and millions of dollars a year. They figure out what most people are calling about (say with a credit card its balance inquiries and making payments over the phone) and tries to get you do that in an automated fashion.

    Yes, its annoying to many of us. Most places, you can press "0" or in the case of listening for your voice, you can say operator and go right to a live person. Some systems are so advanced that if you sound angry, you are pushed up i
    • by wbren (682133)
      The original submission was about IVR systems that require (or request) you to speak to the computer in order to get anything done.
  • Say it with me: MONEY. Having automated systems is just plain cheaper. Sure they still have to have real live people around to take a few of the calls. But I'd guess that by implementing "self-assist" voice menu systems, 9 out of 10 calls can be handled by the machine and not take up the time of the "expensive" employee. When dealing with just about any business decision, the answer usually boils down to M-O-N-E-Y.
    • Say it with me: MONEY. Having automated systems is just plain cheaper.

      Um.

      This isn't about "automated systems versus real support".

      This is about "automated systems that don't work versus automated systems that do work".
  • The truth is that good service is cost-prohibitive. It would be great if every ISP had a team of operators whose sole job is to find out what you need and directly transfer you to the proper department, but people cost money, to the tune of 25-30k yearly. That same money can be pumped into an irritating phone system that not only does the same job without a salary, but also deters a non-negligible number of callers and forces them to try other solutions. Let's face it: some people are addicted to phones.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by argent (18001)
      If someone can come up with an even more hostile, alienating device for call centers, I'm rooting for them!

      Microsoft did it for me.

      This was about the fifth or sixth time I'd called Microsoft support, when we were upgrading our first Windows NT domain from an NT 3.1 server to 3.51... I got a nice helpful-sounding bloke who proceded to take me through a set of directions that, within minutes after hanging up, left our whole network down because of a licensing problem. I called them back and was told that I'd
    • by pipingguy (566974) *
      I was with you up till this part:

      350$/hr hooker was peeing on your rug in seven different languages

      I...er, I mean friends only get five languages - you, sir, are full of shit.
  • I have never had it come remotely close to guessing what I want, and I do try to help it understand.

    What's even worse in my book, though, is a system that makes you enter an account number and then transfers you to a rep who asks for your account number. I know it isn't hard to transfer the number along with the call, I admin a system that does just that.
  • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:31PM (#15987313)

    I'm not always in my nice private home when I want to deal with these things. So I'm supposed to say my "sixteen digit account number" out loud in the fucking airport, train station, office, or whatever? I don't think so. Of course the one's that ask you to punch it in alwas give to some idiot that asks for it again anyway. You can't win.

    The only two words I say are "Agent" and "Operator." Grumble, grumble, grumble. Someone else already posted the gethuman database link It's a lifesaver.

  • by tulare (244053) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:56PM (#15987437) Journal
    I've got a 4-year-old who is going through that stage where the use of the phone causes instant pandemonium - she sees me on the phone, and suddenly the same child who has been ignoring me for the past half hour will do anything and everything to grab my attention. This is common at this age, apparently. A large part of the problem is that many IVR systems are programmed to hang up if they get too many invalid responses. At least with a "press 3 for billing" solution, you can let it babble for a minute while you can handle things not related to talking to a robot. I'm sure other parents can relate to the following typical conversation:
    IVR Bot: "To talk to billing, say 'billing.' To get help with your connection, say 'connection.' If you'd like help with something else, say 'something else.'"
    Me: "Firstname-middlename-lastname, put down that hammer, NOW!"
    IVR Bot: "I'm sorry. I didn't understand what you needed. Can you please say that again?"
    Me: "I said now."
    IVR Bot: "I didn't quite make that out. One more time please?"
    Me: "ONE... TWO..."
    IVR Bot: "Thanks for calling. Goodbye!"
  • 1) It's about 10 times faster and 50x more accurate to enter numbers on the number pad.

    2) If you're familiar with the menu system you can shortcut it by just hitting 3-1-2 (or whatever).

    3) They work in noisy areas.

    4) Privacy and security. Keypad entry means not having to say things like credit card numbers, SSN, and other personal information out loud. Which I have often heard in cafés, etc. Good thing I don't feel like getting into credit card fraud.
  • This sort of system is designed to minimize hold time, especially with large companies. It works to something the scale of HP, Linksys, etc. as they slow down the customer long enough that their technician hold time appear to be more negligable than it really is.

    I have been in contact with Tech support for more than just HP/Linksys. For Cisco, their busy periods has customer service reps take a record of the call and have a technician call you back shortly. With RIM, Blackberry hold times are generally
  • I agree, they are annoying as hell, and nothing makes me trip over my tongue more than some computer insisting that I need to speak clearly. But I imagine that some companies implement the voice-response system for a few reasons:

    1) It's what all the 'cool' companies are doing, so we should, too!
    2) It gives the appearance of trying to make it easier for people (even if said people get frustrated within 30 seconds).
    3) If you're calling while in the car, and shouldn't be taking your eyes off the road to punch
  • by Kr3m3Puff (413047) * <me@kits[ ]elly.com ['onk' in gap]> on Saturday August 26, 2006 @11:45PM (#15987675) Homepage Journal
    I work in the industry...

    First, the reason why companies are attached to this is that a successful transaction is cheaper then a human transaction, period. In most cases 100x cheaper (even if it is sent to India). So even if only 10-20% of people use it, then it often pays for itself easily.

