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Automated phone systems to get slightly less annoying

Soon you may not have to spend as much time telling that phone system who you are and whether you want English or Spanish. American Airlines is rolling out new tech.

Although computerized telephone systems have gotten much better at recognizing what we say, they still have to ask way too many questions.

You know the drill: endless menus, enter every piece of personal information. Contrast that with the Internet, where entering an account number or frequent-flier number brings up a ton of personalized information. Well, phone systems are on the brink of adding the same capabilities.

American Airlines is going live with a service that lets customers opt in to a "remember me" feature. When they call the airline, the system recognizes who they are, brings up their flight information, and offers options tailored to their travel plans. (Hear a sample of how the service works.)

Sample personalized call
Hear what American Airlines' new custom service sounds like.

Download mp3 (166 KB)

"That's what people want to do," said Jamie Bertasi, senior vice president of Microsoft's Tellme Networks subsidiary, whose system powers American Airlines' new service. "They just want to call in, accomplish their task, and move on with their day."

American is the first business to use Tellme's system in that way, though Tellme has been trying out some personalization in its directory assistance service. There, it recognize callers who have dialed in within the last 20 minutes and asks them if they want to hear the same phone number they called in for the last time--a huge time-saver.

"A lot of times, that's exactly why they are calling," Bertasi said. "People love that feature."

Bertasi said she expects many of Tellme's business customers to opt for personalization similar to what American is offering.

Indeed, the main downside to such services is that they threaten to put some people out of work. But, heck, if a computer can remember who I am and give me the information I want, that's a lot more appealing to me than talking to a live operator that can't.