Aussies prefer robots to call centres

Aussies prefer robots to call centres

Summary: Australians would rather deal with a decent speech recognition system than an offshore call centre agent, typically based in India or Asia.


Australians would rather deal with a decent speech recognition system than an offshore call centre agent, typically based in India or Asia.

Speech recognition technology has matured to a stage where it can be used to increase the efficiency of a call centre and provide a better customer experience, according to research from

Dr Catriona Wallace, director of, told ZDNet Australia that according to a recent survey carried out by her firm, of 500 Australians asked if they minded speaking with an offshore call centre agent, 67 percent said they did.

"We know there is still a lot of cultural resistance in dealing with offshore contact centres. Australian customers would prefer to speak to a good Australian-accent speech recognition system than an offshore agent," Wallace told ZDNet Australia.

Wallace said that modern consumers are demanding speech recognition technology.

"Generation Y consumers [under 30-year-olds] want quick easy access 24 hours a day from a mobile device. These are the consumers who are going to drive this technology in the future," she said.

However, speech recognition technology isn't being widely deployed by call centre managers because they believe customers would rather stay on hold and speak to a "real person" than deal with an automated system, according to Nick Buckle, chief executive of Information Technologies Australia (iTa), which published the findings of a survey today.

"The general upheld myth is that everyone wants to talk to an agent," said Buckle. "People are really changing their preferences when it comes to contacting organisations."

According to the iTa survey, just over a third of call centre managers believe that all customers would rather speak to an agent than a speech recognition system. Around 29 percent say they have not used a speech recognition system solely because of the cost. However, 62 percent of call centre managers agree that speech recognition systems offer a better customer experience than touch-tone self service systems.

Buckle said that using speech recognition provides companies with a better understanding of what their customers actually want -- because it does not limit them to choosing from a set number of options.

"If you ask 'why are you calling me', you will find out why your customer is actually calling you. It is like continuous customer feedback system," Buckle told ZDNet Australia.

This opinion is partially echoed in research published today by UK-based contact centre firm Converso, which surveyed 2,500 people and found that 86 percent of Brits were not happy about "constantly saying yes or no to an answer phone rather than actually talking to someone".

Converso's survey did not question users if they would prefer speaking to a speech recognition system than using touch tones but the company's director Dino Forte made it clear that customers do not appreciate being made to wait.

"The results show that for the large majority there is still no substitute for the human touch. Good service is all about offering customers the choices they want. Too many companies, especially those that operate online, fail to also offer customers the option of speaking to someone, resulting in frustration and potential loss of business," said Forte in a statement.

iTa's Buckle believes that customers only worry about the service they are receiving -- not if there is a person or computer at the other end.

"The question shouldn't be 'is the organisation allowing you to talk to an operator', it should be 'is the organisation ... providing better value in delivering services when and how you want them'," he added.

Earlier this year, the managing director of speech recognition specialists VeCommerce, Paul Magee, demonstrated in a video interview how speech recognition is being used by Australian betting firm UniTab. Click here to watch the video: Speech recognition systems grow up.

Topics: India, Data Centers, Emerging Tech, Government AU, Telcos, Unified Comms, Asean

Munir Kotadia

About Munir Kotadia

Munir first became involved with online publishing in 1998 when he joined ZDNet UK and later moved into print publishing as Chief Reporter for IT Week, part of ZDNet UK, a weekly trade newspaper targeted at Enterprise IT managers. He later moved back into online publishing as Senior News Reporter for ZDNet UK.

Munir was recognised as Australia's Best Technology Columnist at the 5th Annual Sun Microsystems IT Journalism Awards 2007. In the previous year he was named Best News Journalist at the Consensus IT Writers Awards.

He no longer uses his Commodore 64.

