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Why Do Companies Stick with Voice Menus?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | 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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Usually works for me (1)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986897)

The voice menu system I've used most often is that of AMTRAK when visting the States, and it always manages to understand me.

Re:Usually works for me (1)

Konster (252488) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986909)

News for nards. People who mumble.

Re:Usually works for me (4, Interesting)

daeg (828071) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Usually works for me (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987274)

Cool. So they got that end covered. Now all they have to do is get revenues to cover costs!

Re:Usually works for me (2, Interesting)

Joe U (443617) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987319)

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.

Re:Usually works for me (1)

UbuntuDupe (970646) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987381)

Unsubsidized travel doesn't make money.

Yep, folks. We got a crank. Move on, and save at least five minutes of your life.

Re:Usually works for me (1)

deceased comrade (919732) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987020)

I've had pretty good expeirence with voice systems too, I used TigerDirect's once and it worked ok, and they're faster than doing a menu system, you no longer have to listen to everyone else's options before yours comes up. And It may also be the fact that so many people hate the touch tone systems, so much that they're ingrained in popular culture. Really I think a lot of people see them as the lesser of two evils.

Re:Usually works for me (5, Insightful)

Joe U (443617) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987285)

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.

Because often then work... (4, Informative)

CohibaVancouver (864662) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Because often then work... (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986940)

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:Because often then work... (2, Interesting)

Walzmyn (913748) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Because often then work... (1)

Metex (302736) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987076)

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.

Yes, they work for the airlines (1)

Roadkills-R-Us (122219) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987194)

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:Because often then work... (2, Informative)

TheDauthi (219285) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Real question? (5, Interesting)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986906)

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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987079)

Reminds me of one particular demotivator [despair.com] ...

Re:Real question? (5, Insightful)

Moofie (22272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987288)

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.

That is a +10 comment. (4, Insightful)

attemptedgoalie (634133) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Pulse Dialing (5, Interesting)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Pulse Dialing (1)

pyrrhonist (701154) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986987)

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:Pulse Dialing (2, Informative)

FuegoFuerte (247200) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:Pulse Dialing (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987926)

Perhaps you should go to the local dollar store and spend the 5 dollars or so to buy a touch tone phone. Or maybe a yard sale and find one for a dollar. It really *is* that easy. The only reason to use a rotary phone is because you choose to, and you have no one to blame but yourself.

Re:Pulse Dialing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987029)

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.

Sorry, I find it hard to believe there are "a lot". I don't know your situation but it must be very unusual for internet access to be available but touch-tone dialing isn't. Some very rural areas, perhaps, and some elderly and/or very poor households might be stuck in the 60s ... Other than that those still using pulse-dial phones are neo-luddites who do it by choice. And I would think many companies would write off such customers, as someone who's still using pulse phones in 2006 isn't likely to spend a lot of money on new goods and services.

Re:Pulse Dialing (1)

lvcipriani (764022) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987472)

Phone companies will eventually charge more if you have a rotary phone instead of a touch tone phone. No joke. The reason is rotary phones use up more phone company resources to place calls.

Re:Pulse Dialing (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987571)

Funny thing is, around here we've still got a touch-tone surcharge. Originally it was to offset the cost of rolling touch-tone service out, but it's been squatting on the bills ever since.

Re:Pulse Dialing (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987828)

The reason is rotary phones use up more phone company resources to place calls.


Re:Pulse Dialing (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987491)

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.

use DTMF anyway (1)

chris mazuc (8017) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986923)

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.

That's an NSA extension, right? (1)

leonbrooks (8043) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987090)

Just checking, 'coz it seemed obvious. (-: Did I get a 1 or a 2? :-)

They like the money they save. (1)

neo (4625) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986929)

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:They like the money they save. (2, Informative)

lvcipriani (764022) | more than 8 years ago | (#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:
http://www.research.att.com/index.cfm?portal=27 [att.com] ( scroll down to 1992 ) and look for VRCP.

I hate them even when they do work (1, Insightful)

beavis88 (25983) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986931)

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*

Re:I hate them even when they do work (1)

TopShelf (92521) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986985)

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:I hate them even when they do work (2, Informative)

IKnwThePiecesFt (693955) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987600)

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.

a lotta stuff comes into play (4, Informative)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986934)

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:a lotta stuff comes into play (2, Funny)

tverbeek (457094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986961)

pausing between #'s helps
It's too bad no one's tried putting a numeric input pad on telephones, to make this unnecessary.

Re:a lotta stuff comes into play (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987876)

Ironically, speech recognition systems work better on digits than almost anything else, aside from yes/no.

