Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Communication Breakdown

You ever get the feeling that retail companies make changes that are for their own good, as opposed to that of their customers?

Or, to be more specific, they purport to use the wonders of technology to ostensibly make things go smoother for us, when in fact you get the sneaking suspicion the advantages are enjoyed totally by them.

Take voice activation, for example.

You likely deal with this all the time when you call the (ironically) phone company, cable/dish company, or any of the major utilities.

The recorded message comes on, asking you, basically, what the hell you want.

If there was a human being on the other end of the line, the conversation would be about as brief as this:

Human being at company: Thank you for calling Acme Company. How may I help you? (or, "How may I direct your call?")

You: Hi...I'd like to discuss my bill please.

Human being: OK, let me transfer you to the billing department.

You: (delighted with the efficiency) Thank you!

Elapsed time: less than 15 seconds, most likely.

Instead, thanks to voice activation, the recording asks you to, in your own words, "describe the purpose of your call."

Which you do, by saying things like "I'd like to discuss my bill" or a variation thereof.

Which would be great, if the automated system actually understood you the first time---or the second.

"I'm sorry," the recording says, "I'm having trouble understanding the purpose of your call."

And it asks, again, for you to verbalize why you're calling.

Elapsed time: a whole lot longer than 15 seconds.


Really, would a return to something like this be so bad?


This goes on a while longer, and God forbid you clear your throat, because the system takes that as "talking" and will stop what it's doing to tell you that it couldn't translate your throat clearing into words.

The bottom line is that these automated, voice-activated systems don't provide the customer with any advantage or time-saving. They exist strictly to make life easier for the company, i.e. so they don't have to pay anyone to answer the phones in switchboard-like fashion.

I have spent, no joke, several minutes trying to get an automated system to understand why I am calling and how to proceed, including hanging up and trying again. It's like a twisted game of 21st century charades as you try to get a computer, essentially, to understand your human voice's intentions.

When the simple matter of routing a call to its proper avenues is stymied by technology, when a good old fashioned person-to-person conversation would do the trick instead---that's when I get cranky about automated phone systems.

I wonder how many jobs could be re-created if the automated systems took a backseat to a switchboard operator?

Tell me the purpose of this technology, in your own words.

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