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Why Do Companies Stick with Voice Menus? 260

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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  • 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 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 [] 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.)
  • 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?
  • skip them all (Score:5, Informative)

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

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

  • Re:marketing (Score:3, Informative)

    by dhasenan ( 758719 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:33PM (#15987327)
    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 much greater confidence in your accuracy.
  • by lvcipriani ( 764022 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:51PM (#15987404)
    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: [] ( scroll down to 1992 ) and look for VRCP.
  • by TheDauthi ( 219285 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:52PM (#15987412)
    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 routing based on the problem group; I know the ones I write do a great deal of this. It requires more management, but if you think something's wrong with your bill, you need someone who understands billing. If you've already called several times, I'll probably transfer you to a supervisor immediately instead of making you wait in line. If you're calling for a prior problem, I'll give you the option to speak with the same person you spoke with previously. IVRs work best when you are attempting to provide a specific set of well-defined services. Trying to tie everything the company can do into one system is unwieldy and hard to get right... especially when there might be many more than one way to request the same thing.
  • Re:Pulse Dialing (Score:2, Informative)

    by FuegoFuerte ( 247200 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:58PM (#15987444)
    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.
  • by IKnwThePiecesFt ( 693955 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @11:31PM (#15987600) Homepage
    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 needed this system because one advisor could not solve every issue. We had temporary reps who could only handle payments and activations, standard reps who could handle most anything, TSG reps (my department) that would deal with port requests, and our Saves team for deactivations.

    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.
  • by secolactico ( 519805 ) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @01:19AM (#15988110) Journal
    Now, imagine if JetBlue had to build and maintain its own runways. Your $200 flight to LA just became $900.

    Aren't landing fees supposed to cover that?

    I always tought that ATC was the biggest government expenditure related to air travel.
  • Re:Real question? (Score:4, Informative)

    by MindStalker ( 22827 ) <mindstalker@g[ ] ['mai' 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.
  • Re:This works (Score:4, Informative)

    by anticypher ( 48312 ) <anticypher@gm[ ].com ['ail' 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

Love may laugh at locksmiths, but he has a profound respect for money bags. -- Sidney Paternoster, "The Folly of the Wise"