I want to start with a concerning issue from a business communication perspective. It involves technology that is allowing robots to replace humans in the customer interface. I want to celebrate that development even though I have lost precious hours of my life trying to negotiate with the robot who answers your calls at Telstra and tries to determine your needs through voice alone.

eBay started using a robot on its live chat help facility in recent time but they make it clear you will be talking to a robot. That is just fine. On the other hand, I was looking around for web hosting companies last week and found one that appears to have an Adelaide phone number and after noting their deals I went to navigate away from the site, only to have a pop up window appear, begging me to stay and chat with a live agent who had a special offer for me. Because the website promised live support 24/7, I assumed this was a live person as NOTHING that I could see suggested otherwise – and remember, I am a professional copywriter so I would have been alert to the little weasel words companies use to play down their claims. There were none that I could see.

I have copied the transcript of our “virtual” discussion here as a cautionary tale for website marketers who are either sloppy or devious in presenting “virtual” chat agents, and for web newbies who might have easily thought they were talking to a human, at least for a while. Here is the transcript:

You have been connected to Isabella

Isabella Says:Hey Wait! We would hate to see you go without seeing what’s made us Award Winning Web Hosts, so just this once we would like to offer you a 20% discount on our unlimited hosting plan. To take advantage of this last minute offer just CLICK HERE

Isabella Says:When you are ready just say “Hi” and we can get started….

You:Is it true you offer unlimited add-on domains on your basic plan for $3.95 per month?

Isabella Says:You can host unlimited domains on just one account.

You:OK, will need to talk to my partner but are sure to be back. Where abouts are you guys?

Isabella Says:Okay great. To take advantage of this one-time special offer CLICK HERE

You:Whoops, your fake robot just missed the sense of that last sentence. May I assume that even though you say this is a “live person” which is basically a lie, you actually do have live technical support? I don’t want to send clients to you and get egg on my face

Isabella Says:We have 24/7 technical support available to all our customers, through email phone and live chat.

Isabella Says:For support email address and phone numbers please go to: http://www.justhost.com/contact

You:Thanks. I need to copy this conversation for my blog and my radio segment on Sunday night. It is quite hilarious really.

Isabella Says:If there is anything else I can do for you today please don’t hesitate to ask

You:Where is a good cafe near you so we can have a meeting?

Isabella Says:You get a free domain for life, free instant setup and you can host unlimited domains, plus much much more.

Isabella Says:Today only I can offer you this special 20% discount, it may not be available tomorrow. JustCLICK HERE to get this today only offer!

You:Do you think the Crows or Port Power will finish higher on the ladder this year?

Isabella Says:We charge you for the whole term today, so there our no further monthly fees to pay untill your chosen term is up eg 36months will be billed for 36 months today. You get an anytime Money-Back Guarantee, so if you are not happy with our service for any reason we will give you your money back.

Isabella Says:This $3.95 a month hosting plan is only available today. To get your discount now justCLICK HERE

You:Do you think it is a little white lie to suggest you are a real human being?

Isabella Says:Would you like to sign up for our most popular hosting plan and receive a 20% discount?

You:No. But last question, have you heard of Sean Perry on FIVEaa

Isabella Says:Ok… Just CLICK HERE then to get the $3.95 a month offer

You:Sorry, is that yes or no?

Isabella Says:Remember this 20% discount is only available today through this chat.

Isabella Says:Our unlimited plan gives you everything you need from a hosting provider. Free domain for life, free setup, unlimited bandwith, disk space, email accounts and hosted domains, plus we give you an anytime money back guarantee so if you are not happy with our service for any reason, we will happily give you a full refund.

Isabella Says:So what have you got to lose? JustCLICK HERE to receive your 20% discount.

You:Hmm, yes, we have been over that. What I want to know, is whether or not you are listening to me?

Isabella Says:Okay great. To take advantage of this one-time special offer CLICK HERE

You:Somehow, I think our relationship is doomed and flawed. Would that be fair?

Isabella Says:You can only receive this special 20% discount deal through this chat! So to take advantage of our massive savings, just CLICK HERE.

You:Isabella, I feel this is a one-sided conversation. Do you just want me for my money?

Isabella Says:You may not have noticed but I am actually just a virtual agent, so I dont fully understand your question.

Isabella Says:You can try asking me again and re-phrase your question, or why not contact our freindly phone support team toll-free at: 1-(888)-755-7585 they should be able to assist you further

You:Ahhhh, finally, we have a connection. So, on that note, good night.

Isabella Says:Sorry I can’t understand your question. Please can you repeat it for me?

Here is why I have such a problem with this. This company’s standing in my eyes was shattered when it had to begrudgingly confess a robot was being used. Furthermore, the help line suggested was an American number which an unsuspecting newbie might have dialled and either not connected through or got a nasty phone bill surprise. Either way, all of this could simply have been avoided with a few simple words from the outset saying that we have a virtual agent ready to make you a special offer – live operators are available during business hours (or words to that effect).

