Please Steal This Idea: enhanced phone trees for smartphones

Calling for support really sucks. It sucks more some places than others, but it sucks everywhere. And guess what… it sucks for both sides of the conversation!

I think it’s preposterous, now that I have a smartphone with a touchscreen, to say nothing of Skype and other VoIP solutions, to have to listen to a serial voice tree of options. “Wait, was number 3 what I wanted? Maybe it was 5, what was that again? Oh crap… nothing on this menu sounds like what I want…” And thus do we fail to connect to the right place, frustrating both the caller and the eventual recipient.

With a video display attached to the phone, the least we could do is present the options in parallel on that screen. Shouldn’t take too much bandwidth to send this as a blip at the beginning of every menu; each phone client would require some kind of application or hook that intercepts the blip, displays the menu (which the user can scan back and forth as needed), and turns the user selection back into a phone signal. And if the user isn’t calling with an enhanced client… fine, they’re stuck with the traditional voice reading.

Better yet, the entire tree of potential choices could be communicated at the beginning of the call, the user could walk it at their leisure to find the path that seems optimal for them (perhaps with projected answer times at each end node), and then skip right to the end node where they’ll be connected. And that tree and preferred choice could be cached for the next call, where it would be compared to the tree at that time (avoiding the “our menu has changed” sentence that always makes me wonder “since when?”) and usually re-used.

That would make for a lot “smarter” phone.

If someone isn’t already working to bolt this on to the existing phone system, I hope it’s because they’re targeting something like this in the next phone technologies, which won’t be analog. Maybe there, we’ll have a nice multimedia intro when calling, not just voice or text. You could even have little games to play, or information to start filling out, forums to check, etc. while waiting. To turn this inside out, perhaps in the future, contacting support will begin with the support website and only get to the audio/video call once it has been determined who you are and what you want, and the person taking your case is available to talk to – in the meantime you’re not sitting there listening to hold music, you’re potentially making progress toward your solution on your own, or at least amusing yourself.

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