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10 May 2005 @ 09:14 am
Open Letter to Companies  
Dear Companies,

Please do not install one of those newfangled 'voice response' automated phone systems. Nobody likes them.

Firstly, we (your customers) are not entirely stupid. Just because we're speaking into the phone, rather than punching numbers, we don't get any warm fuzzies from feeling like we're talking to a human. In fact, speaking in flat, monotone, single-word bursts feels even less natural than navigating a number-based navigation system. If you want things to seem more 'friendly and human', here's a revolutionary idea; why not have a friendly human answer the phone?

Secondly, what are you thinking when you give us the 'open option' on these systems? You know, the one where we get to guess what the computer wants? "Speak whatever your question is, and we will direct you to the correct area!" Yeah, right! What we customers hear is more like this:
"Try and guess what our most common requests are. Condense these requests down to a list of one- or two-word options. Then choose the one that most closely matches your need, and speak it into the phone." It's like the world's most passive-aggressive switchboard. "If you don't know what options I want you to choose from, I'm sure not going to tell you!" Again, we know we're dealing with a computer. We know computers don't understand things like, "Oh, gosh, I was trying to switch my account from the $49 to the $43 plan, but wanted to add my son to it as well. Will there be a service charge?"

Lastly, do you get off on making us sound like idiots? A lot of people these days (for better or worse) call from work, or from their cell phone, or from any number of other semi-public places. We generally don't wish to subject onlookers to something like this:

Please, if you must use an automated switchboard, stick with the traditional menu-option driven model. Yes, we all hate them, and complain about them; but it's a benign hatred, one we feel in dealing with a necessary evil. Not the active hatred we feel when confronted with the chipper voice-driven system. If you wish to avoid hatred completely, please direct your attention again to the comment above in regards to hiring an actual human.

bird on a wire: Crazy Anthony Hopkins (Titus)lyosha on May 10th, 2005 03:04 pm (UTC)
BRAVO. Ugh, hate those things.
The Jaded Foxjadedfox on May 10th, 2005 03:09 pm (UTC)
T-Mo Customer care anyone?

I hate these systems with a passion.
Lumi (gordianaut): autonomous tail malfunctionlumin_esc on May 10th, 2005 06:22 pm (UTC)
I just got off the phone with them. o.o

Here's my secret: when the system asks you to speak your number, key it instead. When it asks you to speak your SSN, key that too. When it asks what it can help you with, press 0. You'll get an operator. ;)
The Jaded Foxjadedfox on May 10th, 2005 06:25 pm (UTC)
That formerly didn't work.

I tried. believe me.
Lumi (gordianaut): greater mysterieslumin_esc on May 10th, 2005 06:28 pm (UTC)
Huh. It worked for me just a second ago. I'm using the (800) 937-8997 number.

Maybe I'm on the angry customer list since I've raised my voice with them, before. c.c
The Jaded Foxjadedfox on May 10th, 2005 06:33 pm (UTC)
That's formerly. ;)

I haven't done it in over a month. No major outages in that long...

(isn't that a sign of the apocalypse with T-Mo?)
Lumi (gordianaut)lumin_esc on May 10th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC)
Fear not; the world is safe. I'm getting outages galore out here in California. Too bad the Sidekick is the rubber hose around my arm that tourniquets for the needle of T-Mobile. x.x *zombiewalk*
Brendan: Brazil Phone Madnessroho on May 10th, 2005 06:47 pm (UTC)
*waves BlackBerry 7100 before thee*!
Lumi (gordianaut)lumin_esc on May 10th, 2005 08:27 pm (UTC)
I honestly don't think I could be converted. ;)
Brendan: Brazil Phone Madnessroho on May 10th, 2005 08:32 pm (UTC)
You sure? 3rd party software support? MIDI ringtones? Syncs with Outlook and Lotus contacts/calendars/tasks? Works as a cellular modem, through the USB cable? Browser that supports JavaScript, and even some flash? ;)
Lumi (gordianaut)lumin_esc on May 10th, 2005 08:35 pm (UTC)
Oh believe me! I'm tempted. ;) But Danger will catch up soon on the browser thing, and I can't do without my qwerty keyboard. That and the UI is just so artfully perfect, the Blackberry would really have to blow my mind to change it.
Brendan: Brazil Phone Madnessroho on May 10th, 2005 08:39 pm (UTC)
Well, I may have to gracefully concede this one...since you just nailed the two things I miss the most about the SK ;) The qwerty KB on the 7100 is *good*, but nowhere close to the SK's. And the interface is much more like a PocketPC device...Functional, but not artfully so ;)

