Microsoft has a better switchboard than Google

Have you ever tried to call someone at Microsoft or Google? I have. I’ve even memorized Microsoft’s number but won’t give it here cause I’d hate for Jeff Sandquist to get a ton of crank calls. Anyway, both Microsoft and Google have switchboard numbers. Today I called someone (or tried to, anyway) at Google and found the experience to be far less useful than when you try to call someone at Microsoft. By the way, at both companies all you need is someone’s name. Yeah, calling Bill Gates or Eric Schmidt probably won’t prove fruitful, but try someone deep down in the bowels of the company and you’ll probably get right through.

Anyway, Microsoft has a really cool voice-controlled system. You dial the number, an electronic voice answers and asks you for the person’s name you’re trying to reach. You SAY it. “Jeff Sandquist” and then it comes back with a recording of Jeff Sandquist so you know you’re going to the right place. “Are you looking for ‘Jeff Sandquist, Channel 9′”? Why yes I am! The call goes right through. If it doesn’t, or you hacked Jeff’s name, it prompts you for a whole lot of other things. “Do you know the email address of the person you are trying to reach?” Etc. Etc.

But compare that to Google’s switchboard. When it answers it immediately prompts you for that person’s extension. That’s not nearly as human as Microsoft’s approach to “Welcome to Microsoft. To reach a specific person just say their name at any time.”

I didn’t know the extension of the person I was trying to reach. So, the voice on the phone says to push 8 to reach someone by their name. I entered in the first few digits of the person’s last name I was trying to reach. It immediately sent me to the voice mail box of someone completely different without prompting the way Microsoft’s system does to make sure I entered the person’s name right.

Why is Microsoft’s system so good? Because they’ve been working on speech stuff for a long time. It’s also why the acquisition of TellMe was so interesting. Imagine if Microsoft just focused its search efforts on voice and gave up the attempt to clone Google.com. Now THAT would be a winning strategy.

Imagine calling a number and saying “Starbucks, San Francisco” and getting routed to the right answer.

Maybe Microsoft’s search engineers should call the switchboard to see just how to beat Google and move the goalposts to a new game?

UPDATE: Richard Sprague, who runs the speech team at Microsoft, says Google can buy its solution if it wants to improve its switchboard.

93 thoughts on “Microsoft has a better switchboard than Google

  1. Rather than calling a number and saying “Starbucks, San Francisco”, wouldn’t it be cooler if you could just pick up the phone and say that without dialling? One day!

  2. Google’s 411 service is way better, TBH.

    I just messed around with TellMe and the final outcome was (the prompter goes)- “It’s not working out anymore”

    I called again and started making gunfire sounds like “Doosh Doosh” and to my horror, they narrowed down to *Airline search* and I again went “Dishaaaawww” and the prompter goes “Connecting to Japanese Airlines”

    Holy Moly Guacamole!!

  3. Google’s 411 service is way better, TBH.

    I just messed around with TellMe and the final outcome was (the prompter goes)- “It’s not working out anymore”

    I called again and started making gunfire sounds like “Doosh Doosh” and to my horror, they narrowed down to *Airline search* and I again went “Dishaaaawww” and the prompter goes “Connecting to Japanese Airlines”

    Holy Moly Guacamole!!

  4. Another cool feature as I recall was at Cambridge Research Labs back in the Digital Equipment Days…

    Everyone’s ID badge had electronic ID that could be proximity sensed. Walk out of your cube into a conference room, or lab, and your phone would forward to wherever you were… (Obvious pros and cos)

  5. Another cool feature as I recall was at Cambridge Research Labs back in the Digital Equipment Days…

    Everyone’s ID badge had electronic ID that could be proximity sensed. Walk out of your cube into a conference room, or lab, and your phone would forward to wherever you were… (Obvious pros and cos)

  6. This was something that we explored a while back (When I worked for a telco) With things like Enum (DNS for phone/contact details it all gets easier.

    One of the “beauties is the telco “remembers” your network and history of contacts and conversations. THere are probably three or four categories to worry about. YOur known contact list (uploaded, and/or grown over experience.) You local Geography – Pizza Hut (location sensitive as well)and general “whole of world access” – i.e. Scoble in San Franscisco.

    Of course, as unified communication develops, the next step is “voice to text translate and deposit in Scobles email inbox, or onto his fax machine…”

    And also, like “Call Robert” “Is that Scoble or Smith or Jones” based on the three having been in ones “last 1000 calls placed or received…”

    Of course, this points to another can of worms on identity management/verification etc. but that’s another discussion.

  7. This was something that we explored a while back (When I worked for a telco) With things like Enum (DNS for phone/contact details it all gets easier.

    One of the “beauties is the telco “remembers” your network and history of contacts and conversations. THere are probably three or four categories to worry about. YOur known contact list (uploaded, and/or grown over experience.) You local Geography – Pizza Hut (location sensitive as well)and general “whole of world access” – i.e. Scoble in San Franscisco.