Re:a lotta stuff comes into play (1)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987474)

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.

Re:a lotta stuff comes into play (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987670)

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.

If it ain't broke... (3, Funny)

eyeball (17206) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986937)

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."

They Do Work (1)

nathanh (1214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986938)

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.

Re:They Do Work (1)

kent_eh (543303) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987220)

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 don't mind them (1)

modeless (978411) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986943)

It's been a long time since I was stuck in a menu system and unable to talk to a person. Just press zero, or simply wait. Many even tell you this. For Cingular's, you can even say out loud "I want to talk to a person" and the computer responds "Okay!" and connects you.

Sometimes, though, the automated system is just what you need. UPS has a great system; when you miss a delivery they leave you a note with a confirmation number you can read to their system and get the status of your package, and even schedule when to pick it up. I particularly like the "beep beep boop" computery sounds it plays while it is "thinking," just to let you know it is still on the line.

Re:I don't mind them (1)

gregmac (629064) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987470)

It's been a long time since I was stuck in a menu system and unable to talk to a person. Just press zero, or simply wait. Many even tell you this. For Cingular's, you can even say out loud "I want to talk to a person" and the computer responds "Okay!" and connects you.

Bell Canada's does that when you swear at it. (I'm not kidding!)

marketing (1)

pbjones (315127) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986950)

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:marketing (2, Informative)

dhasenan (758719) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Good reasons (4, Interesting)

BoneFlower (107640) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986955)

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.

Re:Good reasons (1)

Dynedain (141758) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987403)

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?

This article is particularily about the self-help voice-activated systems. With those, the information or help I need is rarely in the phone system. It's generally much easier to find online, and if I'm calling in, it's specifically because I need to talk to a real person to get the info.

Waste. Of. Time.

Re:Good reasons (1)

IKnwThePiecesFt (693955) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987672)

Simply put: you are the minority.

Try working a call center. 99.9% of your calls are things people could have done on the website if they tried. Or even (in my case) through their cell phone that they're calling us on. Lots of people won't help themselves if we'll help them, even if it takes 3 times as long for us to do it for them.

We always loved customers like you who were calling for something they actually couldn't do on the website, but again, they were the vast majority.

As for the live advisor asking for you to repeat your information, that could be a number of reasons, such as the representative not synching their hardware correctly with their software which prevents auto-population.

A little story for y'all (4, Informative)

gnu-sucks (561404) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986960)

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?

Re:A little story for y'all (1)

assassinator42 (844848) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987759)

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.

skip them all (4, Informative)

mz001b (122709) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

Re:skip them all (1)

gnu-sucks (561404) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986983)

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::

Re:skip them all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15987608)


been there done that. it would have been damn funny, if it wasn't my only phone call.

I hate voice recognition systems (1)

dosius (230542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986975)

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.


Re:I hate voice recognition systems (1)

Sage Gaspar (688563) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987497)

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.

Uninformed Users / Unprepared Programmers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15986981)

Case in point:

Vendor 'A' comes to Customer and says "Look at these numbers!"
Customer says "Wow! These things really work!"
Vendor 'A' walks away with huge sums of money for providing a _framework_ for the fancy system. (Of course, there's a second contract that provides millions more for development of said framework, but that gets held up by the Customers lawyers and never gets off the ground).

Customer then goes to the people who used to design/program the old touch-tone interfaces, and says "this is just like doing those old DTMF interfaces...go to it!"

Provider of said service says "I guess we'll write it the same way as we used to, since we a) don't know any better and b) don't have any money for training in the new system -- (write, write, write) -- okay, done!" Customer saves millions of dollars but doesn't account for the fact that the two kinds of systems are radically different. Solution falls on its face. Customer, too embarrassed to admit that they've been bamboozled by slick sales people, lives with the new system and blames all the problems on the poor schmucks who wrote it.

Saves Money (1)

alanjstr (131045) | more than 8 years ago | (#15986990)

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.

Re:Saves Money (1)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987575)

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.

I have had terrible experiences with voice menus (1)

JeffHunt (129508) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987001)

Our local transit authority, TriMet [trimet.org] , has a voice menu system for the "Call A Bus" bus schedule hotline. It's terrible.

TriMet: "Please speak your route number"
Me: "Thirty Eight"
T: "You said: Thir-tee. Eight. Is this correct?" (Why do they always ask this?)
M: "Yes."
T: "Please speak your current location."
M: "Seventy-second avenue and (whatever street)".
T: "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand that. Please repeat your current location."
M: "Seventy-second avenue and (whatever street)".
T: "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand that. Please repeat your current location."
M: (shouting and articulating each syllable) "SE-VEN-TEE SE-CONT AVE-EN-OO AND (WHATEVER STREET)!!"
T: "I'm sorry ..."
M: (Presses "zero")

Noise level (2, Insightful)

Trevin (570491) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987022)

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 conversation with a machine?

