Thursday, December 25, 2008
Sunday, December 21, 2008
- They know what they can be best at
- They are passionate about what they do
- They understand where their profits come from and they measure the right thing
Great book. I'll read this again in a few years for more inspiration.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Here's a video of a recent humanoid robot project. It's similar to the student projects I saw, but a bit more advanced. Aiko can read (apparently) and visually track objects, react to touch, and process some natural language. Note the command language the inventor uses to control the robot: "Aiko, Japanese mode." "Aiko, trace object." These are verbal equivalents to pushing buttons on a control panel.
The entire effect of the lifelike mask, loud mechanical motors whirring, and stilted conversation is a little creepy. I think this demo is relevant to the "Uncanny Valley" hypothesis. I know it's a popular idea, that if we make our machines more "lifelike" then people will trust them and accept them, but I'm not seeing any evidence for that. I mean, look how things turned out in Blade Runner.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Of course, if you're a recent MBA graduate then this fallback plan isn't available anymore, as homeboy James Williamson of Durham, NC discovered. Driving a taxi in NYC is a tough way to earn a living until companies start hiring again.
As I've mentioned before, I'm in the part-time MBA program at NC State, with one year to go before graduation. Things will turn around before then, right?
Friday, December 5, 2008
Here's a slicker presentation on the material in the press release, with a little different spin. The "web" use would be for automatic speech translation, apparently. Automatic translation has been a dream for decades, and in fact it's one of the original AI research projects. I'd like to get a chance to talk to someone in IBM speech research about this.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
IVRs have to work really well to work at all. Customers' tolerance for ambiguity and confusion in an IVR is far less than for a web form with similar functionality. Wordsmithing a broken call flow is about as helpful as treating gunshot wounds with band-aids.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Interesting story. I'd also be interested in seeing research that explains why companies allow bosses and "top performers" to abuse co-workers and subordinates. Perhaps if we understood why the behavior was allowed to occur - and even rewarded - it would be possible to design effective interventions.
In the meantime, I'll give Scott Adams the last word on bad bosses. I find this strip hysterically funny because it happened to me. The name of the book the manager tried to give me was Crucial Conversations.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The hardest part to understand in any complex system where human behavior plays a part is the human. And that's the part that's invariably over simplified in finance and economics. There's very little "human factor" in economics, except perhaps in the sub-field of behavioral economics.
As a voice user interface designer, I see it all the time. Project teams spend a great deal of time on the technology itself, because the technology is pretty difficult to implement. Unfortunately, the behavior of customers and callers and customer service reps is often given short shrift. That's too bad, because that's the really hard part to understand, and the success of an implementation is dependent on understanding and designing to accomodate the human part of the system.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Readers' reactions to the app is really interesting. Most of the reactions are pretty positive, but a few people registered complaints. If you work with speech reco technology you know that the underlying language model is based on North American English. You realize that it doesn't work as well with people who are sick with colds. But the readers didn't cut the app any slack for those things, and that's important to remember for people who are delivering speech apps. Users' expectations are already pretty high for speech reco, and this will make it even higher.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
"Oh you gotta be kidding me how the hell am I supposed to know that?"
The IVR had prompted the caller for the last four digits of the credit card number that was used to set up and pay for a service. The service may have been set up as long as a year previously, and many customers have more than one credit card. The question of how the hell the customer was supposed to know that had at least occurred to the IVR designer of this application. There were extra steps placed in the IVR to mitigate this scenario, but none were very effective. Lesson learned: ask for things that you know are easily available to the caller, or prepare them in advance for unusual requests that take time to track down.
Friday, November 7, 2008
The phrase is really annoying. Some brilliant individual created a working demo that makes that point far better than I can in writing on my blog. Call 888-583-2801 and enjoy. Thank you Brad Lehman for the pointer.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Thanks to Todd Chapin for forwarding this.
Friday, October 24, 2008
So why not furnish the CSRs with well integrated systems that allow them to focus on customers' needs instead of repetitive data entry tasks? One reason is that a lot of new stuff gets thrown at CSRs very quickly. A new system to support a new service gets dropped on their desktop, they take a little training, and the calls start to roll in. Other services get dropped. System integration takes time, and even in the best circumstances would run well behind service changes in the call center.
Another reason is that call center directors would like to spend the money elsewhere, namely, on self service IVR applications that would allow the company to serve customers without speaking to CSRs. That's good for people like me, who design self service IVRs, not as good for the CSRs who are stuck with unintegrated systems.
It's important to keep in mind, though, that employee satisfaction is a major driver of customer satisfaction. Happy CSRs produce happy customers. Something to consider when planning upgrades to call center technology.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
The Office Communicator Server also comes bundled with Microsoft Speech Server. You buy OCS, you get speech recognition for free. If you want to play with speech without paying out a bundle to Nuance, it's a good way to get started in speech recognition.
My associate Marshall Harrison blogs about OCS and Microsoft Speech Server. If you're interested in speech his blog is a good resource.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Chapter titles include "Escaping the Shackles," "Creating a Community of Purpose," "Learning from the Fringe," and "Building an Innovation Democracy." This book is pure inspiration. However, I wonder how many prospective "management innovators" who read the book find Hamel's ideas too radical to be implemented in their own companies.