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  • re: Title of this article

    I believe the title for this article is inappropriate at best and bordering on xenophobic. Given that this piece appears on Newsnow (although a UK news portal but with international readership), many of our ASIAN friends will glance at the article's title and may feel agrieved or even outraged. If you are going to publish such a piece in the future, please be very careful at wording the title - they can often be misintrepreted and inflammatory. In other words, cut out the sensationalist BS!
  • Unbelievable

    What in gods name is wrong with your sub editor?! I assume its the sub that chose this headline... I am sure as an Asian Munir wouldn't have chose this headline.

    Some of your headlines recently have been so over the top but this beats them all!

    The article isnt that balanced anyway but its the headline that does the damage.
  • Title of article

    Why should I care whether anyone feels aggrieved or outraged? Nobody cares when I get aggrieved and outraged due to under-paid, under-trained service that is so strictly circumscribed in what they can do that I'm better off with a local touch-tone system! Even e-mail is more useful. I believe that "offshore call centres" should be prohibited, or perhaps a credit should be made to the customer / victim of say $ 1 per minute while the call is in progress. The problem is NOT the people in the call centre (although they may often be hard to understand), but the management of local companies who are desperate to make a few extra bucks at their customers' expense. The call centre is supposed to solve problems, not be yet another problem!
  • Machine over human?

    "according to a recent survey carried out by her firm, of 500 Australians asked if they minded speaking with an offshore call centre agent, 67 percent said they did" so where in the survey does it ask if they would rather talk to a machine? I think thats a huge leap in logic.
  • Reply

    Well Paul, thats exactly the piont of the opinion: why use the generic term 'Asian', when really your frustration should be directed at the LOCAL companies outsourcing these services. If anything, people like yourself show cowardice in facing up to Australian companies (ie complaining to management or changing services) regarding these issues. It is this 'misfocus' of frustration that leads to blaming Asians (or Indians in this case) for what are essentially local issues. You don't care mate, but unfortunately Australia's economic/business relationships with these countries do! Comments like yours have contributed to the 'Arrogant Aussies' or 'Americans of the South Pacific' tags that are extremely hard to shake off.
  • offended

    im very offended with the headline. its inappropriate in many ways. it sounds like an advertisement that tries to pass itself as journalism but the way the headline is written, it may backfire on the sponsors. particulary that many asians are also decision-makers in IT departments on their respective companies.

    To the editor: please look after your writers and the way they write their articles. Im sure this headline won't even pass American standards (where your parent company's headquartered)
  • Headline

    I'll add my name the ranks of people who think that headline is amazingly offensive. It essentially accuses all Australians of racism. If the article is about people preferring automated phone systems over offshore call centres, the headline should be this:
    "Australians prefer automated phone systems to offshore call centres"
    What is wrong with you people?
  • they changed the headline but still not enough

    i believe an editorial note and apology should have been posted just like newspapers. its all part of journalism UNLESS the guys at zdnet doesnt believe what they do is not journalism.

    about the survey itself, i dont understand why they have to pit a technology vs. offshore call centres. isnt the technology a possible replacement for all call centres including onshore ones? and what does it really solves? doesnt it provide flexibility for callers to go to what they need directly instead going through a tree of menu and submenus? if it has to compare agents vs. speech recognition, it should be a balanced review. what are the advantages of agents? they didnt specify. but i guess this is not zdnet's fault anymore because they are just publishing a survey result. BUT publishing a skewed survey without balancing it is plain sloppy writing. the writer puts this online magazine into shame.
  • headline

    I agree, apology & full disclosure are required, they're just trying to sweep it under the rug at this point:
    For anyone who doesn't know what the fuss is about, the original headline for this article was: "Australians prefer robots to Asians"
  • Speech recognition

    What a load of garbage. A survey comparing accented offshore call centre workers to Aussie accented speech recognition is tripe. If the offshore experience has been poor due to accent or comprehension issues, of course the results will swing towards Bazza the robot.
    How about comparing onshore call centre staff to robots.
    I hate the voice prompts on phones - would rather have num pad override so I can skip the waffle, and not be talked to by a stupid machine that cannot speak my language.
    The biggest issue with call centres is stats, cost cutting and directives to meet numerical targets for CPH and the customer focus and experience is lost.
    A robot is not going to actually "hear" the customers issue. A robot is not going to identify the billing flaw, or take an escalation and care.
  • Voice Recognition

    I am Australian born and have spent many hours as a radio presenter.

