[EAS]The Customer's Name

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Jan 17 02:42:29 EST 2002

Mail*Link¨ SMTP               The Customer's Name

Long-time EAS-INFO reader Steve Portigal has his own (nomenclatorially
non-vegetarian) newsletter on perspectives in product design. I'm
herewith forwarding (with permission) his latest issue on the
mispronunciation of names, and possible technical solutions. This is
the kind of quiet thinking about technology solutions that appeals to
me, in contrast to the crass nonsense I typically get in my mail order
It also reminds me of the early days of mail-order at MacConnection
(late '80s), then my favorite phone mail-order store. If I phoned in
an order before 2am, they'd deliver the next day for a flat $3
shipping. They did that in part by having their warehouse right at a
UPS hub airport, and could get a package on a planein under two
hours--but that's another story. When I called them, their system's
caller ID feature would automatically forward the information to the
operator who picked up my call, and a practiced voice would purr "Good
evening, Mr. Kindlmann, how can we help you tonight?" _And_ then the
operators were very knowledgable about the products. I must say, I
felt well attended to. --PJK

FreshMeat #13                         from Steve Portigal

                (oo) Fresh
                 \/  Meat

Gimme gimme gimme! Gimme FreshMeat, Gimme FreshMeat!

Read past issues: http://www.portigal.com/FreshMeat.htm
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Discuss this issue: http://www.quicktopic.com/11/H/Qq84baigKNm

Over the last couple of years, the Safeway grocery chain
has attempted to improve their quality of service by
addressing customers by name. You see, if you use their
loyalty card, or if you pay by debit or credit card,
they retrieve the text of your name and print it on
your cash register receipt. Checkers are required to
thank you by name, which they read off the receipt,
before they hand it to you. This doesn't work so well,
because it takes more than a few seconds for some
checkers to read some names, and that delay at the
conclusion of your service is intolerable. Add to that,
an increased likelihood of having one's name mispronounced,
and you've got a customer service failure. I mean, if I
had a dime for every time they've called me "Mr. Portugal,"
well, I wouldn't have to shop at Safeway!

(This customer service problem was parodied by Saturday
Night Live back in 1992. You can read a transcript of the
sketch here:

Recognizing the long-frustrating problem of
mispronunciation of names during commencement ceremonies,
schools like Baylor and Worcester Polytechnic Institute use
the web to collect phonetic spelling info from their grads.

The need is clear, and the technology is ready. Products
like Espeech (http://www.espeech.com/NamePro.htm) and
Orator II (http://www.argreenhouse.com/ORATOR/) can
begin to solve this problem. The technology that translates
text to speech actually builds a sequence of phonemes (the
basic speech sounds used in a language) that could be
spoken (by a speech synthesizer) or output as phonetics.

Just add another field to all those databases of customer
names. Let the software take the first stab at guessing
how to pronounce the name. Checkout clerks and telemarketers
would be shown a pronunciation key at the appropriate time.
If the customer offers a correction, update the field.

If the companies that consumers do business with (airlines,
grocery stores, phone companies, banks, etc.) are going to
be addressing them by name, is it really so crazy to spend
some money getting those names right? Safeway obviously has
an inkling that they could deliver better service and forge
the right relationship through judicious use of their
customers' names, maybe they need to step up their efforts
just a notch or two, and get it right.


If you are interested in ideas for products and services,
check out http://www.idea-a-day.com (updated daily, as
the name implies, or available as a daily email), or
http://www.halfbakery.com/ (looks cool, but kind of
impenetrable UI.)

Steve Portigal is a consultant who discovers unmet user
needs and recommends products, services and strategies to
address those needs. You can call him Steve, or you can
call him Stephen, but you doesn't have to call him
Portugal. The URL, my friends, is http://www.portigal.com.
Misspell my name at steve at portigal.com, or say it wrong at
(650)367-6153. Need more? Blog me at

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