Sunday, October 5, 2008
- Be the best
- Quit when you're not getting anywhere
- Stick it out if you think you'll succeed
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
The history of automated therapy goes back to Weizenbaum's Eliza program in 1965. If phone service therapy catches on it won't be long before someone tries to save a little money by implementing an IVR to take the routine therapy questions. "For dream interpretation, press 1. For a pep talk, press 2. All other calls, press zero or remain on the line." Better yet, therapists could set up shop in Second Life so they could meet their clients "face to face."
Monday, September 22, 2008
I attended one of the first meetings of IT security and usability engineers at the CHI conference in Ft. Lauderdale in 2003. It was two groups of people who hadn't given the other much thought before, but we all could clearly see the value of collaborating in the future. Part of this is an organizational problem, because people aren't rewarded for practicing good security behavior, and are rarely called on bad behavior because it's not monitored.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Dr. Deborah Mayhew, editor of “Cost-justifying usability” (among many other books) will be hosted by TriUPA on October 22nd! Register for her workshop "Designing for Efficiency" now at http://triupa.org/DesigningEfficiency
Sunday, September 14, 2008
I guess we've come a long way from the days when managers got together to decide which of the company's functions were going to be outsourced, and which were going to be automated and people replaced entirely. The notion of automating the management function has a sort of visceral appeal to anyone arbitrarily replaced by a downsizing or outsourcing effort. If you're running a company just by the numbers, and attach little importance to leadership, team building, and other kinds of "soft" skills that many managers put little stock in, maybe you could "automate" management. But I doubt it.
I skimmed the Workers chapter of the book that's excerpted in this review. It's not nearly as dire as the article in BusinessWeek describes. But it's a fact that some managers latch onto tools as a means for solving some of their problems without making a committment to learning the processes and assumptions implicit in the design of the tool. Buy, install, use. And if the results aren't what you expected its a problem with the software.
So we're safe from "automated management" right now. But then I thought personality testing as a means of making hiring decisions would never go anywhere.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Saturday, September 6, 2008
I had started by preaching the importance of writing good scenarios - descriptions of customer behavior in the context of their environment and their tasks. Then I presented some general guidelines for designing prompts. This is harder than it appears because there are often contextual factors that make a suggested prompt worthless in a given case, so every guideline must be wrapped with disclaimers.
Back to the problem with the existing IVR. After cautiously making a few suggestions about prompting I asked the participants to back up and describe the scenario in detail. Then it became clear. The caller was a cashier standing at a check out counter talking to a driver. The driver supplied the information, who sometimes had to pull out a notebook to get the information. Two obvious problems. One, if the system is converted to speech then you'll get a lot of sidetalk recognition errors, where the caller isn't speaking directly to the IVR, but to someone else. Two, speech timeout values are by default pretty short. If you don't have the information the IVR is asking for close at hand, the IVR goes into its Silence error routines.
These are nice design issues and potentially solvable, but not unless you understand the context and the likely outcomes of the caller's behavior. In this case, not having information at hand and needing to talk to someone during the call. An expert can look pretty silly and helpless if he's offering recommendations without understanding the scenario.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
- Strengths and weaknesses of speech rec technology. Pity the poor VUI designer who starts a project whose stakeholders have been educated about speech only by slick sales presentations and glossy brochures. I've been there - it's no fun. Part of the challenge of design is to work within the constraints of current recognition technology, like the ability to discriminate between letters in the "e" group and between the letters s and f.
- Skills required to implement a good speech IVR. Speech IVRs aren't just another IT shop application. The learning curve for speech rec development and testing is very steep. The learning curve for effective dialog design is very steep. Companies that hand complex speech projects to an internal group need to appreciate that and build in a lot of time for training and development of people before the first speech project even begins.
- Persona isn't just about the system's voice. This one is a little controversial, but I can say from experience that managers tend to spend too much time selecting the perfect "voice" for the IVR in the belief that this "branding" exercise makes or breaks customer satisfaction with the system. The sound of the voice - the way the prompts are delivered, in particular - is important, but the design and proper functioning of the application is equally important.
If a management group "doesn't have time" to participate in a level setting meeting I'd recommend pushing back on that very hard. Spending a little time before a project kickoff talking to management about speech projects in general can save a lot of thrashing later on.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Whew. I guess we can expect to read a lot of stories about the evil influence of social networking sites for a while.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
It's kind of a mystery to me why IBM hasn't made much of an impact on the speech industry. IBM isn't the first company you think of for call center applications, but the engine is available on Avaya's platform. So I don't get it. Any ideas, let me know.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
When I get back I start my 2nd year in the part time MBA program at NC State. So I'm going to be busy, and that translates into shorter blog posts, at least this month.
Monday, August 11, 2008
When he's writing about the content of the coursework the book sometimes reads like his transcribed class notes. It's when he talks about the attitudes of the students and faculty that make the book worth the read. The present and future Masters of the Universe don't always look very attractive in the author's narrative.
