# The phone company has computers doing its customer service

Homework Helper
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Today I needed to call the phone company AT&T regarding my telephone account. It was really rather irritating that all I could get was a computer to talk to, and when I asked in a rather irritated tone, "could I please speak to a live person", it actually raised its voice and told me I would need to tell it the nature of my call so that it can properly direct it. I actually started to wonder if I may be speaking to a real person, in which case I would not have raised my voice the way I did, so I asked it, "am I talking to a computer or a person?" , and it responded, "I am a highly automated answering service". To me, this is technology run amok, and is simply unacceptable. Attempts to talk to a live representative were unsuccessful.

jedishrfu
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I just keep saying agent and finally it will say transferring to an agent.

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I just keep saying agent and finally it will say transferring to an agent.
This one was simply much too sophisticated. When the voice sounds like a computer and it can be readily be concluded that it is clearly a computer, I find that a little rude, but still acceptable. ## \\ ## On this one, the voice (male), was much too clear and it was not easy to make the determination that it was a computer. I originally was pretty sure it was a computer, but when it even raised its voice to me, that's where they have really crossed the line with the technology. ## \\ ## In giving its response, there was a clicking sound for a couple of seconds, so that it was clearly a computer, but from the voice quality and the sophistication of the responses, it is at what I would call an unacceptable level.

berkeman
Mentor
so I asked it, "am I talking to a computer or a person?" , and it responded, "I am a highly automated answering service".
Wow. That's crazy! On some systems, pressing "0" will transfer you to a live person. I don't know if that would have worked for you. Probably it would have just said "Sorry, zero is not a valid option for you..."

Raised its voice?!! Why would someone program an automated machine to raise its voice and change the tone?

berkeman
Mentor
Maybe you should use the classic line from the 2001 movie to see what happens. Apparently the Siri software has a sense of humor; would the phone company software have one?

https://gizmodo.com/uh-apple-did-you-think-this-through-1795830661

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Homework Helper
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Raised its voice?!! Why would someone program an automated machine to raise its voice and change the tone?
It interrupted me and spoke very firmly in talking over me when I started rambling about wanting to speak to a real person. I do think they may have also programmed in a slight increase in volume.

gleem
One possible explanation is that hard of hearing people often speak loudly. The system might be set up to sense the volume of the speaker so when the volume increased so did the systems response. Just a guess thinking that companies really do not try and irritate customers. unnecessarily.

berkeman
In such a situation, I usually start punching '0' insistently and repeatedly. More often than not, that will get me a warm body eventually. Something that I have heard, but cannot really speak to knowledgeably, is that an excess (how much is that?) of profanity will sometimes trigger a transfer to a more organic interlocutor.

diogenesNY

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In such a situation, I usually start punching '0' insistently and repeatedly. More often than not, that will get me a warm body eventually. Something that I have heard, but cannot really speak to knowledgeably, is that an excess (how much is that?) of profanity will sometimes trigger a transfer to a more organic interlocutor.

diogenesNY
A little profanity has often been my previous approach to these robotic answering systems. This one today sounded just a little too real. Even when I had been on the line with him for 20-30 seconds or more, I wasn't completely sure that this one was a robot. ## \\ ## They need to keep things like the voice quality of a synthetic quality. It is not good when a robot has as good or better voice quality than a real person. That along with the sophistication of the responses was just too much.

gmax137
the voice quality and the sophistication of the responses, it is at what I would call an unacceptable level.
Interesting. If a live person had answered, I presume that would be "acceptable." And, if a crappy robot / automated system had answered, that too -- "acceptable"? Where do you draw the line? How short of "perfect" a robot would you find acceptable? Or, are you saying any form of non-human is just unacceptable?

russ_watters
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Interesting. If a live person had answered, I presume that would be "acceptable." And, if a crappy robot / automated system had answered, that too -- "acceptable"? Where do you draw the line? How short of "perfect" a robot would you find acceptable? Or, are you saying any form of non-human is just unacceptable?
When you can't easily tell whether or not it is a computer, I find that unacceptable. Perhaps the biggest reason is I generally get rather irritated with the computers when I ask for a representative and it fails to understand. I may even raise my voice at the machine and use a little profanity on it, something I wouldn't do with a real person. When it is very difficult to tell whether it is a robot, if I make the mistake of thinking they are a robot when they are actually real, it could be very unnerving for both parties. ## \\ ## Even today, I find myself second-guessing myself=I hope that wasn't a real person I was getting irritated and exasperated with. I'm 99% sure it was a computer, but not 100% sure.

