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Microsoft, Nuance To Improve Phone-Based Customer Service

The two will work with the GetHuman project, which has established a database of secret phone numbers and codes that enable callers to skip directly to a human when they call customer service.
One man's campaign against lousy phone-based customer service reached an important milestone Tuesday when Microsoft and Nuance Communications agreed to work with the GetHuman project.

Founded by Paul English, the GetHuman project has established a database of secret phone numbers and codes that enable callers to skip directly to a human when they call customer service. The GetHuman database is run by volunteers.

A spokeswoman for Nuance said that English had contacted Nuance and Microsoft separately and the two companies agreed to work to improve phone-based customer service. "We want to find the best way to route customers to a human," she said.

At his keynote speech Monday at the annual SpeechTEK conference, English said additional companies are expected to join the GetHuman program.

He also promised to publish a list of "best and worst mass market" consumer companies based on the length of time it takes to get a human on the phone in a customer service call.

While Nuance and Microsoft are cooperating now, they are likely to square off soon on voice recognition, which is increasingly becoming more important in customer service situations. Nuance's Dragon Naturally Speaking Version 9, announced last month, improves voice recognition. While it eliminates many human responses, the speech recognition program facilitates the move to a human service center expert.

As for Microsoft, it is expected to include a voice recognition solution in its upcoming Vista operating system.

Seeking to establish new customer service standards, English has proposed a 60-day comment period to enable community feedback on the standards. The final version will be published and companies can register their phone service with the GetHuman project.

"Consumers have put up with bad customer service over the phone for too long, and this new initiative will put some sanity back into how companies interact with their customers" said English in a statement.

The Nuance spokeswoman said her company never intended to completely replace humans in customer service. The company, which provides software for platforms used for customer service, has a credo that specifies that callers state their problem only once, eliminating many touch tone fingering and leading to a human.

In a statement, Microsoft's Rich Bray, general manager of the united communications group, said: "At Microsoft, we believe that powerful software combined with customer-friendly standards such as this (GetHuman) can elevate voice self-service to become a preferred solution for many tasks, just as the ATM and airport kiosks are today."

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