As I read I can't help but think about Philip Zimbardo's classic mock prison experiment at Stanford, in which students were assigned the roles of prisoners and guards in a "prison" set up in the basement of a Stanford classroom building. The experiment demonstrated that participants' behavior was heavily influenced by their environment and preconceptions about how guards and prisoners behave in prison. In Delves Broughton's account, HBR students quickly adapt to the priviledges and perks of being part of the "HBR brand," and display a sense of entitlement.
Excellent read, especially if you're in or considering an MBA program of your own.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Note that the problem as identified isn't necessarily with the sound of the voice, it's the lack of context machines have when giving directions, and the fact that the problem reveals itself over time, as in a long car trip. These things are often not tested well, or tested at all. The article also identifies lack of "naturalness" as a problem with speech systems, but trying to achieve an undefined kind of "naturalness" causes problems as well.
Saturday, August 2, 2008
I've decided to jump on this executive development bandwagon and put together my own "experiential learning" course for executives. The difference between my own course and these others is that I think mine would deliver real value. Here's the outline of my course.
- The exec gets a assignment to write a research paper on a subject he/she is expected to know something about. The first draft submitted is returned with numerous requests for clarifications and a terse note in email from the leader of the exercise who is role playing as the exec's supervisor, "You can do better than this," with no actionable suggestions for improvement.
- The exec presents his report in a meeting with other "execs," really actors role playing various roles in an organization.
- The meeting attendees check email and voice mail during the presentation, have side bar conversations with each other on topics unrelated to the meeting, and act generally as if they'd rather be somewhere else. Two attendees at opposite ends of the table text message each other, make eye contact, and giggle after each exchange.
- The questions during Q&A are unrelated to the content of the presentation. The presenter is frequently interrupted when trying to respond. At the end of the meeting the presenter is thanked for his time and ignored as he shuts down his laptop and gathers his things.
- The exec receives email from his "supervisor" stating that someone in the audience had some questions about the presentation and that he, the supervisor, answered the questions as best he could. The supervisor doesn't remember what the questions were.
At the end of this grueling exercise the exec learns that this is a not uncommon experience for analysts when presenting to middle managers in many large organizations, perhaps even in his or her own. If a company is trying encourage innovative solutions from everyone in the organization, you can see that this sort of misbehavior doesn't contribute to that goal.
So, if anyone is looking for some experiential sensitivity training for their execs or other managers, drop me a line. I'll do the first class for free. It would be fun.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Free Agent Nation is both a description of the free agent workforce and a argument for why workers should cut themselves free of large companies and work for themselves. It's a convincing argument if you have a strong set of skills and an entrepreneurial attitude. Easy to read, full of interesting data and opinions. This interview with the author gives a flavor of the book, first published in 2001 and reprinted in 2004. Recommended.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
- Tuning. Speech IVRs aren't fully tested during user acceptance testing. They can't be. Full testing depends on having large numbers of real customers hitting the IVR, evaluating the data, and making tweaks to the prompting and grammars. That's tuning. Business managers who don't know about tuning are shocked when they learn that testing isn't complete until several weeks after roll out.
- Roll out strategy. Deploying a speech IVR isn't simply a matter of flipping a switch and exposing your customers to the IVR, then walking away. Do you really want everyone to hear version 1.0 (see tuning, above)? Can your CSRs answer the inevitable questions from customers about the new system? Who is going to be responsible for ongoing observation and maintenance (see next point, below)? There are a lot of issues that management needs to settle long before the speech IVR is rolled out.
- Ongoing observation and maintenance. Believe it or not, some business managers think that once the IVR is deployed the business can just walk away from it. That may be true for some limited-functionality DTMF IVRs (and we all know how much customers love those systems) but it certainly is not true for speech IVRs. There's work to do even after a successful tuning cycle, and management needs to plan for that in advance.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
Saturday, July 5, 2008
The second item was released by Spinvox, a speech-to-text transcription engine that can be adapted for a number of applications. This news release, which hasn't been commented on much, said that its new senior director for its Microsoft relationship will "charged with driving the co-development of Microsoft unified communications and enterprise applications with SpinVox services." So Spinvox is going to co-develop apps with Microsoft.
If you put these two technologies together, speaker independent speech-to-text and natural language text search, you would have a pretty powerful way of searching Internet content from your mobile phone. Powerset, in particular, still needs some work, but it exists as a proof of concept that you can use natural language to get answers from large text corpora.
Microsoft has been challenging Google on search presented visually, so far without much success. These two recent developments could signal Microsoft's attempt to create a market for voice search.
Friday, July 4, 2008
(The title of the blog post is a take off on the "speech is special" argument that some linguists make based on phenomena like categorical perception that were first observed in speech experiments.)
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
The prose is difficult to read sometimes. Christensen and Raynor aren't the most elegant writers. When they describe how to identify products for development they get into design territory, and that's not their specialty. They talk about providing solutions for customers' "jobs" rather than basing product decisions on market segments. That's correct, as far as it goes, but the "jobs" language required me to make an almost constant mental translation into terms that are more familiar to designers. When designing, you do so based on the end users' goals instead of their tasks. Look at Alan Cooper's great discussion of users' personal and practical goals in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum. Tom Kelley has a great discussion of the importance of observation in identifying consumers unstated, unmet needs and designing to meet those needs in The Art of Innovation. Christensen and Raynor are trying to cover the same ground but using their own invented terminology.
