Automated Attendants in a Multicultural Age

15 May

The Pros and Cons of Automated Attendants.

My partner has lost her luggage on the way from Chicago to Toronto. In the course of tracing the elusive bags, we have had the pleasure of the popular automated attendant. 

On a whim, my partner decided to speak with an accent.  To be fair, her accent wasn’t authentic. But the results were intriguing. She was given 3 chances. After each pronunciation of “Toronto” the automated attendant said she was sorry she didn’t understand and could we try again. The third time, the recording said “I’m sorry I’m having so much trouble, let me transfer you to an attendant.”

Shocking. For two reasons. 

I’m not a fan of automated attendants. I think they are annoying; it takes longer to get the answer you need, especially if the menu items don’t quite apply to your plight. But that’s not my point.

Firstly, it intrigues me that an accent throws the system off. It strikes me as odd that an airline automated system would not account for accents. Clearly they will be serving people from all over the world.

Secondly, wow are they ever polite. I’m not sure if a live person would have been so patient as to offer 3 tries and then say they are sorry they are having trouble understanding. In my experience, what would be more likely to happen is some silent eye rolling, maybe an exasperated sigh. Maybe if the live attendant is professional enough to remain calm and polite, I would venture to guess that there might be some comment to their colleagues afterwards about speaking English properly.  Even if you don’t say it to the person in question, this type of attitude rubs off on your customer service.

We live in a global village. Accents can make communication challenging.

But when a computer is more polite than a person might be, we have a problem.

See more.

Annemarie Shrouder

Thought Provoker

© Copyright  Annemarie Shrouder 2010


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