Monday, October 08, 2007

Helpful Voice-recognition Help

Recently, my wife had a question regarding our Wachovia online bill-pay system. When she couldn't find an answer on the Web page itself, she followed a link that directed her to call the telephone help line.
First she tried to cancel a payment...but saw no obvious place to do so. So she selected BillPay Help. She found this advice:
Canceling a Payment
You can cancel any payment that has not started processing. After you cancel a payment, its status changes to Canceled. Canceled payments appear in the Recent Payments section and in Bill Activity.

Note: If you cancel a payment that is part of an automatic payment schedule, only the selected payment is canceled. You do not cancel any future payments in the payment schedule. To cancel all payments in an automatic payment schedule, go to Manage My Bills and delete the automatic payment.

To cancel a payment:

1. Click Cancel next to the payment you want to cancel.

The Cancel Payment page opens.

2. Click Cancel Payment.

A message informs you that your payment has been canceled.

3. Click Done to return to the Payment Center.

The problem was, there was no Cancel button next to the payment.
Upon dialing, she heard a voice system respond with, "Enter your account number, followed by the pound sign. Or, simply say your number." Uh oh, she thought, a voice recognition system.
Instead, she found the experience helpful and intuitive. The male voice directed her to ask her question in her own words$#151;after giving an example. And when it couldn't understand her, it said, "I'm sorry, I didn't quite understand. Please ask me again."
She discovered that once a payment was being processed, she couldn't cancel it. That's why there was no Cancel button available.
Sadly, the help buries this fact in the first sentence. Yes, it says, "You can cancel any payment that has not started processing," but it doesn't explicitly say that the button isn't there, or that the facility isn't possible.
This sort of disjunct between help systems sadly isn't rare. Indeed, it's as if there were two teams: technical writers creating the Billpay Help popup window, and voice recognition writers creating the Billpay VR system. Someone should have done better usability testing, especially considering how critical the act of cancelling a payment must be.
So kudos to the voice recognition software and its script writers, but shame on the technical writers for burying the lead.

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