What if you're at home in the early morning or late at night and don't want to disturb the other members of the household (roommate, significant other, baby, whatever)?

What if you've lost your voice through injury or illness?

I'll agree that for a long list of multiple-choice options, voice-recognition systems are a vast improvement over numeric menus. But at least they should all leave the option of providing digital input to a computerized system.

Re:Noise level (2, Insightful)

_tognus (903491) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987144)

What if you've lost your voice through injury or illness?

Would you be using a phone in that case?

Re:Noise level (1)

lvcipriani (764022) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987441)

I dispute that they are always less efficient. You can speak a 16 digit credit card number very fast and it will be recognized just fine. AT&T Universal Card has been doing that for over a decade. In this particular case I prefer to speak instead of type ( unless I'm in a public place where privacy trumps speed ).

Numeric input (1)

Alan426 (962302) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987443)

I've found many voice systems that will also accept touchtones for numeric input. Examples include Alaska Airlines [alaskaair.com] and Sprint/Embarq [sprint.com] . You can also often hit zero or in some cases, a string of zeros, to bypass the voice menus entirely and queue for a live operator.

God dammit, learn how to use apostrophes (-1, Offtopic)

tulare (244053) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987694)

Seriously (and yes, this is offtopic, so what), learn how to use the fucking apostrophe. Jesus fucking christ, you could be intelligent, articulate, and have interesting things to say, but the moment you use an apostrophe where it doesn't go, you look like a fucking moron. Here's some help for the likes of you:
http://www.apostrophe.fsnet.co.uk/ [fsnet.co.uk]
If you're not able to parse a goddamn thing unless it's illustrated (your blog suggests that you can in fact manage the written word, but this bit is funny just the same), here's one from the funny pages:
http://www.angryflower.com/bobsqu.gif [angryflower.com]
Protector of the Apostrophe. Enemy of the department of redundancy department. Grammar Fascist. (Err, wait, nothing corporatist about grammar that I can think of, unless the question is one of buzzwords. Nevermind then.)


Am I the only one who likes these things? (1)

QuantumFTL (197300) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987028)

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).

I prefer them. (1)

MarkRose (820682) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987067)

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... (1)

asr_man (620632) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987071)

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 fielded are the ones that do the job -- 80%+ automation at 10-25% the cost of non-automated.

Invariably someone with nothing better to do will whine about a problem in broad strokes on a blog for more page hits.


Re:Invariably... (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987192)

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 hate to try to say every individual alphanumeric and punctuation character in my config files just for the bot to try to comprehend, so it can attempt to analyze my code (assuming it understood every piece of information I gave it,) tell me what the fuck I did wrong.

Good money after bad. (1)

cpuffer_hammer (31542) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987092)

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 try anything that will reduce costs.

This brings us to the questions of measurement and testing. I am yet to see or hear of a study on the streets opinion on these systems. (This could be an interesting graduate, or even under graduate project.) Testing on the other hand I do know. Testing is all too often a after thought, testers are undervalued and nonexistent. Automated testing tools are few (yes I work for a test tool vendor). Most of the time testing only starts after the application has been written, and is limited in time and scope. All to often the time runs out before the testing starts (programing is behind and the go live date will not be pushed), while the scope is limited by the lack of test data or an adequate test environment.

Charles Puffer

Swear a lot (4, Interesting)

Darth_Burrito (227272) | more than 8 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 8 years ago | (#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:Swear a lot (1)

IKnwThePiecesFt (693955) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987719)

Haha, didn't work with our system. The center I worked for's automated system would actually say "I'm sorry, you must be having a bad day" and hang up on you if you tried the same thing. One of the few things that made it seem like the company actually cared about the reps.

Great idea! (1)

tulare (244053) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987765)

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.

Voice Menus (1)

azrider (918631) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987164)

My thoughts (take them as you will)
1: "Enter your four digit id number and press the pound (#) key - This is an intelligent system that cannot recognize 4 digits being entered?
2: AVR: "Please say why you are calling"; response "Operator"; "Please say what this is about"; response "OPERATOR"; please give you pin number/password. The first time an automatic voice response system is told that it CANNOT handle the request, it should pass the request to a human attendant. This leads to my number 3 (and biggest pet peave - SPRINT ARE YOU LISTENING??)
3: After navigating 3+ menus, the response is Our office is closed, please call between 8 and 5 pm (choose your time zone) Monday through Friday. This, after entering telephone number, pin, etc. If the call is not going to be accepted, while at the same time asking customers to input a variety of personal data in the open, TELL THEM UP FRONT that their information is not going do do them any good.

it saves millions (1)

dubiousmike (558126) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987185)

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 in the que.

