> With today's fancy computer systems, the idea is that after getting my
> account number, my account screen is immediately displayed to the
> person handling my call, saving the time to ask for my account number
> and her to key it it. But this never happens.
Never say "never"! I have found a few applications where the
information I provided to the automated application did get to the
human attendant. You are correct, however, that this is infrequent
enough to be noticeable when it happens.
> (Some systems are fancy enough to check the caller ID of your phone number
> and use that to bring up your account, but these get fouled if you call
> from work or a different phone.)
> Anyone familiar with the programming of these 'automated' systems and
> would care to comment? Thanks.
I used to work for a company which provided the platform on which many
of these automated applications have been built. Before that, I worked
for a company which provided the framework for systems which are often
known as "voice mail jail".
The problem with all of these automated systems is that it is much
easier to create a bad application than a good one. Both companies
provided a way to build applications which did not require a
programmer -- for the voice mail product, anyone with the proper
access to the system could sit there with a telephone and create an
application. For the platform product, an application could be
created with "drag and drop" programming and some simple
configuration. However, to build a good application requires
programming skills -- such as making sure that all paths work, and all
error conditions are handled properly.
Building a great application requires some specialized skills in what
is known as "voice user interface", or VUI. There are a few VUI
experts around, and more are being trained, but most applications are
built by people with no formal VUI training -- and it shows.
Many of our customers built their applications themselves, rather than
hiring our development teams. Some of them built great applications,
but the bad ones tend to get noticed. As far as I know, neither
company had any program to evaluate our customers' applications and
let them know how they did -- that would have been a great suggestion
while I was working there!
In the last few years, voice recognition has become good enough to use
in building an application. This has pitfalls of its own (in testing
one system, when I said "four four", the system often heard "five
four", for example), but does allow building a much better
application. Many companies have built applications that say things
like "For X, press or say two" however, which wastes the whole
opportunity to escape from the limited interface provided by the
twelve buttons on a telephone.
We provided one system (at least five years ago) which went one step
further: it could use the caller's voice to identify the caller. No
password was needed (I forget if the caller had to give a name or an
account number as the voice sample -- I never actually patronized that
customer, and never used the application).
So the technology is available to build far better applications than
most of the ones we get stuck using. If enough people complain when
they find a bad application, perhaps companies will realize how much
bad applications are costing them -- which might motivate them to
improve. I'm not holding my breath ...