Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our menus have changed....more IVR Humor

It's almost a cliche to hear an opening statement in an IVR that says something to the effect of "please pay careful attention as our menus have recently changed". We've all heard that kind of introduction when calling a self-service application and probably thought "why", just get to the menu items.

Most experienced voice user interface designers agree that you should never include this kind of statement in your prompting. It's simply not needed and can be problematic in some situations. If your callers are infrequent users, they could care less about the message and in fact it can be distracting from the real menu items. If your callers are "power users" who call frequently they will self discover the changes immediately and course correct at once without the need for the warning prompts.

I ran across a great parody of the classic "our menus have changed" application at:888-583-2801. Give it a call and have a little chuckle!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Little IVR Humor . . .

It's sad, but far too many people really expect to find something like this when they find an automated customer service system answering at the other end of the phone call . . . I ran across this on the web and it had me laughing out loud.

Thanks to vCom Solutions the sponsor of this little bit of humor.

It is a perfect example of how not to do self-service and why speech is a better option when compared to DTMF (touch tone) self-service.

Click on the posting title to hear for yourself . . . you'll be taken to a new URL.


Friday, October 03, 2008

California Bans Texting and Driving

We all know in our "gut" that texting on our cell phones while driving or conducting any other task that requires high concentration and motor skills is seriously distracting. A good example of this is the recent fatal train accident in southern California. The NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) has determined that the engineer of the train that caused the accident was sending text messages from his cell phone during the last few minutes before the accident and the belief is that this may have contributed to the accident.

Last fall at Nuance Communication's CONVERSATIONS Conference, one of the keynote sessions involved a demonstration of just how dangerous and distracting "texting" was. You can see a video of this demonstration on YouTube at Amazing Race: Distracted Driving.

This past week California's Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger said "Hasta la vista" to texting while driving and terminated a loophole in California's vehicle code that banned drivers from talking on cell phones while driving without a hands-free device but let them communicate via text messages. The Associated Press reported that the governor signed the law which will take effect on January 1, 2009. My home state of Washington had already banned text messaging while driving.

Given the usefulness of these devices it's difficult to image that we'll break our addiction to the BlackBerry or iPhone -- they don't call it a "CrackBerry" without a reason. That said, speech recognition technology offers a straight forward way to improve safety in the way we use these devices without taking away their convenience. Several services and embedded applications have already reached the market which address this problem. One example that I've blogged about before is Jott Networks. Jott allows you to dial their service and then send notes to yourself and others entirely using voice recognition based navigation and dictation. Others companies with similar offerings include SpinVox and SimulSays. When combined with voice based dialing and hands free access, these services remove most of the physical contact required to interact with mobile devices, eliminating much of the distraction that occurs when you interact via the keyboard.

This lesson can be carried over to the customer service world. Many IVR based self service applications in use today require serious use of the DTMF keypad for entry of things like account numbers, choices from lists, ticker symbols, etc. and pose the same risk to drivers as other kinds of text messaging. Given the prevalence in the use of cell phones these days, I think a strong case can be made for speech enabling applications which have complex DTMF (touch tone) entry requirements simply as a safety step for callers and to avoid potential legal issues which may become a problem as more and more states impose similar bans on non-hands-free use of cell phones.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jott - The Ultimate Speech Self Service Application

While I'm a strong believer in using speech recognition, I'm not easily given over to hyperbole about speech applications. Frankly I find too few applications that wow me with their simplicty, their elegance or their usefulness. Even less frequently do I run across one that I find useful enough that I actually put the number in my cell phone's dialing directory (yes, it's speech enabled) and use often. That said, I've become addicited to Jott!

For those of you who haven't yet run across it, Jott is the brain child of a Seattle based company, Jott Networks that operates a voice to text service that makes staying organized and in touch easy. Simply put, Jott converts your voice into emails, text messages, reminders, lists and appointments.

After signing up for Jott's service at thier web site, you simply call the toll free number and your account is recognized from your caller ID information. The application asks you "Who you want to Jott", recognizes that request and then records your message. After recording your message, it is passed through a speech recognition process to convert it to text then sent on to the person, application or list you specified. It's an elegantly simple interface, that's intuitive and easy to use.

I use Jott to save reminder messages to myself, keep a record of business expenses and vehicle mileage throughout the day and add entries to my calendar without the need to pull out my laptop and find a WiFi connection. It's also great for sending "To Do" list items to my family members or co-workers. Direct application links are provided to dozens of tools like Google Calendar, Blogger, Twitter and many more so that your Jott's can be sent directly to them. They have a developer's site so that you can develope web service links to other applications that aren't already provided also.

I find it especially useful from my cell phone since it's user interface requires no use of hands, so with my headset I'm completely hands free for the entire transaction.

For you iPhone addicts, Jott has just added a mobile notepad that turns your voice into notes on your iPhone. It's available for download on Apple's App Store and their's a link to it on Jott's website at www.jott.com

Monday, June 30, 2008

Hands Off - it's the law!

Beginning this week drivers in California and Washington join those in a list of other states who can't use their cell phones while driving to talk or send text messages unless they're using them in a hands free mode. In my home state of Washington, drivers who read and compose text messages or talk on a cell phone without a hands-free device could face a $101 ticket. The text-messaging ban took effect Jan. 1; the cell-phone law will be enforced starting in July 1st. Drivers are exempt in some situations, including emergencies, and neither offense will be enough to get a driver pulled over by the police.

Several of my clients who still have complex DTMF applications in service with high cell phone caller populatations which require lots of DTMF entry are moving rapidly to migrate those applications to speech recogntion based self-service to avoid any potential liability issues and to make sure that the applications remain available during the periods when callers actually want to use them, namely while driving or otherwise in transit.

A stunning 80 percent of mobile phone owners talk while driving, according to a recent survey by the Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. It's a major distraction—some have even equated using a cell phone behind the wheel with driving under the influence, since reaction times can be slowed during a call.

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, there are 115 road fatalities each day in the United States and distracted driving causes 80 percent of road accidents.

I've been making the recommendation to my clients that these facts alone justify the move from DTMF to speech recognition based functionality for any self service application with modest to high cellular caller populations and more than the simplest of input requirements.

I'm curious if anyone else is seeing this move to hands free cellular use as much of a driver for moving DTMF applications to speech recognition based self service or if anyone else has had the issue of liability raised.