Voice Site Concepts 101: The Up and Down Arrows

Keep it simple. Such a straightforward goal, but one that is so often sacrificed in the search for engineering efficiency. My latest encounter with this penchant for complexity came in the form of the over-engineered elevator system at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, host to SpeechTEK 2005. Those of you who attended SpeechTEK, or who have recently visited the Marriott Marquis, will immediately have knowing smiles on your faces. For those of you who have not had the pleasure, a little background is necessary.

Upon entering the first floor of the Marriott Marquis, you are greeted by an elevator system straight out of Buck Rogers -- fourteen elevators arranged like the nucleus and electrons of an atom rising through the center of the hotel's forty-five stories (pictured right). The typical up and down arrows were deemed too simplistic, too unsophisticated to control such an impressive array of lifts, so in their place on every level now sits a control panel with a big-buttoned, telephone-like keypad (pictured below). To summon the elevator, you are instructed (actually there are no instructions at all, but that's a topic for another article) to enter your destination floor number into the keypad, and the display on the panel will promptly read back the letter (A-M) of the elevator you have been assigned. Sometimes, however, you get the dreaded 'XX', which indicates the system queue is full and accepting no more requests, leaving the uninitiated patron to wander around looking for the non-existent 'XX' elevator. Assuming you are one of the lucky ones that gets A-M, you proceed to line up at your designated lettered elevator with the 5-25 other patrons who have also been assigned that elevator. Once it finally arrives, you promptly begin your ascent (or descent) to your chosen floor.
Some things look great in concept, but fail in practice. I am sure that on the drawing board this system incorporated the latest in elevator engineering design principles, including sophisticated queuing theory intended to optimize the patron's experience. In practice, however, the overly complex design and lack of attention to human factors renders it maddening at best.

How does this complex elevator system relate to voice sites?

  1. Don't "over design" your voice site. Have you ever experienced an automated voice system that leaves you in a confused lurch? Your customers are used to certain things. Like up and down arrows for an elevator, there is an expectation of a certain feel and flow to the voice prompts they experience when calling your system. If you present something foreign to them, the likelihood is they'll be confused and either pound out of your voice site in search of a live operator (which can defeat the purpose of your voice site) or leave your system altogether out of frustration. Though there are enhancements that can be made to a traditional voice site, only do so if you are sure they will enhance and not confuse. Test the site on others before rolling it out to the masses. As stated earlier, some things look good in concept, but can fail in practice.  
  2. From its inception, the mission of Angel.com has been to simplify the process of building and deploying automated phone solutions - the "up and down arrow" of speech and IVR applications - expanding the market for this technology from dozens of the largest companies to tens of thousands of businesses of all sizes. We are the up and down arrow for you and allow you to create the up and down arrow for your customers. This not only benefits you, but your customers as well by allowing you to develop high quality, customer-facing voice sites quickly and easily. 
  3. Pay attention to customer feedback, and test your application occasionally to see if any changes need to be made. As you'll read below, the Marriott noticed early on that they needed to make some changes in their elevator system to make it more user friendly. Make sure you're on top of any user issues that your customers may experience in navigating your voice site so you can make the appropriate changes.

From my experience at the Marriott Marquis, here are my favorite "features" of this latest design in elevator efficacy. Make sure you're not creating similar "favorites" with your customers:

  • Once inside the elevator, you have only 3 buttons to choose from: door open, door close, and emergency. What's missing? Any way whatsoever to change your destination! Forgot that the front desk is on the 8th floor and not the 1st floor? Sorry, take a ride to floor one and repeat, unless, of course, you are fast enough to run outside the elevator on a given floor it may happen to stop at, quickly enter '8' on the keypad, and dash back through the closing doors with limbs intact.
  • From experiences with the inefficiencies of their new design, the Marriott now uses two of their elevators in "escort" mode, in which a live person accompanies the elevator, scooping up patrons at each floor along the way who were beginning to wonder if they were ever going to escape their current floor. These escorted elevators have buttons, but simple-minded patrons are not actually allowed to press the buttons. This important job is carried out by the person tending the elevator, who meticulously writes the floors of all patrons entering the elevator on a piece of paper, because in "escort" mode, the elevator can only be requested to go to one floor at a time. This juxtaposition of fully-automated-twenty-first-century elevator technology with the early-nineteenth-century-vintage manual operation is very entertaining for those of us who are in the business of simplifying complex technologies.

I am sure that there are dozens of very large hotels like the Marquis that could benefit from a sophisticated elevator system like this one, but there are tens of thousands of hotels for which an up and down arrow is perfectly sufficient.

Sometimes you just want an up and down arrow.

Steve Brown is the vice president of sales at Angel.com . His e-mail address is: brown@angel.com .

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