    Of course, as unified communication develops, the next step is “voice to text translate and deposit in Scobles email inbox, or onto his fax machine…”

    And also, like “Call Robert” “Is that Scoble or Smith or Jones” based on the three having been in ones “last 1000 calls placed or received…”

    Of course, this points to another can of worms on identity management/verification etc. but that’s another discussion.

  8. This isn’t anything special to Microsoft. Voice recognition has been available on PBX systems for years. Google just needs to buy that option. No big deal really.

    But it still isn’t human. My wireless company has the same kind of system and it is the biggest pain in the butt to get anything done with it.

  9. This isn’t anything special to Microsoft. Voice recognition has been available on PBX systems for years. Google just needs to buy that option. No big deal really.

    But it still isn’t human. My wireless company has the same kind of system and it is the biggest pain in the butt to get anything done with it.

  10. Gosh, I find Microsoft’s system byzantine, trapped in some Cylonish-speak loop (maybe easier if you have worked there for years), Google’s be just telecom-like impossible. Either way, screwed.

    With Microsoft you need an insider friend, tons of blog feeds (and the time to read them) and might have to watch some long boring videos from shaky cam types, to figure out the daily volleyball rotational team shifts, and even still, you might need subscribe to someone like Directions on Microsoft or mow Mary Jo’s lawn (and wash her car and clean house), to even find out who you need. With Google, you don’t have that problem, they simply don’t tell you, and will make you sign an NDA, circle you with a PR Army, sicc’ing some of that infamous Russian muscle on you if you dare breathe a word. Byzantine or paranoia-Russkie-crazy impossible, take your pick.

  11. Gosh, I find Microsoft’s system byzantine, trapped in some Cylonish-speak loop (maybe easier if you have worked there for years), Google’s be just telecom-like impossible. Either way, screwed.

    With Microsoft you need an insider friend, tons of blog feeds (and the time to read them) and might have to watch some long boring videos from shaky cam types, to figure out the daily volleyball rotational team shifts, and even still, you might need subscribe to someone like Directions on Microsoft or mow Mary Jo’s lawn (and wash her car and clean house), to even find out who you need. With Google, you don’t have that problem, they simply don’t tell you, and will make you sign an NDA, circle you with a PR Army, sicc’ing some of that infamous Russian muscle on you if you dare breathe a word. Byzantine or paranoia-Russkie-crazy impossible, take your pick.

  12. Intel has one of these too – the phonetic operator. Work fantastically – I’ve never had it give me the wrong person. If there are similar names (and with 100,000 employees, there are a lot of those), it disambiguates for you. Don’t know how it compares to MS and Google, but it’s pretty awesome.

    Actually, I think in this case, with a very large directory, a system like this beats a human operator. Quicker, I bet, and probably more accurate.

  13. Intel has one of these too – the phonetic operator. Work fantastically – I’ve never had it give me the wrong person. If there are similar names (and with 100,000 employees, there are a lot of those), it disambiguates for you. Don’t know how it compares to MS and Google, but it’s pretty awesome.

    Actually, I think in this case, with a very large directory, a system like this beats a human operator. Quicker, I bet, and probably more accurate.

  14. Microsoft’s switchboard answering system is one of the embarassing things about its public image.

    Jeff is an easy one, and it doesn’t play with with non-american speakers, like perhaps people with a non-regional English accent *cough*.

    I’d say perhaps only 50% of the time it gets the right person at the beginning.

    Try calling people with non-distinctive names.

    “I’m sorry…, did you mean a, b, c”
    “I’m sorry…, can you spell…. .do you know their email alias…”

    If I knew their email alias, I would have probably emailed them.

    I’m quite inclined to talk gibberish just to get to a real person.

    Also, generally with Microsoft, the fact that you can’t easily ask who is responsible for what in a team, or even get a list of teams without having to hunt down people on blogs, forums, articles, videos, etc., is quite bothersome.

  15. Microsoft’s switchboard answering system is one of the embarassing things about its public image.

    Jeff is an easy one, and it doesn’t play with with non-american speakers, like perhaps people with a non-regional English accent *cough*.

    I’d say perhaps only 50% of the time it gets the right person at the beginning.

    Try calling people with non-distinctive names.

    “I’m sorry…, did you mean a, b, c”
    “I’m sorry…, can you spell…. .do you know their email alias…”

    If I knew their email alias, I would have probably emailed them.

    I’m quite inclined to talk gibberish just to get to a real person.

    Also, generally with Microsoft, the fact that you can’t easily ask who is responsible for what in a team, or even get a list of teams without having to hunt down people on blogs, forums, articles, videos, etc., is quite bothersome.

  16. Sure, a human is the best.

    But, when comparing the 2 systems, Microsoft’s seems more human-oriented. If it works well, then fine.

