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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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  • 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.
  • 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.

  • Good reasons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BoneFlower ( 107640 ) <`george.worroll' `at' `'> 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 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.
  • by Walzmyn ( 913748 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @09:40PM (#15987005)
    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 waited for a few seconds and then it said "I'm sorry, I didn't understand that" and kicked me back to the beginning of the menus. I personally think these phone systems are just designed the way they are because they do not want to talk to people. Heck, look at Amazon. I love 'em (and prove it with my credit card) but until recently you coudn't call 'em and now it's not easy.
  • 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.
  • by billcopc ( 196330 ) <> on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:17PM (#15987236) Homepage
    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.. when I was running a retail shop, I had people call me up for no reason at all, they were just creepy losers trying to kill time by talking to a semi-stranger. In the case of tech support, it's even worse because people are just plain ignorant and they expect everyone to hold their hand. I don't care that "you" paid "good money" for "a high end computer", or that "you" will "take" your "business" "elsewhere" if I don't clean out *YOUR* spyware and send you a "FREE" copy of MS Office because you "misplaced" your CD. Phones enable stupidity because people eventually learn to rely on the phone rather than use their own brain. How many times have you had someone call you with a question, only to end up saying "Nevermind, I just figured it out", just after they've talked your ear off and indirectly accused you for their ignorance, nevermind interrupting your lv60 raid while a 350$/hr hooker was peeing on your rug in seven different languages.

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

  • 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 Joe U ( 443617 ) on Saturday August 26, 2006 @10:31PM (#15987319) Homepage Journal
    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.
  • 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.
  • 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 used up my three free support calls and I needed to set up a support contract... could I give them my credit card or purchase order number?

    I'm afraid I got a bit ironic, not to say sarcastic, with them before I hung up and ran off to get purchasing to start the paperwork for a support contract. I then used Usenet (this was before google) to get the answer, fixed the problem, and a week later someone from Microsoft called me, apologised, gave me the same instructions I got from Usenet, and said they'd reset my three free support calls.

    I don't think we used any of them.

    Now I realise that this was atypical, and I've met some really good people at Microsoft more than willing to go the extra mile for the customer...

    But you have to admit that taking a network down and asking for money to fix it is a mite more hostile than voice menus. :)
  • by Kr3m3Puff ( 413047 ) * <<me> <at> <>> 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:Good reasons (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Hillman ( 137883 ) on Sunday August 27, 2006 @12:44AM (#15987978)
    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.

  • Re:skip them all (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 27, 2006 @01:28AM (#15988143)
    Hello. You have a collect call from "Pick me up at school". Do you wish to accept the charges?
  • by Bertie ( 87778 ) on Monday August 28, 2006 @06:41AM (#15992831)
    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)

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.