I'll have to let you take it for a test drive next time you're out here!
Prester Scott: ennuiprester_scott on May 10th, 2005 03:12 pm (UTC)
Thing is, the human receptionist is probably cheaper than the automated system, anyway.
doomseydoomsey on May 10th, 2005 03:14 pm (UTC)
It is possible to do these voice response systems well - in fact, Amtrak's manages to be not frustrating.

There are four important things to doing this.

0. Dialing zero means go to a human.
1. Make it clear what options are available at all points.
2. Offer numeric equivalents.
3. If the computer doesn't understand, go to a human.
Yotogiyotogi on May 10th, 2005 08:12 pm (UTC)
There are a few systems whereby you can circumvent the voice-response unit if you know the trick. On some systems this is '99', '0', or (as it is on my phone carrier's system) saying "AGENT" to the system when it prompts you for an answer.
Brendan: Brazil Phone Madnessroho on May 10th, 2005 08:26 pm (UTC)
Long as we don't have to say "OPERATOR". I don't wanna get sucked into the phone handset!
Yotogiyotogi on May 10th, 2005 09:37 pm (UTC)
The last time my lines quit on me (some genius drove carpentry staples over the line in the kitchen to hold it against the wall and shorted it) I decided to call for repairs from the payphone I use to call my taxi to work that morning.


I had the uniform on, so I'm sure I looked and sounded like some kind of Matrix cosplayer.
Araquan Skytraceraraquan on May 11th, 2005 05:25 am (UTC)
Indeed. Julie rocks my Superliner, if you know what I mean.
Jenniferburan on May 10th, 2005 03:25 pm (UTC)
Why not just skip the automated crap entirely and have real people answer the phone? If you "care" about your "customers" you'll take the time to talk to them.
Woodywoodychitwn on May 10th, 2005 03:40 pm (UTC)
I once got trapped in the USPS automated phone service. I ended up getting so frustrated I yelled at it. It then responded with an apology for being unable to understand my request, and sounded genuinely upset. So then I apologized 'cause I didn't mean to yell. I was about to re-phrase my question when I realized a computer had just made me feel bad about its' inability to understand me...

We're not on speaking terms anymore...
Fiskfiskblack on May 10th, 2005 04:05 pm (UTC)
I use voice systems all the time when calling Xerox. They're not _that_ bad and they keep my hands free when doing other things or gesticulating rudely at coworkers.

The alternative to any electronic answering system is of course, outsourcing to India. The cost of employing that many whining surf-web-from-work Americans to deal with the volume of calls is cost-prohibitive.

Jay Naylor
Brendan: Brazil Phone Madnessroho on May 10th, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC)
Actually, yeah, I don't mind them so much, as long as they meet some of the requirements listed by doomsey above: Clear choices at all points, and the option to use a number instead of speaking. Unfortunately, I'm catching more and more that are moving towards the T-Mobile model of vague options.
Rattus scientificus: Alien Hominidskorzy on May 10th, 2005 04:17 pm (UTC)
I was just thinking ill thoughts about this very subject yesterday, when I tried calling Fandango.
Gatcatgatcat on May 10th, 2005 04:54 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry. I do not understand your request. Please say it again, slowly and clearly, so our tech support can laugh at the recording of you later.
The Dragon Ladydrgn_ldy on May 10th, 2005 04:55 pm (UTC)
:) Good one.
John Boulton: IBITEJOO!koogrr on June 20th, 2005 05:57 pm (UTC)
I hate those Customer Defense Systems.