    Despite that, the voice recognition systems on offer are absolutely hopeless at understanding what I say.

    I've never had a problem with call centres, regardless of their location.

    Inversely, I've never had a successful encounter with a voice recognition site - they're absolute rubbish.
  • Appalling headline not related to research

    I am the author of the research referred to in this article. At no time during the interview did I or anyone else in the room make a comment relating to robots or Asians. The research referred to was not even the same research that was meant to be the topic of this article. The offensive headline is a sensationalist spin on a comment I made that in a survey we did earlier this year, 67% of 500 respondents when asked did they mind speaking with an agent who was based overseas (i.e. anywhere else other than Australia) stated they would prefer to speak to an agent based in Australia. Which is a no-brainer right? Ask the same question in any country and you will get the same answer. And, the respondents did not say they 'prefer robots', 'machines', they did not imply they did not like 'Asians'; nothing at all like the headline implied. We at, are great supporters of offshoring and the Asian contact centre industry (we have an office in Singapore and we are the lead analysts for Asia). The Asian contact centre industry is well aware that we promote the outstanding work they do. So... it annoys the crap out of me that this inflamatory headline is at all associated with my name and my work. I am also a publisher and I would never, never let my journalists or sub-editors use such headlining. I have had much respect for zdnet in the past and I am very dissappointed in this article.
  • Title still the same on Google's news bar

    The title has been changed on the article page, but not on their Google article link.....

    Smart one, ZD. You just offended close to half the world's population with a classy headline......
  • Who cares

    Who cares about the headline.

    Any proper research done would show that aussies would rather speak to other aussies, not robots nor offshore call centres! No offence to offshorers, but it is not a pleasent experience (but you are better than robots, don't worry)
  • maybe you should care

    there is no question that aussies prefer to talk to aussies or indians prefer to speak to indians. that's a given since that really how culture works. but the comments are mostly on how the article and headline is written.

    but we should care if the headline misleads the content. or if the article misinterprets the original survey being reported on(read the comment from the survey author above). we should also care about the headline if it is offensive to a certain group (have you read the original headline? its "aussies prefer robots to Asians"). this quality of sloppy writing is unacceptable for a tech magazine unless zdnet is pushing a political agenda too -- and i should stop reading it.
  • re:

    Well, I guess you have a point, but consider this: if the headline read "Asians prefer robots to Aussie call centers", would I fee offended? Nope. would Aussies feel alienated by this headline? I would not think so.
  • Accents relative to the location of a call centres.

    What about an Indian who has recently become an Australian citizen and is now working in an Australian call centre? Wouldn't he/she have an accent?

    So do the bigots out there want to stop all employment of non "Bazza" accented people too, and as stated by in an earlier post, "credit the customer / victim of say $ 1 per minute while the call is in progress", when dealing with a support operator with a foreign accent?.
  • Good on you

    Good on you for making comment, and not hiding like the journalist who wrote the article, who would like to pretend he's not a sensationalist hack.
  • Assumptions people make...

    I agree. Just because a person on the other end of the phone has an accent why do we assume that person is not an Australian citizen or calling from Australia (they may not be but we shouldn't automatically assume). ...and why pick on Asian accents (whatever that means!) - Can't accents from any other region (including England, NZ, USA, etc and country Australian regions) be also hard to understand at times? People should show tolerance, keep an open mind and not make assumptions that can be perceived as ignorant - and yes the original article title was disgraceful and the person responsible should be counseled by mangement.
  • Robots - Great example

    Speaking of robots, don't you just love the automated filtering of comments. I wondered why the "***" were put in the titles... It's because they system thinks the words are rude. "Tit " in "titles" and "ass" in "assumption". Hopefully the voice automated systems understand the context use of words/spellings better ;-)