The Return of Voice Control

I don’t know about you, but I am less than thrilled by the recent re-emergence of voice activated phone selections. Call any airline, insurance, credit card, or online store these days, and more likely than not (in the authors experience) you will be presented with a menu that requests you “SAY” the option, rather than just push a number on the keypad. This trend seems to have gotten stronger during, say, the last 1-2 years. Only upon not saying anything, do you sometimes get the option to push a number button instead.

A long time ago, phone menus were voice operated, but functioned poorly. Companies realized that and switched to numbers. Back then, voice menus would tell you to hold the line if you were calling from a rotary phone. Now that technology has improved, voice-recognition is back. But why remove the option to punch a number key? Have rotary phones have seen a revival in the last two years? Clearly not.

The re-emergence of voice-recognition seems to be tailored to (ever more abundant) cell phone usage (or cordless handsets) that have their keypad on the phone. Admittedly, in such cases it is cumbersome to always lift the phone from one’s ear to punch in a number. But for these cases handsets have built-in speaker phones.

In the sense of optimality, I do not suggest to eliminate voice activated menus for those people who like them, but please, maintain (or re-establish) the number-based system for those of us who prefer it. I personally think it is a lot quicker, and certainly much less ambiguous to punch a number key than to speak to a voice-recognition system. Apart from this, it also reduces talking by the customer to a minimum which is the preferred option in a shared office space.

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