Recognition is the Problem

Now that the time of peace and goodwill is over once more, and the boxes are waiting to go up in the loft (the Christmas duck having been freed from the top of the tree only to find himself, once more, trapped in solitary confinement of an old Lyle’s Golden Syrup tin for twelve months) we can all start to be grumpy again. I do wonder if Charles Dickens considered a sequel to a Christmas Carol when Scrooge, in mid January, looked at what Christmas had cost him that year and decided that once was enough.

The latest source of irritation in the house is an old one for many people. These are automated answering systems and their joys. This is the summary of what I heard while trying to keep my face straight as the Lovely Wife tried to gets some sense or indeed any help at all out of a certain – delicious irony – telecoms provider.




‘I’d like to report a fault on the line.’ [Calm, clear]

Pause. There may have been the slight echo of an automated female voice somewhere out there in the ether.

‘I’d like to report a fault on the line.’ [Slower, slightly louder]

Pause. Still accompanied it seemed by a familiar ghostly murmuring.

‘I’d like to report a fault on the line.’ [Exploring a different emphasis, slight note of tetchiness perhaps]


‘I’d like to report a fault on the line.’[Dangerous edge to the voice, husband in danger alert signals recognition and now fully active towards possible evasive action]

If that tone of voice had been used on me, I would immediately have checked for the presence of sharp objects within range and promptly removed them.

What I do not get about these voice recognitions systems is that, well, they seem unable to recognise your voice. Or at least what you say. I have yet to find one that works for me, and I apparently talk ‘quite posh’ and relatively clearly.

So goodness knows what anyone with a strong accent is supposed to achieve. I am not a huge fan of push button systems but at least they don’t make you look like some kind of loony person as you constantly repeat yourself into the handset trying funny voices to see if it will respond. I might try sounding like HAL 9000 next time – see if pretending to be an automaton gets a response.

It does not have to be like that; later that day I had a cheerful online chat with technical support from a certain visual media streaming organisation as someone had used my email to set up an account with them.

I was somewhat surprised to get confirmation of my account come into my inbox, especially as it was addressed to ‘Rachel’. It took two minutes, it was sorted out and although there was no actual verbal communication it felt like you were talking to a real person. I even got the feeling that ‘Nicholas’ enjoyed his job. Or maybe it was just that he was amused at English bloke being called Rachel.

Talking to a real person doesn’t always work, especially the way that many firms outsource their call centres in ways that sometimes feel awkward or inappropriate. But I do think we should not depersonalise our communications. History tells you that in any sphere, the moment we stop seeing each other as people, bad things happen.