Off Center
 
_ It's that time again – that time when my fearless journalistic tendencies flare up after a year of repressing them. I can only keep the lid on controversial and shocking contact center-related stories for so long before they start to gnaw at my conscience and disrupt my daily mid-morning and mid-afternoon naps.

Here are a couple of the most contentious contact center news stories our industry has been censoring for months.


Overly Convincing Speech Recognition App Blamed for Customer's Death

Managers at Ephemeral Airlines' reservations center knew that callers would love the company's new advanced speech recognition system. However, it never imagined that a caller would actually fall in love with it, nor that it would cause him to perish of a broken heart.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened to James Dumas, a 31-year-old accountant from Bloomington, Ill. Dumas, who first called Ephemeral's reservations center on July 12, 2011 to book a flight to Boston, became enamored with the sultry and overly friendly voice of Ephemeral's automated attendant. The highly advanced system features natural language recognition that gives customers the impression they are speaking with a live agent, or, in Dumas' case, a really sexy woman.

"The poor guy called our center about 15 times a day, each time asking the system for its name and if it would meet him for a drink," explains Amy Powers, Ephemeral's Director of Reservations. "Sadly, the system was only programmed to handle reservations-related inquiries, and thus repeatedly responded with, 'I'm sorry, I don't understand your request, could you please repeat it,' which Mr. Dumas interpreted as playful flirting and teasing."

After over 100 calls to the reservations center, Dumas reportedly starting telling friends and family that he was madly in love. Consequently, his mother insisted that he invite the "woman" to dinner. When Dumas called the reservations center to extend the invitation, the speech recognition system – which had just received a new upgrade that expanded its vocabulary from 10,000 to 15,000 words – told him that it had to wash its hair that night. Enraged by and despondent over the torturous game of "hard-to-get" he had endured, Dumas told the system that he would stay on the line and hold his breath until he received a "yes." Eight minutes later, he was gone.

Although Ephemeral Airlines was full of remorse over the tragedy, the company found solace in the fact that that its very expensive speech app was good enough to dupe a human. "We are deeply saddened by Mr. Dumas' untimely demise," said Brian Richardson, spokesman for Ephemeral. "And while our thoughts and prayers are with his family, we are tickled over the ROI we expect to see from this new technology."

To ensure that a similar incident does not occur in the future, the airline is looking into replacing the current voice of its speech system with that of comedienne Kathy Griffin.


Contact Center Consultant Wins "Nobel Prize for Ambiguity"

After years of penning obscure white papers and books, leading non-distinct seminars, and providing incomparably vague advice to clients, contact center consultant Stephen Blank has finally earned the recognition he deserves. Yesterday, Blank was awarded the Nobel Prize for Ambiguity – a new category in the prestigious award series – for his groundbreaking ability to gain a huge professional following and earn a substantial income without actually providing any specific insights or actionable practices to speak of.

Blank was up against some worthy adversaries for the award – including five multinational CEOs, three U.S. governors and the guy who coined the term "mission-critical." Experts believe that what likely tipped the scales in Blank's favor was his best-seller, Applauding World-Class, Best-of-Breed, Synergistic Customer Care Organizations.

During his acceptance speech, Blank said that it was difficult to describe exactly what he was feeling, and then spent a minute thanking nobody in particular for helping him earn such an honor.