Try calling Experian some time. There is absolutely no way to speak to a human. They refer you to their website which then refers you back to the same phone number. You can ONLY contact them by writing for many things. Now THAT is infuriating...

You can avoid all this... (1)

Dracil (732975) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987215)

by using cheatsheets like the one at http://gethuman.com/ [gethuman.com]

M-O-N-E-Y (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987227)

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.

R-E-A-D T-H-E F-I-N-E A-R-T-I-C-L-E (1)

argent (18001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987532)

Say it with me: MONEY. Having automated systems is just plain cheaper.


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

This is about "automated systems that don't work versus automated systems that do work".

Good, Cheap, Service.. pick any two (2, Interesting)

billcopc (196330) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987236)

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!

Re:Good, Cheap, Service.. pick any two (2, Interesting)

argent (18001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987520)

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. :)

Re:Good, Cheap, Service.. pick any two (1)

pipingguy (566974) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987820)

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.

Verizon's system is horrible (1)

acvh (120205) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987260)

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.

I remember when dell did this.... (1)

BenjiTheGreat98 (707903) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987263)

Dell did this about one or 2 years ago and I remember the first time I called them after the system was instated. Invariably, it did not work as intended. I was sharing and office with another woman and here is what she heard:






and so on....

She thought I was ripping into some poor soul trying to help me get the parts I needed. After I explained I was yelling at a voice rec system, we both had a good laugh. I'd always anounce I was calling Dell after that so she'd know I wasn't ripping into somebody. But I still hate those voice rec systems.

You want me to say WHAT out loud? (3, Interesting)

Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) | more than 8 years ago | (#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.

But they don't! (1)

Slashdiddly (917720) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987410)

They don't stick with voice menus. If they did I wouldn't have to "listen to all the options since our menus have recently changed"

No good with kids in the house (5, Funny)

tulare (244053) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987437)

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!"

At least on positive... (1)

sinij (911942) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987466)

You can tell automated operator all you think about company, product and voice menu and not get in trouble/hang up/perma hold.

Key menus have at least 4 advantages (1)

Zadaz (950521) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987478)

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.

Minimize hold time (1)

Sigma 7 (266129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987602)

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 about 1 hour during "busy" periods and thus the automated system doesn't really slow people down. (Rather, they have their automated system keep track of what was entered to speed things up slightly. ) In both of these cases, troubleshooting is measured in hours rather than minutes and any repetition would do much more harm than good as it makes them look like they don't want to provide support.

On the plus side... (1)

CheeseTroll (696413) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987614)

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 in the number to select every option. (of course, screaming into one's cell phone probably just contributes to road rage)

I work in the industry... (4, Interesting)

Kr3m3Puff (413047) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987675)

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:I work in the industry... (2, Insightful)

tulare (244053) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987825)

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 the customer go through it all again. One would think the companies would prefer to have the information forwarded to the CSR anyhow, as verifying account information over the phone takes time, and the more time the CSR spends doing something that a bot just did, the more people the company has to hire to fulfill a redundant role.

Two Reasons (1)

Dracos (107777) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987687)

  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.

Smart voice recognition (true story) (1)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987688)

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 had to laugh at that programmed response. I don't know what triggered it, if it was the swearing, the yelling, or the combination, but I did get a human within a few seconds of that.

To make a buck (1)

shotgunefx (239460) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987697)

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?

Shared Office (1)

atomic-penguin (100835) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987701)

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!
Voice prompt: Please hold while I connect you with one of our customer care agents.


statikuz (523906) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987743)

I've had good and bad experiences with automated voice systems. Most recently I dealt with SBC (AT&T) and their system wanted me to "just say" what I wanted and got on the right track but couldn't quite understand what I was asking for. UPS's system isn't bad if you want to do simple things like track (which you would do online anyway) but I always had to talk to a rep to get anything done. On another note in being frustrated with automated phone answering things, I called EVGA tech support the other day and they had what seemed to me to be a pretty slick system. It immediately told you how many people were before you and what the estimated wait time was, and it would inform you of this every minute or so, making you feel that you were really making progress. Or you could press # or some key, and it would store your phone number and call you back when you reached the front of the queue so you didn't really have to wait.

The reason is very simple. (1)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 8 years ago | (#15987890)

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 difference between "moron" and "imbecile" - see last paragraph [straightdope.com] )

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