Monday, February 25, 2008

Personality testing pt. 3: let's get social

I thought I was finished with this topic. Then I saw a rather credulous interview in with a CEO about his company's online personality test. According to the interviewee, "enlightened employers consider personality as only one facet of the selection process." This CEO was touting his online personality test as one of the selection criteria. If you follow the links far enough you can take the test. I did, and got a report that had a little more information than an average horoscope. To get the detailed report you need to pay.

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

All of our computers are assisting other customers...

Ray Kurzweil is an innovative thinker and inventor who has gotten a lot of attention for his wild predictions about the future of technology. Here's a link to a story with some of his predictions (Thanks to Ahmed Bouzid for pointing out this article). Kurzweil gets a hearing because he's delivered some real cutting edge technology with his work on optical character recognition and automatic speech recognition.

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

Design thinking and the hype cycle

"Design thinking" refers to an approach to design that combines art, craft, and analytical skill to produce unique, innovative consumer products. Done properly, design thinking can be usefully applied to customer services, business processes, and strategy as well. I've blogged about design thinking before, and remarked on some of the good work others have done to describe this hard-to-define concept. A lot of companies are starting to take notice of design thinking, and are wondering how to apply it to their own problems.

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

Personality testing pt. 2: the DPPI

In an earlier blog post I discussed the use and potential misuse of personality testing by companies. Specifically, the HR department may use personality testing for selection and placement in ways unintended by the creators of the tests.

It looks like I'm not the only one who feels that personality testing can be abused by HR.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Is your IVR persona Devo?

Distinctiveness and originality count for much when establishing a brand. Brand managers often push designers to create unique, memorable products, which designers are usually happy to do. A speech IVRs persona, the image created in the mind of the customer by the system's voice, vocabulary, and interaction style, is a tempting target for marketers who want to create a differentiated experience for callers.

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

"Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed..."

There's always some unnecessary verbiage in any IVR, but this little message seems to be the favorite. I've listened to some systems present this nugget for over a year without changing anything. It signals to me that no one is really minding the IVR store at whichever company I'm trying to get some service from.

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.