Voice User Interface Design Examples


The Amtrak “Julie” application has been live since 2001. It has taken millions of calls from customers inquiring about train status, schedules, and reservations. The application was originally designed by Phil Farhi at SpeechWorks. After Phil’s departure and my arrival, I became the lead designer on the project. During that time, I was charged with resolving many long-standing issues, including (1) the high abandonment rate in the middle of completing a task, and (2) the high percent of misrecognitions at the beginning of the call. For reference, the original greeting went as follows:

This is Amtrak. I’m Julie. I invite you to our website: amtrak.com. Lower fares may be available.”

Within that wording, we see the seeds of both problems. There was no indication that Julie was an automated agent as opposed to a human. As you can hear at the beginning of this sample call, I changed the wording to:

Hi. I’m Julie. Amtrak’s automated agent.

By mentioning that Julie was automated, we decreased the percentage of out-of-grammar utterances at the subsequent main menu. We also increased the percentage of opt-outs right away – a fact that initially sounds negative. But abandonments later in the call dropped in a corresponding fashion and overall automation was not affected.  Average handling time therefore dropped precipitously. By setting caller expectations more clearly, we improved overall application efficiency.

Troubleshooting applications for several digital service providers

The products that I have worked on at SpeechCycle have presented me with fascinating design challenges. These are telephony applications designed to walk a caller through troubleshooting their internet or television problems.  Designers Peter Krogh and Phillip Hunter had built and refined the initial versions of these products, but due to their sweeping size,  there was much left to be done when the products became my responsibility.  The first major challenge: The callers are understandably in a bad mood before they even interact with us. The second challenge: We need to keep the caller on the line for very long periods of time in order to resolve many issues.  Knowing that the vast majority of callers ask for an agent at the beginning of the call, my drive has been to tighten up the first several dialog states so that engagement in a conversation happens quickly, expectations about what the system does are set properly, and the first question is as easy to answer as possible. In doing this, I have sometimes improved caller experience and automation rates, or at the very least, neutralized the forces that can dig into caller experience metrics, such as customer business requirements.