Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Machines are Taking Over

HAL's iconic camera eye.Image via Wikipedia

Etisalat, the telephone company that likes to say 'ugh', has decided to come to my aid in what has been a workmanlike and drab start to the week and introduce a spangle of special fun into my life.

The Directory Enquiry Service (181 to you, mate) has been cut over to an almost but not totally non-functional IVR system. That's Etisalat's secret - not to be utterly useless, just almost utterly useless. It's so much more devastating to give the subscriber a glimmer of hope before dashing it, I find, than giving no hope at all.

Now when you call 181 you get asked to press * for English. When you do, it talks Arabic to you. This is pretty special stuff, but it's only a start of a special journey into the unknown. You are given a list of things you could want like hotel, restaurant or pigeon fancier's club. You have to either say one of these things or say 'other'. The system will then automatically misunderstand you. This is disintermediation at its best - to replace a human that rarely understands what you want with a machine that never understands what you want.

When you say 'other' you get asked for what you want. So you say, 'Dirigible Repair Specialist' and the IVR system, in a female Hal9000 voice, says, 'Do you want Peter's Patent Pringle Painters Llc? Yes or no.'

So you say 'No.'

And the IVR says, 'Which Emirate are you looking for?'

And you say 'Dubai.'

And then you get an operator who agrees that yes, the machine is totally useless and yes, everyone's been whingeing and yes, he can help you. He sounds amused. As am I.

I called back to get the scripts right for this blog, but I got a human this time 'round, who assured me that yes, she was human and yes, she could help me. She was quite affronted when I told her I had actually wanted the machine so I'd call back for it...

(The system now cuts to IVR when the operators are busy, but only for landline callers, BTW)

(PS: I'll let y'all know when I get the search hit for 'Dirigible Repair Specialist')
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Siwash said...

Great post. And I bet you that someone (a manager) in their customer service department is taking credit for how they have upgraded their technology and proudly shows it off to the senior management in a 10 slide presentation. That is symbolic of Dubai, whereas semi-government departments just want to look good as opposed to identifying the root problems and having sustainable strategic answers.

the real nick said...

LOL - you couldn't make this up.

Grumpy Goat said...

DRS? The only two hits on Goooogle, fewer than five hours after posting.

Sadly, anyone with a punctured airship remains out of luck with bing.

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