That quibbling aside, this is a good book. It presents great ideas for upstart companies that want to challenge industry leaders, and ideas for industry leaders about what they need to do to maintain their position. Recommended.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
Previously I had written about a Sr. VP who exercised a lot of options prior to Nuance's announcement of a new public stock offering. I don't do financial analysis, but this doesn't sound very good for the company.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
The manager needed to pick his spots a little more carefully. Everything was working against him at that particular time. All customers who walked in could see that the line was short. A couple of regulars were working their stations, and things were moving along pretty smoothly. The couple could see that they wouldn't have to wait long, and weren't anxious to leave the queue to wrestle with a new device. "New self service machine" doesn't exactly inspire confidence in anyone.
Maybe the biggest disincentive for self service in the post office is that it prevents you from talking to a real person. I attended a talk many years ago on why older consumers wouldn't use ATMs. After working hard for a while on the machines' usability problems, older consumers still refused to use them. The presenter conducted some interviews and discovered, not too surprisingly, that many older consumers simply liked to talk to the bank clerks. They were retired, they had time on their hands, and they liked to talk to people. No amount of usable design was going to overcome that issue.
Companies trying to increase the usage of their self service IVRs during regular office hours face similar issues. Customers already have had experience with a lot of misbehaving IVRs before they reach yours, so there's a tendency to be a little skeptical. If the queues are short, and people know they're short, they'll opt to talk to a CSR. It's fast and easy, and a lot of customers just like to talk to people. After hours, it's a different story. Customers may take a shot at self service to avoid calling back the next day.
If the lines at the Post Office are long, people will be motivated to try the self service machine. As I left, I noticed a problem that will discourage adoption. The machine had been built flush against a wall next to the commonly used mail slots. There was no way to logically form a queue for the machine without standing in the most heavily trafficked area of the lobby. The Post Office will need to learn the lesson that the airlines needed to learn: you have to design a queue for self service, too.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Everyone gets usability, right? UEs design and test, and design some more until customers can use the product (it's usually a product, since we don't usability test services much, yet) easily. Utility, we mostly get that. The product is supposed to meet a customer's need. In the worst case, ensuring utility means walking down a list of features the product is supposed to contain. If we're really conscientious, we create a contextual task analysis and design a "whole product" solution, in which the product either supplies a complete solution to a need, or the product complements are easily available to the customer.
Identifiability is the product's distinctiveness, its uniqueness, the design edge that sets it apart from its competition. Think iPod. Product marketers get this, I think, but there are an awful lot of "me too" product and e-commerce web sites out there. We recognize identifiability when we see it, but practice it too infrequently.
Trustability isn't obvious at all, but when I talk to user experience designers about it, something just clicks. Lots of people have had the experience of finding something for sale on a e-commerce site but were unwilling to purchase from the site. Why? The site was easy to use, it was distinctive, it offered the product we wanted and good delivery terms, but we just couldn't click the "purchase" button. We went elsewhere. This is a classic trustability issue. We didn't trust the site, or the company, or something else, and someone lost a sale.
I've done a fair amount of research on trustability. It's a great topic. As a VUI designer I've found that the quality of the system's voice has an aspect of trustability.
All of the "itties" that I mentioned are important, but my observation has been that people involved in product development tend to focus their efforts on one or two. Designing and measuring the full customer experience requires that product designers address all of the itties.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
A second article, also dated June 4, announced that Nuance was offering an additional 5.58 million shares for sale. The market didn't respond very positively to the news, because Nuance's stock slid to $17.90/share the next day.
Lucky break for the Sr. VP, eh?
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I was on a flight from Gainesville to Indianapolis in 1993 when he sat down in the seat in front of me. He told his seat mate a story. He was in the airport bathroom when a young guy approached him. "Hey, I know you! You're BB KING!" He just laughed about it. "Man, I don't look anything like BB King."
Here's a great video of him in concert. Watch it, and you'll be a fan.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
Every chapter is a delight. If you work (or have worked) for a company that is stumbling down the path to innovation you'll immediately connect with Kelley's stories and observations on company culture. Look at these organizational "Barriers" to innovation in Ch. 9, "Barrier Jumping:"
- "Hierarchy-Based. Innovation and structure are like oil and water. Forcing ideas to start at the top or rigidly follow a vertical path through an organization tends to weigh down new projects...
- Anonymous. There are companies where nobody seems to notice or care. Places where you can cruise slowly up a predictable career path...
- Experts. Expertise is great until it begins to shut you off from new learning. Many self-described experts...talk more than they listen. Experts can inadvertently block innovation by saying, "It's never been done that way.""
I worked at a large company where some managers were interested in "innovation," and designated a few individuals as innovation experts, with predictable results. Had these managers read Kelley's they might have understood that successful innovation depends on breaking down organizational barriers and changing their own behavior. Or not, since the people who benefit the most from hierarchy and structure are usually the last ones to acknowledge its existence.
The part of the book that was a complete surprise to me was the chapter on the effects of space on innovation. Kelley's company IDEO has spent a good deal of effort designing their own workspace in order to encourage their own design activities. I recognized Kelley's descriptions of workspaces that stifle innovation, but had never considered how powerful the workspace is on the functioning of individuals and groups. I had to read the chapter more than once to understand the lessons. I visited IDEO's offices in Palo Alto two years ago and was really impressed with the layout. I realize now how much deliberate activity went into the design of the place.
