Friday, February 24

cry me an IVR

There are some things that can be effectively outsourced at work, others .. I'm still not sure. Human Resources is one of those iffy areas. For the past two weeks, I've been fighting HR (which has been outsourced to a third party) to get added to The Database. As of today, that finally happened .. but not without a lot of phone calls to their IVR [Interactive Voice Response] system.

I feel like I'm on a first name basis with the female voice; I've memorized the IVR menu. "Internal or external?," she asks .. then "new hire questions" .. I've been through this every morning for the past week.
"This call may be recorded for quality control purposes."
.. which is probably a gentle reminder not to use profanity while interacting with the live human who will eventually take my call.

It's been over twenty (20) years since I worked for Texas Instruments, when their first generation of Speech Recognition products were sold at ComputerLand (remember them?). For the price of the PC itself (well over $3000 for even a basic model) you could add a board which would act as a Macro Processor when you uttered pre-trained phrases. Each user had to train the system with their voice (whatever you do, don't try to use this when you have a cold). Words/phrases had to be discrete .. separated by a Moment Of Silence: say "Open .. Spreadsheet" and it would do the Lotus 1-2-3 "File Retrieve" (ESC ESC /FR) command: WOW. I recall making a House Call to a quadriplegic who bought one of the first models; his stress-testing was significantly more demanding than the sales guy who wanted to impress his clients with a command to "Get .. Email" or "Call .. Hooker".

IVR has improved since it first appeared (the airlines deployed them, to handle routine questions from travellers wanting to know our gate assignment). I remember the euphoria I felt when Delta Airlines asked me to "press or say [ONE]" as a choice. I said "[ONE]" and it understood my (thick Nebraska) accent, without spending an hour or more training the system: WOW.

Evidently, the systems may be customized for a target audience. The IVR at Virgin Mobile (cellphone) is named Amber, and I can tell that she wants to smack her chewing gum, each time I call. I envision a saucy redhead with a few tattoos, and piercings here there and everywhere.

By the way .. the I in IVR is important: Interactive. Don't confuse this with the (thankfully relic) automobiles which told us "Your Door Is A Jar" but didn't expect a response.
The White Zone is for the immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. No parking.
Someday, I'd like to meet the woman who records the IVR system; I feel a certain bond with her. Will she be tall or short? A redhead or brunette? Will her eyes sparkle with mischief when she tells me to "please hold for the next available operator"? My heart goes pitter-patter at the thought. I'll bet she smells like lilacs after a gentle spring rain. Hopefully she won't pick her nose while we sip lattes alongside the Champs d'Elyse.

Perhaps the airlines will replace Flight Attendants with IVRs?
"I'd like a pillow, please" and poof! it'd drop onto my lap. "How's about another 7-and-7?" and it'd be sitting on my tray table .. shaken, not stirred.
"Please raise your seatbacks to a fully upright and locked position, stow all your carryons under the seat in front of you or in one of the overhead bins. Try not to whimper when you arrive at baggage carousel 3 and find your belongings ripped to shreds by our automated system."
Will all future customer service interaction be handled exclusively by IVRs - negating the need to converse with someone (code-)named Daisy in Bangalore? Time will tell. Until then,
Have .. A .. Nice .. Day.

1 comment:

William Bob said...

You may be in a database, and I'm sure it's an important one (probably linked to getting a paycheck), but you aren't yet in the database. You know, the one that lets you actually do some work!

Are you sure you really have a job? It's not some cruel joke by Catbert?