Friday, September 9, 2011

VRS is an Oxymoron

In the old days before technology ran wild you had a chance of talking to a real receptionist or a real operator. Note I did not say human. Ma Bell, the mega telephone company we insisted on breaking up, gave all their operators and service personnel a list of questions and responses from which they could not vary. One of Ernestine's lines on the old Laugh In comedy show was, "Is this the person to whom I am speaking?"

I was reminded of Lily Tomlin that made Ernestine famous yesterday in a series of telephone calls to HP and Fedex concerning the undelivered package to ship my broken computer back in. Both have a set list of questions and responses from which they are not allowed to vary regardless of how inappropriate the are.

 "Your driver failed to deliver the chemo drug package this week and my husband has died."

" We are sorry for your inconvenience."

"The funeral is Wednesday."

" We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused."

AND both have Voice Recognition Software as do several other companies I can mention. I had several well chosen words to say about VRS last night. None of which I think the software recognized. But then it also did not recognize what is was designed to recognize. In short, Voice Recognition Software is an oxymoron. It does not recognize voices and it is more hardware than software.

VRS might work with your home security system because you get to program it to match your voice and is not filtered through two telephones and miles of, if you are lucky, fiber optic cable. But VRS as used by companies on service lines make absolutely no allowances for the device you are speaking from, your sex, your regional accent, or any speech impediments, static on the line, or a major lightning storm. Most VRS used on customer service sites are programmed for the male voice in the lower registers (name the last time a man placed his own service call?). Screaming at it when it fails for the fifth time to know the difference between J and K just raises your voice an octave and makes you harder to understand. It does not like repetitions unless it is asking for it, will not start over if you say, "whoops, I meant 5 not 9," does not get that Alpha, Beta, Charlie is ABC, . . . well this list could go on. And there is a lot of GIGO as with HP last night that wanted one zip code to match one telephone number when for my problem they had two of each. Any one remember set and subset theory?

Let me say that the first few times I had to repeat something, because what it read back to me was so far from correct, I was a bit amused. When it thought 2300 was 1350 I pressed zero (once operator now what passes for a human voice) and figured I would rather talk to Ernestine. Instead I got Pakistani who had only a fleeting acquaintance with English and Ernestine's canned script. Even reverting to my 6th grade vocabulary did not help. In the end I reverted to screaming which had the same effect on him as it did on the VRS.

"Sorry if this caused you any inconvenience. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

I declined to mention he had not helped me with anything to that point and hung up. Sometimes all you can do is hang up and see of you can find an e-mail address on the website to which you can send your queries. Or never use that company again! Bring back Ernestine.

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