I've blogged on another of Kelley's excellent books, The Ten Faces of Innovation. It's a great read, too.
Thursday, May 22, 2008
My background is in information processing psychology. I learned that problem solving was an individual affair. The research I studied included detailed models of memory for words, concept learning, problem solving, and decision making. The models were usually based on highly controlled laboratory experiments. A lot of the interventions for things like smoking are technologies directed at the individual: wearable patches, medication, spiked gum, etc.
But human behavior is social. It's all about families and friends. The smoking cessation research shows that very clearly. The interventions we need should account for both individual and group problem solving and behavior. Need more proof? How about the connection between family behavior and individual obesity? A lot of our successes and failures occur because of group dynamics - and that's where we need to look for solutions.
I know that a lot has changed since I was in school, and a lot has been done recently with modeling group behavior and problem solving. But we still look to technology for all of our fixes, when what we need to understand first is group behavior. Family and group interventions really call for a design approach to a workable solution - designers who can understand and design group problem solving behavior. If we get that right, the technology is the easy part.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Instrumenting your applications is usually a pretty good idea. It allows you to identify and fine tune hotspots and learn all sorts of things about how the application is being used. Requiring customers to wade through several menus of inscrutable options before they reach a representative causes several problems, however. One, it generates bad data, because callers can't be counted on to successfully navigate a poorly designed application. Or even a well designed one, for that matter. There are better ways to collect the data businesses are looking for. Two, it annoys the hell out of people to answer a bunch of questions before being allowed to talk to someone and receive service.
If fact, if the IVR is too disagreeable then people will simply answer prompts randomly or press zero (if it's available). It's like torture: if the experience is painful enough people will say anything in order to make the pain stop. Businesses shouldn't torture their customers (or allow its IVRs to torture customers by proxy). And they shouldn't build multi-layered IVRs full of inscrutable prompts in the misguided idea that reports are more important than happy customers.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
I'd love to be able to separate text from the presentation of the text, in the same way cascading style sheets allow web designers to separate written text from the presentation of the text. I'd like CSS for TTS. I'd like to be able to control the speed, pitch, intensity and stress of TTS text by tagging the text, and then writing style sheets that recognize the tags and control the TTS output accordingly. It would be a big step towards being able to define the persona of an agent implemented fully in TTS.
This should be perfectly feasible. I'm surprised it hasn't been done. If anyone with a technical background wants to work on this and needs some direction drop me a line.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
"What's one more of anything," like records in a database or fields on a form, usually isn't a big deal. Computers are supposed to be able to iterate any number of things with a minimum of additional effort, so the same principle should apply to IVR menu options. That's the logic, anyway. Unfortunately, the same logic applied to IVR menus is a disaster, because it's the callers who have trouble sorting through and remembering and verbally reproducing multiple menu options.
The logic of "What's one more option" is very seductive, and can lead to main menus with ten or more options. Big main menus (or "Maim menus," for what they do to callers) just scream "I don't know what I'm doing! Hit the zero key now!"
IVR menus structures are still actively researched. For an excellent recent study on IVR menu options, see "A comparison of broad versus deep auditory menu structures," Commarford et al., (2008), Human Factors, Vol. 50, pp. 77-89.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
Last week BusinessWeek carried an article about Pavlo's talks in MBA classes. The story was entitled "Using ex-cons to scare MBAs straight." Coincidence? Maybe.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Unfortunately, there is just no way a VUI designer is going to craft a system that will recognize "alligator in my kitchen" as a legitimate problem call. Even human 911 operators have difficulty with the phrase, as you can hear in this recording.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Some years later the organization went through a period of identifying and selecting "innovators" whose role it was to produce innovative ideas and pass them to the rest of the organization. Watching the "innovators" from a distance, it was hard to see that anything was of any more value than the ideas produced by my CSRs in the call center, and most of it was probably a good deal less.
Jack & Suzy Welch's recent BusinessWeek article, Finding Innovation Where it Lives, hits the very point that I thought I'd discovered during my first call center gig. The article may be behind a password, so I'll quote the relevant parts. They debunk the notion that innovations come strictly from individual geniuses working alone, but more often come from coworkers "in the trenches" solving problems as a group and trying to make things work well. However, the organization has to make innovation part of its culture. As I saw in the call center, having great ideas means nothing if no one is there to harvest the ideas and push through changes.
The Welches finish by quoting an e-mail they received from someone who had an idea for a product but didn't know how to introduce it into his organization. They write, "How sad...another place where managers send the message that innovation comes from the chosen few. Imagine the possibilities...not to mention the fun, when organizations engage everyone else in the process, too."
That's innovation management, the ability to change the organization and draw everyone into the challenge of improving services and create processes that harvest and organize everyone's ideas, not just those of the "chosen few."