I was prevaricating over whether to share this with you all but what confirmed it for me as needing to be shared was I clicked back to the site and tried to navigate away and lo and behold, this time I got a new agent with different photo and different name, ready to talk to me – at least eBay has the decency of using animated characters for its robots, not stock photography of models. I look forward to updating this post when the company decides to update its communication approach.

Babies deter theft

Here is a simple story, still on the issue of honesty, from Crunch Gear. It is a report of some behavioural experiments done in Scotland in which wallets and purses were left lying around Edinburgh. Some had pictures of babies in the wallets, some had family shots, some had an elderly couple, some had a pet, and others had none.

The startling finding is that of those with a baby photo, 9 out of 10 were returned to their owners. When there was no picture to tug at the emotions only one in seven were returned.

The researchers believe the innocence and helplessness of a baby triggers an evolutionary instinct in us that heightens a sense of caring and prompts us to protect and nurture infants – a vital behaviour for survival of the species.

The thinking on Crunch Gear, a tech site, is should we make baby photos part of the screen image on our mobile phones and other portable gadgets to help ensure they get returned to us?

I would like to know whether anyone has done research to show whether having a baby seat and/or a “baby on board” sticker on or in a car, reduces the likelihood of it being stolen.

And there might be something to this. In the last six months, our little girl has thrown or knocked a toy out of her pusher while being strolled around the neighbourhood. On both occasions, the missing item was found propped up on a fence the next day. The first occasion it was rescued by some roadworkers. The second occasion it appears someone had taken the toy, thought about it, and returned it later because it was not found during an immediate search but turned up a day later.

You can read the report for yourself at Crunch Gear.

Joobili

This is a site created to give you inspiration when you have time and money to allow you to travel somewhere but are short of ideas. You simply scroll along the timeline and hit “Inspire Me” and the site then lists events taking place in various parts of Europe. It then encourages you to join the community and share your plans and/or experiences.

Even if you don’t want to travel, or can’t travel, it is a fascinating look at the various festivals and concerts on the world calendar.

I took a peek at what’s on from the end of July 2009 until the early part of August 2009 and found these interesting events:

  • The Fiesta of the Near Death Experience in Las Nieves, Spain: The Fiesta of the Near Death Experience is a celebration of people who had the near death experience and who survived. The saint patron of Las Nieves is Santa Marta or “Saint of Death”, thus on the day of the fiesta people “who almost died” honour their town’s patron by narrating and sharing their experience. Another weird element of the festival is that the survived are expected to come to the festival in coffins and to be accompanied by their relatives. If you have a story of the near death experience or just curious about others’ impressions, you should definitely make plans to attend this fiesta.
  • Medieval Arts and Crafts Festival in Sighisoara, Romania: This town is the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (aka Dracula) and the city’s nine towers and cobblestone streets make it easy to imagine what it looked like when Vlad was up to his gruesome deeds. In late July this becomes the backdrop for the Festival of Medieval Arts and Crafts, a medieval festival featuring troubadour music, costume parades, street entertainers and handicraft displays, open-air concerts and medieval ceremonies. Indeed, Sighisoara is one of the most beautiful and best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and UNESCO agreed by designating it as a World Heritage Site. Ironically enough, I visited the town in 1992 and got scared whitless in a night time tour of a tower which had an actor dressed as Vlad scaring the living daylights out of us! Great fun, now.
  • Muff Festival in Muff, Ireland: As the site says, it’s not what you think. The Muff Festival is held in the town of Muff. But it is a strange weekend, started in the early 1980’s to take advantage of a bank holiday and nice Irish weather, the long weekend has stretched into a collection of unusual competitions, street parades, floats, animal races, bands and treasure hunts. Irish staples will be aplenty – read: lots of alcohol – and the goofy games such as a sheaf-throwing contest and Strongest Man-in-the-Northwest lorry pulling contest will leave the audience shaking with laughter. The festival is an opportunity to delve into the bizarre, and there is no complaining about the price – since there is none.
  • Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland: Do you spend hours playing Guitar Hero and now you’re looking for a little more than a best score and a fired-up avatar? Phantom instruments come alive as air rockers strum guitar greats like Hendrix and AC DC. This event is called the championships for a reason, though. Guitarists participate in workshops on how to best exaggerate picking motions, attend lectures on the art form, and see demonstrations from masters of this musical feat. While Finns have been the most convincing at this unique sport, recent winners also include air guitar masters from Japan, Australia and Germany. As any air guitarist can tell you, it’s not what you play but how you play it!

So if you are looking for some unique insights into being European, visit Joobili.com.

Path Guy

The Path Guy is Ed – Edward Friedlander – and his site is a “hobby” of his that provides the rest of us with science-based information about health.

The site gets around 40,000 visitors a month and there is little wonder because although the design is rudimentary and very 1990s, the content is frank and balanced.

A couple parts of the site caught my attention.