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russ_watters
CWatters
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Impersonating a police officer is illegal but perhaps you could fool it by saying you said you were from the FVI and needed to talk to a human.

CWatters
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I wonder how the conversation would go if you used two phones to connect it to itself?

gmax137
"This is officer Al Turing, I need to speak to your supervisor immediately..."

Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
I may even raise my voice at the machine and use a little profanity on it, something I wouldn't do with a real person. When it is very difficult to tell whether it is a robot, if I make the mistake of thinking they are a robot when they are actually real, it could be very unnerving for both parties.

When in doubt be polite. What exactly was the issue with the computer? Did it fail to recognise what department you wanted to go to or is it just a general annoyance with technology?

In the case of the former in my experience the quickest way to get to a real human is to say you're leaving/want to close your account. Usually you'll then be transferred to someone whose job it is to convince you to stay, at which point you can say the computer was mistaken and get them to transfer you directly to where you want to go.

CWatters and russ_watters
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When in doubt be polite. What exactly was the issue with the computer? Did it fail to recognise what department you wanted to go to or is it just a general annoyance with technology?
The issue is that it is too close to being real. I told it I wanted to talk to a real person, and it responded rather authoritatively with "you will need to tell me the nature of the problem, before I can properly direct your call". When I told it the phone company had contacted me and that they wanted me to contact them regarding my account, it came back with, something like "you still need to tell me what the nature of the call is so that I can properly direct your call". I believe I might have even called the number twice in a row and got the same computerized voice both times. It was just too close to real, with the sophistication of the responses. If it was a conscientious employee doing his job very well, he certainly was in for a very hard day with people thinking he's a computer=at this point I'm still not 100% sure it was a computer. I'm tempted to call it back a couple of times just to make sure. ## \\ ## It did tell me when I pressed it to answer the question, "are you a computer?", it responded it was a "highly automated answering system".

Ryan_m_b
Staff Emeritus
The issue is that it is too close to being real. I told it I wanted to talk to a real person, and it responded rather authoritatively with "you will need to tell me the nature of the problem, before I can properly direct your call".

Why is that a problem exactly? Not having a go I'm genuinely interested, surely you want it to be as capable as possible. Would it have been better if it told you it was software without having to ask? I much prefer the modern software that more companies are adopting to the byzantine old phone tree system.

When I told it the phone company had contacted me and that they wanted me to contact them regarding my account, it came back with, something like "you still need to tell me what the nature of the call is so that I can properly direct your call".

This sounds kind of annoying if the company didn't tell you what they wanted you to call for. If not it's kind of clever and cool that it can figure out that you haven't given it the relevant information it needs to help you.

Homework Helper
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Why is that a problem exactly? Not having a go I'm genuinely interested, surely you want it to be as capable as possible. Would it have been better if it told you it was software without having to ask? I much prefer the modern software that more companies are adopting to the byzantine old phone tree system.

This sounds kind of annoying if the company didn't tell you what they wanted you to call for. If not it's kind of clever and cool that it can figure out that you haven't given it the relevant information it needs to help you.
I believe the reason is a past due bill, (I missed one month's payment=it is now 3 weeks overdue). I was unsuccessful at getting a live person to discuss my account. When I asked for a live person, the computer told me it can direct me to billing, but if a live person is involved in the payment, there will be a $5.00 fee charged to my account. ## \\ ## I simply wanted to tell them please note the account that I plan on paying the overdue bill in approximately two weeks. The phone company has left me messages twice on my answering machine asking me to contact them at their very general number (it seems they are going overboard to collect on bills that aren't yet terribly delinquent). They could at least furnish me with a live person to talk to. ## \\ ## They are also very good at assessing late fees. The late fee I will be paying on a$55.00 phone bill for being even a day late is $6.50. ## \\ ## Edit: And I just called the number again today, because I am also overdue (three weeks late) on my$45.00 U-Verse bill, and they are charging me a rather excessive $9.25 late fee. Today I got the same computer=same voice. "He=it" was more cooperative today when I asked "him=it" to give me a U-Verse representative regarding an excessive late fee to my account. I was lucky I only had to wait about two minutes to get a live person, but the live person was unable to reverse the$9.25 late fee.

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