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
I've always recognized the importance of designing to improve efficiency, but this seems a little bit too efficient. At any rate, keep an eye out for those interior designers off hours, and if you see one, it might make sense to polish up that resume.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
If you've ever traveled abroad (or live outside the US) then you may have witnessed US tourists trying to make themselves understood to non-English speaking locals. Often, the tourists will shout and talk more slowly, adding helpful gestures in an amusing pantomime, in order to make themselves understood. In fact, adding gestures can help, and speaking more slowly can help if the local speaks some English, and if it isn't done to the point of changing one's pronunciation.
Having witnessed these two scenarios many times here's my theory of the day: callers to speech IVRs believe the systems to be hearing impaired foreigners who are best communicated with by shouting and speaking slowly to. If you were to watch these people on the phone I'm confident that you'd see the pantomime routine as well.
Monday, April 7, 2008
If I feel tightness in my jaw or shoulder I'll be sure to call 911. Until then, I'll guess I'll keep practicing blogging at home in moderation.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
In the CICM model, IC is comprised of three stages: Knowledge Management, Innovation Management, and Intellectual Property Management. The book first describes the structure of each of these stages, then presents instructions on how to implement each stage.
A very important aspect of the book is the description of the organizational changes that must occur in order for the program to work. Chapter 10 is called "First get your act together," in which the author correctly acknowledges the importance of vision and corporate culture on the effectiveness of new corporate initiatives.
The chapters regarding culture and innovation really resonated with me. I worked at a company that had tried to implement some small-scale innovation efforts (and had been involved in one myself), but the culture and organizational structure were custom-made to prevent successful innovation: rigidly heirarchical, command-and-control, strong departmental boundaries, compensation and rewards for individual achievement instead of team performance, and, worst of all perhaps, no recognition by management on the importance of organizational culture on the outcome of innovation efforts.
I liked this book. Comprehensive Intellectual Capital Management, 2003, Nermien Al-Ali, Wiley and Sons.
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
I wonder if it's significant that this item was posted on April Fools Day. Naah. I'm sure it's completely legit.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Dear HFES Carolina Members and Friends –
Faculty from the College of Design at NCSU have graciously offered to give a collection of presentations next week at NCSU. They are interested in sharing their research and design ideas with the HFES community.
Time: Thursday, March 27, 5:30-8:00pm
Location: Kamphoefner Hall, College of Design complex, Burns Auditorium, NCSU
There will be a reception (with refreshments) in the lobby area of the Burns Auditorium from 5:30-6pm. Professor Haig Khachatoorian will moderate this event.
Presentations will begin at 6pm and will include the following:
- Bryan Laffitte / Associate Professor & ID (Industrial Design) Dept. Head - "Visualization as a Tool for Collaborative Innovation"
- Percy Hooper / Associate Professor & Director of I D Graduate Programs - "Invention, Innovation & Design : Transforming Propositions to Products"
- Bong-IL Jin / Associate Professor - "The World Traffic Safety Design Competitions"
- Dr. Sharon Joines / Assistant Professor - "Ergonomic Interventions for Ultrasound Technicians"
- Tim Buie / Assistant Professor - "Game Design : Designing the Interaction Experience"
Each presentation will last approximately 20 min. and there will be a question and answer session to follow. If you plan to attend the reception, please let Miranda Capra know so that adequate refreshments are available.
Dave Kaber, HFES Carolina Chapter President
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Pavlo is a very likable, outgoing guy. He was very open about what he did, and freely admitted he was wrong. The most interesting parts of his talk were about the corporate culture at MCI that put all value on making the numbers every quarter. Without using it as an excuse for his behavior, he described a situation where there was a lot of pressure to perform, no oversight, no positive corporate culture for accountability, and lots of money changing hands.
He had an interesting observation about the mortgage meltdown crisis going on now. "The mortgage industry is just the telecom industry in the 1990s." The subprime lenders and borrowers are telecom's wholesalers and high risk, high profit long distance resellers in the 90s. Pavlo says that the mortgage accounting tricks to hide bad debt occurred 3 years ago, and will soon come to light.
The talk was, in a way, a showing of the "Scared Straight" documentary for MBAs. Message: play clean, keep your moorings, resist the urge to bend the rules when it looks like everyone else is doing it.
Sunday, March 9, 2008
Consistency in the design of a user interface is often a good thing. Re-using a small set of salient, simple interactions within a single application, or across a suite of applications, allows users to apply what they've learned during one interaction to many others. It makes the user interface predictable, thereby making it easier to use. Scott Berkun made a similar point in an extended meditation on consistency way back in 1999, a point that still stands.
I'm a proponent of consistency. I've written about the usefulness of standards and guidelines, one way of supporting consistency among applications. However, it's misapplied when the benefit of a local optimization outweighs the benefit of enforcing consistency throughout an application. It's also misapplied when a presentation style developed for one domain (like radio advertising or visual web) is applied to a wholly different domain (like VUI dialogs). I was recently handed a dialog by a company's branding expert that read like this: "Press 1 to do x
At times when I'm arguing against the misuse of consistency I say (with a nod to Emerson) that I'm practicing exorcism of possession by hobgoblins.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Nothing here about innovation or VUI. This is just one of my favorite musicians, and it's my blog.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Sometimes you get an idea for a product or service that feels so profoundly good and so right that it seems there is no way it can fail with your customers. Funny thing about customers, though. They have their own agendas, and they don't always respond exactly as you predict they would.
