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No more "Press button one"?

By ERIC SHACKLE, in Sydney, Australia

Paul EnglishPaul English must have felt he was a canary surrounded by hungry cats, or Daniel in the lion's den, when he addressed 1000 representatives of the telephone and speech technology industry in New York last month.

Paul is the helpful computer genius who has publicly disclosed secret codes used by America's big businesses, so that anyone in the US viewing his website can ensure that a phone call goes directly to a real live person instead of to a recorded voice telling them to "press button one" (or two, or three...).

He gave the keynote address at the 12th annual SpeechTEK International Exposition and Educational Conference in New York City. "It was fun," he said later. "Most of these folks have hated me for the past year for my gethuman "rage against the machine" project, but my talk was well received.

"I recently wrote up a new proposal for how phone systems should work, and am designing a new gethuman 'earcon'-- an auditory signal-- a brief set of tones that companies can play at the start of their phone system to alert callers that the phone system is gethuman compliant. Microsoft and Nuance (a leading voice technology company) have both backed the new gethuman standard."

The first three guidelines are that companies adopting the standard agree that

  • If a human operator is available when a consumer calls, the human should answer the phone
  • When a human is not available to answer the call, the caller must always be able to dial 0 or to say "operator" at the top level menu to queue for a human
  • Estimated wait time should always be given

Let’s hope that Paul or some other public-minded computer nerd will crack and display the secret codes used by big organisations in Australia and other countries, so that all of us consumers can speak directly to a living person… although if everyone takes the direct path, we’ll still be kept waiting in a queue for our call to be answered.

  • Paul English is Chief Technology Officer/cofounder of travel search.

Story first posted September 2006

Copyright © 2006

Eric Shackle

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