Pet Peeve: Voice-Activated Phone System Menus

It’s the wave of the future: hands-free operation of everything, everywhere.  We tell computers what to do and they do it.  Have you even seen any of the Star Trek movies?  Scotty (James Doohan) has been doing this for years.

Well, folks — the future is here, now.

Voice-activated phone system menus — a.k.a “Interactive Voice Response” systems — have been frustrating helping us for years.  It’s more and more common these days to call your favorite business and be presented with voice prompts that say things like “For English, say ‘English'” and so on.  I understand that some customers may *require* this type of setup, but for the rest of us it’s just plain irritating.  Honestly, I would probably prefer a system that gets you to a person *immediately*, you present your request, and they transfer you directly to the queue you need to be in.  Instead, I have to say things like “tech support”, “billing”, “no”, “yes”, or “operator” into the phone — and usually more than once, since the system won’t always pick up on what I’m saying.  Better yet, be prepared for *serious frustration* if you have any sort of background noise!  I’ve had some aggravating and embarassing times trying to navigate a voice-menu while at work, since my co-workers can usually hear me trying to speak loudly enough to be recognized, but not so loudly that I’m being obnoxious.  Repeating “tech support” over and over is especially amusing.

Good times.

What I really fear, however, is the future of these voice-activated menus.  Will my doctor’s office have them too?  Hmmm.  What might THAT look like?…

  • CLINIC: “Thank you for calling the <Your City Here> Family Clinic.  For emergencies, please hang up and dial 9-1-1.  To schedule an appointment, please say ‘Appointment’.”
  • CALLER: “Appointment.”
  • CLINIC:  “I’m sorry.  We didn’t hear you.  To schedule an appointment…”
  • CALLER: “APPOINTMENT.”
  • CLINIC: “You’ve reached our Appointment Scheduling line.  Please state the nature of your medical need.”
  • CALLER: Ahem. <whispers> “Herpes.”
  • CLINIC: “I’m sorry.  We didn’t hear you.  Please state…”
  • CALLER: “Herpes.”
  • CLINIC: “Did you say ‘herpes’?  If so, please say ‘yes’.”
  • CALLER: “Yes”.
  • CLINIC: “Thank you.  Please state the type of herpes that you are calling about.”
  • CALLER: <click>

Honestly.  The good, old “press 1 for billing, press 2 for support…” menus are just fine with me.  Would someone please tell Verizon that?

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4 Responses to “Pet Peeve: Voice-Activated Phone System Menus”


  1. 1 Matt Swann May 23, 2008 at 1:22 am

    Heh, nice. This reminds me of Simpsons episode 1F22, which parodies Hitchcock’s Rear Window:

    …Flanders drives into his driveway and Bart panics, pleading with
    Lisa to leave. Instead she climbs the stairs, but Bart warns her she’ll
    be trapped. He sees Ned looking angry, walking with an ax.

    Bart: [watching Flanders] An ax. He’s got an ax! I’ll save you, Lisa! [tries to walk on his leg, falls back] Uh, I’ll save you by calling the police. [dials 911]

    Voice: Hello, and welcome to the Springfield Police Department Rescu-Fone[tm]. If you know the name of the felony being committed, press one. To choose from a list of felonies, press two. If you are being murdered or calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line.

    Bart: [growls, punches some numbers]

    Voice: You have selected regicide. If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one.

  2. 2 yipcanjo May 23, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Ahh, The Simpsons.

    Genius.

    Pure genius.


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