Leah Santini is a home health care nurse in Peoria, Ill. One of her charges, 91 year old Rosemary Kramm, had seemed depressed for some time, and Ms. Santini was thinking of a way to cheer her up. She noticed that Ms. Kramm perked up at the sight of Uno, the champion beagle, on TV. Ms. Santini, by an amazing coincidence, knew one of Uno's owners, and a personal visit from Uno was arranged.
Slam dunk, right? Perhaps not, according to this story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
"Oh, I can't believe it!" Kramm said repeatedly, as she patted and stroked the dog. "I can die now. I can leave this planet."
"Leaving the planet" is exactly what the visit from the world-famous dog was intended to prevent. Let's hope that Ms. Kramm was speaking only metaphorically, or else Ms. Santini's career as a health care innovator will take a serious hit.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
There's no doubt that customer service should be a top priority for companies, and that automated phone attendants are a frequent source of poor service. The GetHuman standard falls short because a company's call center needs to commit to a far higher level of service than is embodied by the standards. Companies that are committed to good service don't need the GetHuman standards; they have managers in charge who understand where the company needs to be and the amount work it will take to get it there. Companies whose call center managers think they can offer quality service by following a checklist are lost in the woods, and won't find their way out without some serious help.
I think standards and guidelines have their place in promoting good design practice if followed properly; I've said so before. I give GetHuman a lot of credit for raising the issue of poor customer phone service. However, standards can only take one so far; delivering great service is a matter of a company's planning, desire, and execution.
Monday, February 25, 2008
The website turns out to be a social networking site where people can meet others of similar "temperaments." Good grief. I sincerely hope no one in an HR department would be foolish enough to adopt this thing as a selection criterion. I've written about personality testing before, and this does nothing to change my opinion.
I think Scott Adams was on the mark with his send up of personality testing in companies.
Sunday, February 24, 2008
So, what are the implications for speech-enabled IVRs if, as Kurzweil predicts, computers become smarter than humans? It isn't hard to imagine the following Blade Runner-like scenario.
[Customer calls a company and reaches a human customer service rep]
- CSR: "All of our computers are currently assisting other customers. If you'd like, I can try to help you. Otherwise, please remain on the line for the next available computer."
- Caller: "NO! Please, just let me talk to a MACHINE!"
Ha ha. We voice interface designers enjoy our little jokes. Seriously, though, people really get bent out of shape when discussing machine intelligence. I think it violates peoples' sense of specialness to have their intellect compared to a computer's. In any case, predictions by Kurzweil and others about the future of technology are great topics for conversation, so long as one keeps things in perspective.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Like any promising new (to business execs) process, there will be a shake-out period until companies figure out how and when to apply design thinking to anything more than product design. Some writers are already predicting a possible backlash as design thinking fails to deliver a silver bullet solution for every problem. To borrow a concept that is applied to new technologies, design thinking is moving up a "peak of inflated expectations" phase with regards to its utility for solving business process and strategy problems.
Gartner research and consulting publishes a "hype cycle" each year that tracks the acceptance of new technologies. According to their theory, technologies follow a trajectory that begins with a "technology trigger" and ends with a "plateau of productivity" in which the technology is properly utilized. Between these beginning and ending phases are the "peak of inflated expectations," "trough of disillusionment," and "slope of enlightenment" phases.
The same analysis can be usefully applied to business processes. TQM, Six Sigma, CMM, and a number of similar processes, have been embraced by management initally as a cure-all for their company's ills. The process moves up the "peak of inflated expectations," only to fall into disfavor when it fails to deliver on all of its champions' promises.
If design thinking is on the up-slope of the peak of inflated expectations, it can be predicted that it will eventually fall into the trough of disillusionment one day. Champions of design thinking should prepare for that phase, taking care not to oversell it before it's entrenched in the company culture, and nuturing it through the hard times. Eventually design thinking will reach its plateau of productivity phase, to the benefit of the company's bottom line.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
It looks like I'm not the only one who feels that personality testing can be abused by HR.
Saturday, February 9, 2008
When distinctivess and originality are pushed far enough, as in this fine video, the audience may be left puzzled, confused, even outraged. I call highly idiosyncratic, over-the-top IVR personas Devo IVRs, in honor of the band's memorably distinctive songs and videos.
Nearly all IVRs are intended to help callers accomplish a work goal. Highly idiosyncratic personas rarely help callers achieve goals, and may even hurt if the presentation is distracting enough. Sometimes this is a hard message for branding experts and marketers to hear.
Monday, February 4, 2008
When all IVRs were DTMF only the good ones enabled key ahead, the ability to press several keys in succession, without waiting for the prompt to play. Frequent callers to an IVR learned the keypress sequence to get them to their preferred transfer or function very quickly without having to listen to all the prompting. If the menu options changed, however, the speed dialers would up transferring to the wrong department, generating complaints back to the IVR manager. I think this was how the "menu options have changed..." phrase was born. The message may also reflect IVR managers' beliefs about why callers misroute. If the callers would only listen carefully to the options, the belief goes, then misroutes would be eliminated. It doesn't occur to some IVR managers that the prompting could be confusing or unclear. Thus, the phrase "please listen carefully."
