28 Jul 2023
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Automated Phone Systems: A Tech Marvel or Service Woe?

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By Tyrone Showers
Co-Founder Taliferro


The omnipresent albatross of automated phone systems: are they a technological marvel or a customer service quagmire? In this article, we'll explore the labyrinthine nature of these digital concierges, and how they particularly influence African American communities with a sprinkle of that unique hood cadence.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an individual in possession of a good phone, must be in want of a friendly customer service. However, this halcyon dream is rudely punctured by the reality of automated phone assistants. These artificial interlocutors, rather than mitigating the tedium of customer service, exacerbate the agony, especially for our melanin-rich brethren with a certain lexico-phonetic flair.

Firstly, let us decipher the algorithmic arcane that comprises the "Automated Phone Assistant." Conceived as the ideal technological panacea to the cacophony of customer service, these interactive voice response systems have emerged as our telephonic inquisitors. Through the intricate labyrinth of "Press 1 for English, 2 for Spanish" and "For any other inquiry, please wait for the following 20 options", these digitized sentinels have erected an impregnable wall of frustration, at the heart of which lies the elusive human touch.

African Americans

For the African American community, the situation is further complicated by linguistic discrimination. Ebonics, or African American Vernacular English (AAVE), has been celebrated in literature, music, and popular culture for its rich vernacular and unique syntax. However, when faced with the monolingual bias of these digital gatekeepers, AAVE often transmutes from a cultural asset to a communicative liability.

Imagine, for a moment, a digital assistant attempting to decode a vibrant "Yo, I ain't hearing my jams right!" as a technical query about audio functionality. The inevitable result? Misinterpretation, frustration, and an overwhelming urge to fling the phone into the nearest wall.

Proponents of these automated sirens may argue they are the vanguard of efficiency, streamlining the customer experience like an elegant assembly line of solutions. They laud the implementation of AI as the sine qua non of progress. While we admire their Panglossian optimism, we must remind them that we are in a world teeming with human idiosyncrasies. The customer service arena isn't a sterile laboratory; it's a cacophonous jamboree of emotions, intonations, and dialects, an effervescent brew that no digital concierge can fully comprehend.

We Desire Human Communication

Notably, the intersection of culture, technology, and linguistics is a tumultuous crossroad. We can't merely juxtapose the uniformity of automated systems with the beautiful heterogeneity of human communication. It's like comparing apples and existential dread; the two simply don't equate.

Poor Automation is not Helpful Customer Service

So, what's the solution to this Gordian knot of customer service? For a start, technology needs a hefty dose of empathy. We need machines that don't just listen but understand the multifaceted symphony of human dialects. It's time to make way for an AI renaissance, an era where digital assistants don't just parrot back responses, but also grasp the hood accent's melodic resonance or the lilting cadence of a Southern drawl.


If Descartes was a 21st-century customer, he might have said, "I speak, therefore I am... misunderstood by an automated phone assistant." Let's make sure that our march towards technological supremacy doesn't leave behind the myriad hues of the human voice.

Tyrone Showers