Microsoft has a better switchboard than Google

Have you ever tried to call someone at Microsoft or Google? I have. I’ve even memorized Microsoft’s number but won’t give it here cause I’d hate for Jeff Sandquist to get a ton of crank calls. Anyway, both Microsoft and Google have switchboard numbers. Today I called someone (or tried to, anyway) at Google and found the experience to be far less useful than when you try to call someone at Microsoft. By the way, at both companies all you need is someone’s name. Yeah, calling Bill Gates or Eric Schmidt probably won’t prove fruitful, but try someone deep down in the bowels of the company and you’ll probably get right through.

Anyway, Microsoft has a really cool voice-controlled system. You dial the number, an electronic voice answers and asks you for the person’s name you’re trying to reach. You SAY it. “Jeff Sandquist” and then it comes back with a recording of Jeff Sandquist so you know you’re going to the right place. “Are you looking for ‘Jeff Sandquist, Channel 9′”? Why yes I am! The call goes right through. If it doesn’t, or you hacked Jeff’s name, it prompts you for a whole lot of other things. “Do you know the email address of the person you are trying to reach?” Etc. Etc.

But compare that to Google’s switchboard. When it answers it immediately prompts you for that person’s extension. That’s not nearly as human as Microsoft’s approach to “Welcome to Microsoft. To reach a specific person just say their name at any time.”

I didn’t know the extension of the person I was trying to reach. So, the voice on the phone says to push 8 to reach someone by their name. I entered in the first few digits of the person’s last name I was trying to reach. It immediately sent me to the voice mail box of someone completely different without prompting the way Microsoft’s system does to make sure I entered the person’s name right.

Why is Microsoft’s system so good? Because they’ve been working on speech stuff for a long time. It’s also why the acquisition of TellMe was so interesting. Imagine if Microsoft just focused its search efforts on voice and gave up the attempt to clone Now THAT would be a winning strategy.

Imagine calling a number and saying “Starbucks, San Francisco” and getting routed to the right answer.

Maybe Microsoft’s search engineers should call the switchboard to see just how to beat Google and move the goalposts to a new game?

UPDATE: Richard Sprague, who runs the speech team at Microsoft, says Google can buy its solution if it wants to improve its switchboard.


Brilliant publicity play by book author

I was just reading catching up on feed reading (I read 31,000 items a month so you don’t have to) and see that Microsoft’s Mich Mathews (she runs marketing at Microsoft) admits to making a “happy mistake” that went viral. Ahh, that’s why you need to try lots of weird things!

On page two of my link blog you’ll find this item by Jeff Jarvis. Talking about Andrew Keen and his new book. I’m going to debate Keen a couple of times in the next few weeks. Why? Cause I think he’s brilliant. Let’s go through the strategy:

1) Piss off all the “amateurs” by saying shit about them in your book. Of course they’ll link. We’re suckers for that. Aside: hi Nick Denton of Gawker Media!
2) Take the side of journalists who are getting laid off in droves. Of course they’ll write about your book. They are suckers for that.
3) Get invited to speak on a bunch of panels. There’s nothing more exciting than a fight on a panel. I know, I was involved in a panel that devolved into a fight just a week ago. Everyone thought it was a great panel, maybe even the best of the conference.
4) Laugh all the way to the bank.

It’s brilliant I tell you. Oh, I agree with Jeff that it’s not a very good book but it sure appeals to a lot of people.

Me? I’m just a sucker for going along with this game.

There’s dozens of other interesting things on my link blog including the top 10 photo widgets,  Guy Kawasaki with proof that bloggers are egotists (who knew?), Chris Messina with a bunch of ideas for Mozilla Foundation, new Zune detail leaks.