Want to improve your automated/speech recognition system? Ask an agent!

Spoken | August 9, 2016

Gilad By Gilad Odinak, CTO of Spoken Communications

My daughter came to me this morning, a little bit frantic. She lost her phone; she spent half the morning looking for her phone, calling everybody she knows. The phone is gone. And the thing with her phone is because we travel a lot, international dialing is enabled. So somebody can actually use this phone and rack up a pretty hefty international calling bill. So it looked like it was time to call the carrier and let them know that the phone was lost and disable the account.
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 I called the carrier and got an automated system of the kind that says, “You can say…” It didn’t give me the example of what I wanted to say, and I couldn’t figure out how to report a missing phone that needed to be disabled, so finally, after pressing zero enough times, I opted out and managed to get to an agent.

So I talked to a very courteous agent, who did exactly what I wanted: he disabled the phone. And he even said that if we find the phone within 30 days, we can call and restore service.

So we did all this, and sure enough, 10 minutes after we were done, the lost phone was found. My daughter turned it on, but it was dead; it would not make calls. So now it’s time to call the carrier back and restore service.

Interestingly enough, when I called back and the automated system asked for me to speak the phone number (because of course I could not call from the phone that was disabled), the system was smart enough to immediately know this account had been disabled. My next option was whether I wanted to restore service. I was really impressed with this system!

When the system asked me if I wanted to restore the account, and I said yes. And it told me the account would be restored within a couple of hours. Great! I hung up, and I was very pleased.

… Except that the service never came back. My daughter and I waited and waited and waited—over eight hours.

So finally, I called again, and the same system asked me again if I wanted to restore the account and once again gave me directions for doing so. So I decided that I don’t trust the system, opted out (which required a few zeros), and after a short while, got to an agent.
I told the story to the agent, and the agent said, “Did you turn off the phone and turn it back on?”

“Why would we do that?” I asked, perplexed.

“Because sometimes, it only works after you turn it off and back on.”

I said please, stay on the line while I try it. And sure enough, the phone started to work properly after the restart. I thanked the agent and hung up.

The moral of this story I think again, is the breakage of communication between the people who design speech systems and the people at the call centers who have the business rules. The automated system for this carrier was actually quite good and well-designed; 90% of it impressed me.

However, to improve the system and improve the customer experience, the system needs to be constantly updated. The agents are the ones who have the actual, hands-on experience of what works and what doesn’t work. They are in the trenches and know these little fixes, like turning a phone off and back on before the service restore will work. If you want your system to work better, ask the agents for the common questions and fixes they come across hundreds of times a day. And ask them on a regular basis. Then, you can adjust the system accordingly.

In this case, if the agents had given input on this fix, it would have been easy to add, “After waiting a few hours, turn the phone off and back on to ensure proper service” to the automated instructions for service restoration. That would have saved several minutes of my time as well as a six-minute call back to the carrier. And how much would that have saved the carrier in expenses, I wonder?

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