‘Talking’ to a Computerised Help Desk: Technology Looking for a Purpose

I was on the phone this morning to my ISP trying to find out why the cable modem wasn’t responding (turned out there was a major outage).

I was able to reflect, once again, how much I hate speech recognition Interactive Voice Response compared to button pushing.


Standard ‘button pushing’ IVR

Voice recognition IVR

Welcome to…Welcome to… I can help you…
It’s a computer. It’s not that smart. Let’s not try to pretend it is.
Press 1 for technical assistance, …
A quick button press. Can already be pressing the button while further options are being read out.
Would you like ‘technical assistance’, …
Forced to parrot back the required phrase. Have to wait until all options have been read out.
n/a — a button press can’t be mistakenI’m sorry, I didn’t understand that. Please state if you would like ‘technical assistance’, …
Again, wait until all the options have been read out. Took three goes for the system to recognise this simple phrase.


  • Slower having to wait for all the options to be announced, slower to speak than hit a button, slower for the computer to inteprept speech than a button press.
  • Significantly more prone to input being un-interpretable
  • I don’t like having to parrot back phrases
  • It feels like an unnatural interaction. You push buttons on machines and talk to humans.
  • Can’t use automatic dialling to go through options
  • Can’t use while SO is still asleep!
Advantages? None!

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