When “Automated Me” Comes Back to Haunt Me

It was pretty early, and I was very groggy, but there was no mistaking it:  it was me on the phone. I was in Dallas, and scheduled a hotel wake-up call for 7:00 AM. When I picked up the receiver it was….me. Waking me up. About a year before that, I was working away at home one day and received an automated call from our local cable company, saying they were working in the area and that service might be disrupted — it was only after about a half an hour of resuming work did I realise that I had voiced that greeting a couple of weeks previous to that.

Friends and associates tell me all the time that they get automated calls from me regularly or encounter me while on hold — a Digium staffer recently came up to me at a convention and said: “Yes, Allison, I received my Yellow Pages! And no, I don’t need additional books!”

It’s only inevitable that I should encounter myself in my “automated form” at some point — and I find it hard to conceal my frustration in not knowing — any better than a lay person — how to maneuver efficiently through even IVR trees which I’ve voiced myself.

It’s particularly disconcerting when I’m trying to communicate with a voice-driven system (guided by the customer’s spoken requests) and they can’t understand me — and I’ve *voiced* the prompts for the system. Case in point: I call a large wine distributor in California to order a thank-you for a client. It’s *me* on the system, greeting me, and asking me what I can do for me today (it gets worse). I say — clear as day — because that’s hopefully what I’m good at — “PLACE ORDER.” There’s a dramatic pause, and then “I” say (to ME, mind you..): “I”m sorry, I didn’t quite get that. Let’s try again. You can say ‘Marketing’, ‘Warehouse’, “Accounts payab — ”

“PLACE ORDER!” I yelp. Another significant pause.

Automated me sounds slightly pleased when I come back on the line, as I say: “OK! I think you said: (pause) “Overseas Distribution”.


Another well-documented incident in which my own voice totally let me down (and actually seemed like it was plotting against me) was when I voiced the IVR for Unwired Buyer, the feature of EBay which will call your cell phone to let you know when you’ve been outbid. It’s no secret that I’m a big EBay-er, and it was only a matter of time before I’d “get the call”. My cell went off one afternoon, and it was “me” telling “me” I’d been outbid on…probably a handbag. I quickly text in what I think will be a sufficient bid and smugly sit back. I come back on the line and say: “You’ve entered: seventy. five. dollars. and. fifty. cents……however, you are NOT the highest bidder!”

Did I just sound slightly…taunting? Perhaps evil? I know I didn’t have it in my mind to do it that way when I voiced it, but in this context, I sound positively lofty!

Frantically, I enter another bid — which is again shot down by me, this time with the admonishment: “Hurry! Your item is about to get away!” Trollop! Don’t pressure me! Exhausted, nerves shot, I enter what I’m convinced will be the victorious bid — until I come back on the line and say: “Sorry — bidding has closed for this item. You have been outbid. Better luck next time.”

Did I just sound….smug? Like I was — dare I say — dismissed? By me?  It’s like my telephone persona was rooting for this other woman to walk away with my handbag. (I even suggested to my client at Unwired Buyer that we re-record the “fail” prompts to sound gentler; more encouraging — he replied: “No! We LOVE them! People get mad and enter bids all day long!” 

My voice has almost become a separate entity — something that has an existence without me, and as I’ve illustrated, regularly comes back to bite me.

Next blog: I’ll write about the legendary Jane Barbe — the original omnipresent “Telephony Lady”; she set the tone for the rest of us!


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