Unfortunately, it's easier (process wise) to put phrases into IVRs than take them out. Power users, the ones who learn to key ahead, call frequently. And they don't listen to prompting. Playing the message for longer than a week is nearly useless, because the power users have already adjusted after a week, and it provides no information to occasional users. In speech systems it's even more useless, since you can leave the original menu grammars in place even if you change the prompting.
The message lives on, however, a legacy of another era and some magical thinking about how callers behave.
Monday, January 28, 2008
A few companies ignore the negative connotation of designing in groups and practice design by team. Those who do include designers, engineers, and user researchers on the team. To get this to work right, the participants must be both designers and committed team players who can subordinate their own egos for the good of the team. Two very different, and somewhat rare, skill sets. Teams take time to function together at a very high level, so the successful team would have had to go through a period of getting to know each other's style.
It's an interesting approach, and I'd love to study design teams over time, and find out what works and what doesn't. Teams and design, what could be better.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Why worry about voice activating communication media inside a car? Ford, for its part, seems to be rethinking its view of a vehicle as a thing that you drive from point A to point B. If you think about a car as an extension of your office or your home, then you start to put in features that you have come to expect in your office or home. Of course, in a vehicle you're constrained by the fact that drivers need to hold onto the steering wheel when they drive, so they need another way to control their communication devices.
Microsoft, for its part, has a vision of turning every phone and PC into an always-on virtual conferencing device, part of their Unified Communication vision. This product fits nicely into that vision. It allows drivers to conduct business while in their vehicles, which, if you commute, is an enormous time saver. People in the voice business sometimes refer to vehicles as "BAMDs" (big ass mobile devices). Ford's Sync is a big step in the direction of turning a lot of vehicles into BAMDs.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
In fact, the toy is a little hard to use for a child, and even for many adults. To get geeky-technical about it, the failure to enroll, false alarm, and false accept rates are pretty high. There aren't a lot of writing pages inside the journal, the novelty is in the voice activation itself. If you read the reviews by following the link, above, there's a lot of dissatisfaction with the product.
I helped design a voice authentication security system that is in use by a financial institution. I've also conducted research into consumers' acceptance of voice authentication. At the time the research was done (2005), people were still suspicious of VA, uncertain about its usability and effectiveness as a security solution. If people start growing up with toys that include VA, there won't be any novelty to it when they encounter VA in financial and other self service IVRs. Of course, if the toys don't perform properly then people may reject VA based on their previous experience with it. It's an interesting idea, though, that acceptance of VA as a security solution could be affected by peoples' experiences with childrens' toys.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
For a project team that is heavily invested in the completion of the project, the go/no go review meetings can be a source of stress. Great efforts are made to present the project in a good light during sign off meetings. Who, after all, wants to get to the end of an employee review cycle with nothing but cancelled projects to their credit? Knowing this, authorizers can leverage their position as stage gate attendants to add requirements to the project, insist on additional functionality, and even--my personal favorite--indulge their latent design skills.
"OK. This project is approved to go forward, IF..." where the Big If is some personally preferred enhancement or design change. The project team can argue against the new requirement, saying that it's out of scope or that it adds unnecessary complexity, but a hostage-taking authorizer usally isn't going to be moved by appeals to logic. The project team grumbles, agrees to make the changes, gets the hostage (the application design) released, and the project moves on.
Friday, January 4, 2008
Apparently, the Dilbert comic strip really ticks some people off. A casino worker in Fort Madison, Iowa, was fired recently for posting a strip that referred to managers as "drunken lemurs." I would say that by firing the employee the casino management sort of proved the strip's point. No telling how lemurs felt about being compared to human managers.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
With the interest in design thinking, I've started to see presentatations by consultants exhorting companies to "create design cultures" and "make innovation part of the firm's DNA." Design and innovation are motherhood and apple pie issues: how could anyone argue against them? If you make design and innovation part of your everyday corporate culture you'll unleash the creative potential of every employee and leave your competition begging for scraps.
Culture change in corporations is a different beast, however. Corporate cultures vary on a number of dimensions. They include team orientation, outcome orientation, and stability: the degree to which the culture maintains the status quo. The dimension that needs to change, of course, is capacity for innovation and risk taking. Where the company currently sits on these dimensions determines how difficult it will be to build a design culture.
There are two things to keep in mind about company culture. One, company culture is determined in large part (though not exclusively) by its leadership. How does the leadership behave? Who do they reward and promote? What behaviors are recognized? That's determines company culture far more than memos from human resources and published mission statements.
Two, changing company culture for the better is difficult. The consultants pushing design culture might forget to raise this issue with clients. Even when the leadership is fully committed to changing the culture it's difficult. All companies show resistance to change, some more than others. Jack Welch changed the company culture of GE with Six Sigma, which shows that it can be done, but it wasn't easy.
Any plan for building a design culture would start with a pretty serious change management plan. Senior leadership would need to know what's it's getting into, and the things they would need to change about themselves. Otherwise, any effort to inject design thinking and innovation into the company culture will just be the fad of the week, and will join the long list of "seemed like a good idea at the time" initiatives that wound up on the scrap heap of indifference.