    I’ve used voice systems that work not as well and it’s quite infuriating. It’s almost as infuriating as the touch tone systems that bring you to the wrong person.

  17. Sure, a human is the best.

    But, when comparing the 2 systems, Microsoft’s seems more human-oriented. If it works well, then fine.

    I’ve used voice systems that work not as well and it’s quite infuriating. It’s almost as infuriating as the touch tone systems that bring you to the wrong person.

  18. I wanted to cancel my Rhapsody account last night. It wants me to call someone. Case where I’d rather talk to a machine or click somewhere on a webpage.

  19. I wanted to cancel my Rhapsody account last night. It wants me to call someone. Case where I’d rather talk to a machine or click somewhere on a webpage.

  20. The car rental headquarters I worked at deployed a voice response system… It’s GOOD, REAL GOOD. Fewer abandoned calls. Improved look to book. Improved the critical no-show rate. Overall a BIG success.

    Except, many people WOULD rather talk to another human. WHY!? Beats the hell out of me. I’d rather talk to that thing ANY day of the week than one of the operators from God Knows Where who’s motivated to shake me down (agressively I might add) to buy additional insurance I don’t need/want just to line their pocket for the upsell.

    THAT they’ve not taught the voice response system to do as annoyingly as a human. As C3P0 says, “Thank the maker!”

  21. The car rental headquarters I worked at deployed a voice response system… It’s GOOD, REAL GOOD. Fewer abandoned calls. Improved look to book. Improved the critical no-show rate. Overall a BIG success.

    Except, many people WOULD rather talk to another human. WHY!? Beats the hell out of me. I’d rather talk to that thing ANY day of the week than one of the operators from God Knows Where who’s motivated to shake me down (agressively I might add) to buy additional insurance I don’t need/want just to line their pocket for the upsell.

    THAT they’ve not taught the voice response system to do as annoyingly as a human. As C3P0 says, “Thank the maker!”

  22. These systems are relatively old, I remember doing a project at Philips Speech Processing (Philips sold this division) Where they had a system based upon National Language Recognition. It was very good, (i’m talking about late 90′s).

    The problem with speech recognition is that it seems every year is the year of speech recognition, but @ the end of the year you’re still left behind wondering what went wrong.

    By the way, they then already had a system that was able to help you book a hotel by just saying something generic like “I’m looking for a hotel on the via apia in Rome” and it worked.

    In the end it’s all about statistics and processing power..

  23. These systems are relatively old, I remember doing a project at Philips Speech Processing (Philips sold this division) Where they had a system based upon National Language Recognition. It was very good, (i’m talking about late 90′s).

    The problem with speech recognition is that it seems every year is the year of speech recognition, but @ the end of the year you’re still left behind wondering what went wrong.

    By the way, they then already had a system that was able to help you book a hotel by just saying something generic like “I’m looking for a hotel on the via apia in Rome” and it worked.

    In the end it’s all about statistics and processing power..

  24. I think Microsoft is focusing much of its efforts on voice search, and Tellme gets them a good way to the solution.

    Caveat: Google already has a very effective 411 voice search service for businesses. It’s “experimental,” but very functional, and the speech recognition is a breakthrough. Try it out at 1-800-GOOG411 with your “Starbucks, San Francisco” example. It’ll ask you, “What city, and state?” I and other speech industry people have been testing this out vs. Tellme and other VS-DA services, and Google is extremely impressive, and their recognition performance is a genuine breakthrough.

    Not to pour cold water on anything, we’re rooting for Microsoft and love the TellMe acquisition. Some of us, in fact, were begging mgmt to buy TellMe back when we worked there. ;-) I just want to point out that there is a lot of work to be done yet and there may be a performance gap between TellMe and Google.

  25. I think Microsoft is focusing much of its efforts on voice search, and Tellme gets them a good way to the solution.

    Caveat: Google already has a very effective 411 voice search service for businesses. It’s “experimental,” but very functional, and the speech recognition is a breakthrough. Try it out at 1-800-GOOG411 with your “Starbucks, San Francisco” example. It’ll ask you, “What city, and state?” I and other speech industry people have been testing this out vs. Tellme and other VS-DA services, and Google is extremely impressive, and their recognition performance is a genuine breakthrough.

    Not to pour cold water on anything, we’re rooting for Microsoft and love the TellMe acquisition. Some of us, in fact, were begging mgmt to buy TellMe back when we worked there. ;-) I just want to point out that there is a lot of work to be done yet and there may be a performance gap between TellMe and Google.

  26. I have never called either of those companies. But I think computer answering systems awful!!! I would much rather speak to a person, even if the person is completely clueless. By the way thanks for the fast service on the other thing. Benny’s Tavern is going great.

  27. I have never called either of those companies. But I think computer answering systems awful!!! I would much rather speak to a person, even if the person is completely clueless. By the way thanks for the fast service on the other thing. Benny’s Tavern is going great.

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