Thursday, January 04, 2007

How to Frustrate an Automated Call Answering System

Lois made a comment about my Get Human post, and it brought back a memory of one of my most ludicrous experiences with an automated call. I was trying to book a train ride from New York to Washington D.C., and when I called Amtrak, I got "Julie, Amtrak's Automated Agent." (If you want an introduction of your own, call 1-800-USARAIL.)

Feel free to offer your own views on the bizarreness of pretending the computer is a woman, or to go into a guessing game about how its name was chosen (what old girlfriend of the head of Amtrak's IT Department is feeling murderous now, whether the woman whose voice is used was really named Julie, what acronym went awry, whether it's Juli, Julie, Julee, Jewelee, Joolie...).

On this occasion, I apparently called just as the mail was delivered while an army of dogwalkers went parading past my house, or someone actually did herd cats and gathered them on my front lawn, because Britches went berserk.

As you can see from the photo above, he's a big dog. What you can't see is that he has a deep, resounding, don't-mess-with-me bark. It fills the house, and since it goes from zero to 8 billion decibels in nothing flat, routinely causes his humans to clutch at their chests.

So instead of hearing me, Amtrak Julie heard Britches.

The conversation went something like this:

AJ: What time of day do you wish to travel?

B: Rwow-rwow-rwow-rwow!

AJ: I'm sorry, I didn't understand your response. What time of day do you wish to travel? You can name a specific time, or just say "morning," "afternoon," or "evening."

B: Rwow! Rwow! Grrrrr.

AJ: I apologize. I still didn't understand your response.

This went on until I stopped laughing and hung up. I booked the train online -- my Mac doesn't respond to barking. Which is a good thing, or heaven knows what the mutts would order while I'm out of town.


Stephen Blackmoore said...

I used to work for a company testing voice activated mail software. This was back in the early 90's when a microphone on a PC was a big deal.

So, anyway, I've got this guy working for me doing the test, and he's having a hell of a time with it understanding him.

Because he's Australian and all the voice samples the software uses are based on guys from Boston.

After about three days of this I had to physically restrain him to keep him from throwing a chair through the monitor. Good times.

Jan Burke said...

Stephen, that's priceless -- thanks for the laugh.

You've also reminded me of a couple of friends of mine who assembled their own computer in the early 80s, and added the ability for it to speak. The voice was not human, and by today's standards, barely could be called computer speech. (We're talking about days when Pong was an exciting -- and just about the only -- computer game.)

You know what they taught it to say -- the voice was crude in more ways than one.

Anonymous said...

I would not believe this if I did not witness this on speakerphone. A friend was trying to get a hold of the phone company. After trying, unsuccessfully to communicate with the automated voice response system....yada yada yada...My friend screamed I just want a F-ing person.Within seconds he was on the line with a customer service rep...Not recommended but effective none the less...