Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Why do I need to press * to continue?

I wonder which company (or companies) makes the software for the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) Systems, those automated voice thingies that you hear when you call your bank, or credit card company, or Internet Service Provider. I don't mind using an IVR--honest, I don't. If I just want easy access to information, it's a good deal. It's a whole other thing that I need to wait for a day to get to talk to a rep, but we'll let that go for another day. My problem is that with some IVR systems, you get a Welcome to .... and then a Please press * to continue. Now that last part, it bugs the hell out of me. If I didn't want to continue, why do you think I'd call? Just for kicks? (Justforkix is a great name for an Asterix character, I'm not sure if it's been used in one of the Asterix comics.) If the "feature" was in place because "they" wanted to trap calls to the wrong number, anyone can disconnect a wrong call by hanging up. No big deal. So, what Please press * to continue does is to make me wait longer, type an extra character on my keypad, and annoy the crap out of me (and probably other users). Why, oh why, do you want to annoy someone who's probably never met you in your entire life and never will? Please make interacting with a machine easy and fun. Maybe someday we'll even begin to like it. ---Updated on 20 March 2005--- My friend Eddy (who's a technical writing genius) wrote to me about why you need to press * to continue. It's because of the "old" system, where you had to press * if you had a touch-tone phone. I'd completely forgotten about that! I guess now it makes sense, but you'd think that they'd have a better message or figure out a way to press * themselves. Oh well, it's not as bad as I'd made it out to be.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Using shapes to make life easier

While drinking tea at a "bakery" near my office I noticed something interesting. The "curry-puffs" (or "patties" as they're sometimes called) all have different shapes. To the uninitiated, puffs (no relation to Sean Combs) are baked delicacies that are quite popular, to my knowledge in Hyderabad, and Bangalore. The "egg-puff" is shaped like a quadrilateral with four "wings" folded over the egg. The vegetable puff is a triangle. The chicken puff is a rectangle and so on. Each type of puff has a unique shape. There's also another bakery near-by that has slightly different "shape coding" for its puffs, but they're all made in different shapes. For someone who's selling these things, once you learn the "shape code" there's pretty much no confusion. Now, the people who make these puffs, I am pretty sure that they've not had any usability training. Some salesperson probably got confused trying to figure out whether a certain puff was vegetarian or non-vegetarian and it forced someone to come up with a "shape code". If the bakers can do it, what's stopping the highly "technical" people (with fancy degrees)? Makes you wonder, doesn't it?