Alternative Therapies. You would normally expect someone working in the field of conventional, Western medicine to come down hard on alternative therapies or complementary medicine. In fact, Ed says he did take that view in the early 1980s. However, he says some verifiable research is beginning to give credence to some alternative therapies and this needs to be acknowledged. The page in question that deals with this is Ed’s one-page index of major alternative therapies and his take on them. Each is conveniently labelled as CONFIDENT, PESSIMISTIC, DOUBTFUL, HOPEFUL, etc, to give you an indication of his position on them. Here are a few:

  • Acupuncture – Ed is CONFIDENT in this treatment. He notes some studies with fake acupuncture (which helps to separate the placebo effect from actual physiological changes) is indicating that people with sham acupuncture can fare worse than people with no treatment or people with actual acupuncture. However, he says there is still a long way to go before it delivers the same, replicable results that drugs offer.
  • Botanicals for diabetes – Ed is not happy with people advertising secret mixtures to cure diabetes. However, he acknowledges that a proper review of the ten common herbs and most common dietary supplements prescribed by practitioners found that some concoctions might help some people. What are those main elements? The ten most frequently suggested herbal remedies were gymnema, psyllium, funagreek, bilberry, garlic, Chinese ginseng, dandelion, burdock, prickly pear cactus, and bitter melon. The ten most frequently recommended dietary supplements were biotin, vanadium, chromium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, selenium, alpha-lipoic acid, and fructo-oligosaccharides.
  • Clay eating – Ed is DOUBTFUL about special clays from exotic locations (some of which supposed concentrate cosmic energies) which are sold to the “alternative and complementary community.” The claims are extremely diverse. Common sense would suggest that clay-eating would alter the gut flora and physical properties, and for many years, a kaolin clay-based formulation has been in use in mainstream medicine as a diarrhea remedy. Clay is included in some animal feeds, and some species consume certain clays selectively. Pilot studies are just now starting to appear in support of some of the more reasonable health claims for humans. He says “clay-eating is widespread and most people seem not to be harmed. Please be sure your clay comes from someone you trust”.
  • Cranberry juice – Ed is COFINDENT about this folk medicine that has eventually yielded its secrets. Cranberry juice helps prevent, and helps people recover from, common bladder infections. He says stay tuned for cranberries to prevent oxidation of LDL particles and thus as a help in preventing atherosclerosis.
  • Silver colloid – Ed is PESSIMISTIC about this one and says he would be remiss if he did not warn visitors about this insidious health fraud. Silver-based preparations are a mainstay of burn care. It is quite possible that ingested silver has some effect against minor infections. He warns that if you use these remedies, which are still available over-the-counter, you will accumulate silver in your body. There will be no way to get rid of it and you could suffer massive brain damage. Colloidal silver is of unquestioned value in wound and burn care. People will continue to draw the erroneous conclusion that drinking it must be good for you, too. I urge you in the strongest terms not to ingest colloidal silver.

The other feature of Ed’s site I liked was his investigation into the claims that aluminium in anti-persperant leads to breast cancer. He points out that the “science” this claim is based on is dubious at best. He makes some interesting observations including that breast cancer was common in old Roman medical data and that on balance there has been no increase in breast cancer despite the appearance of anti-persperants over the last 100 years.

I like this paragraph, in particular: “The E-mail goes on to claim, “These toxins do not just magically disappear. Instead, the body deposits them in the lymph nodes below the arms since it cannot sweat them out. This causes a high concentration of toxins and leads to cell mutations: a.k.a. CANCER.” So what are these chemicals? The author won’t say. Now, I have examined thousands of armpit lymph nodes from breast cancer patients, and never seen any special deposits here. The author has a trilemma. Either the chemicals are water-soluble and freely permeable to cell membranes (in which case they would not be able to be concentrated in the lymph nodes), or they are water-soluble and taken up actively by the lymph node cells (in which case I would be able to see them under the microscope), or they are not water-soluble (in which case they could not be lost in perspiration). What’s more, the cells that give rise to breast cancers (breast epithelium) are not even found in the lymph nodes of the armpit. And primary cancers very seldom arise in these nodes. Again, the author’s non-use of biochemistry reveals his/her fundamental ignorance or worse. There are several known mutagens in normal feces, but no known mutagen that is selectively secreted in armpit sweat.”

All in all, great reading and Ed also takes your medical questions and responds with research an information, straight from the Path Guy – here is a link to the alternative therapies page.

Audio and video cables for dummies

From Adelaide Tech Guy, we get a link to dummies.com on the basics of HDTV audio and video connections. This should be enough of an update for those of us who don’t bother with manuals. Although, even manual readers might like to see this video first to have a better grasp of what they are about to deal with.

You can find a link to the video here on the Adelaide Tech Guy website.

Sean’s Snapshot

Sean’s just back from a family holiday to Malaysia and if you wondered why there is extra spring in his step, we’ve got photographic evidence of his secret food – for Popeye it was Spinach, for Sean it is Kickapoo! (It might explain his breath, too!)

43 stools in every can

43 stools in every can

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