    Of course the problem is that a lot of companies don't spend enough time (and therefore money) in making the systems work well. We often try to get containment (having someone do a full transaction in a voice system) to get above 60%. If we can do that, then we are doing well. That of course isn't the easiest thing to do. If you are good at it, there are a lot of tools to analyze what people are saying and how to respond, because invariably you will get it wrong at some point or another.

    I get super frustrated myself when companies do stupid things. You have to be very careful with "speak anything" sort of interfaces. This is often called "open speech" and I still don't think the technology is quite there yet. It is much better to go with a "directed dialog" interface that give you 3-4 choices that are easy to understand.

    Another thing that a lot of companies don't think about is integrating the self service system with a human being. Even if the technology is brilliant, there are going to be certain things that can't be done in the automated system. Most companies simply transfer the calls, and if you get lucky, your account number might travel with the call. Personally I like to focus on making a robust sort of integration, so that if you get you get 1/2 way through something and have to speak to a human, that human is given all the information about your transaction, so you don't have to start over and can pick up right where you left off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tulare (244053)
      Most companies simply transfer the calls, and if you get lucky, your account number might travel with the call.
      This is the problem with so many of such systems, as well as many if not most of the push-button systems. When I go through the hassle of telling a robot my 16-digit account number and then having it verify it - "You said four, four, three, two, zero..." - and then having the bot decide I really need a human to deal with the issue after all, it's damn rude and lazy of the company to make me as t
    1. Having a voice menu is cheaper than having employees answer every call.
    2. Companies don't care about customer service.

    Nothing more, nothing less.

    The ultimate proof of #2 is the self checkout lanes at most grocery stores nowadays.

    • The ultimate proof of #2 is the self checkout lanes at most grocery stores nowadays.

      Huh? Self-checkout lanes are the pinnacle of customer service. The queues are shorter, it's bagged the way I like it, everything is rung up without any mistakes, and I don't have to talk with anyone about stupid crap. Those checkout lanes alone are enough to determine where I do my grocery shopping.

  • My bank does this too, (I was away from my computer and needed to transfer some funds). I was a bit surprised to hear the voice prompts because I was familiar with the key-inputs. So after 3 attempts to get to "Bill Payments" and a couple of failed attempts to speak to an operator, I yelled into the phone "I WANT TO SPEAK TO A FUCKING HUMAN!"

    The computer responded to my outburst with: "It sounds like you are very upset and would like to speak with someone. Please hold on while I transfer your call."

    I ha
  • No one thinks that people like them. For almost all business, most people would I wager would prefer human outside of the simplist transactions (account balances,etc).

    While they are getting better in some regards, it's simply to save money. Is this a question that even needed to be ask?

  • I work in a shared office with 5 people in one room. We always put the interactive voice menus on speaker phone. The entertainment value of these systems is almost unmatched.

    Voice prompt: Say yes or no.
    Co-worker: No.
    Voice prompt: Sorry I didn't understand. Say yes or no.
    Co-worker (louder): No.
    Voice prompt: Sorry I didn't understand. Say yes or no.
    Co-worker (louder): No.
    Voice prompt: Sorry I didn't understand. Say yes or no.
    Co-worker (screaming): NO GOD damn it! NO, NO, NO, I FUCKING SAID NO!
    Vo
  • Somewhere near the executive suite, there is an office with, inside, an imbecile, and on the wall, there is a diploma with three letters: "M B A".

    Through some process (which is irrelevant, because beyond the ken of us, mere mortals - but sometimes it involves the dark ritual of either "kickback" or "payola"), the imbecile has determined that it is a *GOOD* thing.

    Since the imbecile has the letter "MBA" trailing his name, the morons in executive row have decided to implement the stupid decision.

    (The differ [straightdope.com]

  • And this is about voice menus as apposed to touch-tone menus.

    It's not the "wow" factor, it's the fact that it makes the company look and seem more professional, more cutting edge, and thus (subconcioiusly) more ligitimate. There's a lot of money in trying to make a company's outward appearence seem bigger, and more important. Even if it IS a large company to begin with, businesses will do what they can to make it even more apparent how solid they are. Voice menus are "cutting edge" in people's minds, they

  • I use prepaid minutes for my cellphone (cheap and anonymous). When I want to refill my account I must purchase a card, then call my provider and give the card PIN to add minutes to my account. It used to be a quick and efficient punch-in system, but they switched to voice recognition a year ago and it is now very painful.

    They greatly improved the thing, like allowing to punch-in the password and the PIN (which were almost never recognized correctly by the system). They also removed options that are too simi
  • I'd very much like my pharmacy, CVS, to implement the voice-activated prompts in lieu of the damn number key entry.

    Why?

    Because my idiot cell phone (a Hiptop) got upgraded into non-functionality by my provider, SunCom. The latest firmware decided that whenever I punch a number key during an open call, it needs to continue emitting the DTMF for a full second. Their IVR software interprets that as multiple presses of the same key.

    I've worked around the issue by submitting refills on their website and calling
  • The moment I hear a robot tell me "We've now made it easier for you to ..." I mash the keypad for three seconds, then scream "HELP..HELP..HELP" into the receiver, then repeat. I get a human within 30 seconds every time.
  • They should change the name of "Voice Response Unit" to "Noise Response Unit", because that's what they are. You wouldn't believe how many customers I talk to who complain about the VRU "breaking up" and following with "I didn't understand that"...well, when you have your stupid mutt dog/snot nose illegitimate children going insane in the background, it's hard for PEOPLE to understand you, let alone a machine! Further, the pretzels in your mouth don't help. Also, when it asks you a simple question and to an

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