There’s An Echo Out There

On Wednesday May 29 I returned to my office from an afternoon workshop and immediately had to dash towards the ringing phone.

“Mary Jane, speaking,” I said. “How can I help you?”

The person at the other end spoke over me, so I didn’t get any of their information.

“Hello,” I said. And again, “Hello.”


The rhythm of the conversation wasn’t right. “Is this a computer?” I asked. (Yes, I do realize that’s a silly question.)

Then a very pleasant and professional male voice said “Oh, do I really sound like that.”

“Yes you do, “ was my reply.

He proceeded to ask me about a mailing his company had sent me recently. I explained that I had been traveling, was a bit behind on looking at mail. He then asked me if I’d used the coupon in the mailing.

Not good. I got a bit annoyed because he wasn’t listening to me. I referred to my previous answer in a clipped tone. He responded by offering to put me through to an account rep in order to use my coupon.

Grrrr – not a good experience. I ended the call as quickly and politely as possible, but it kept playing out in my head and prevented me from focusing on other things. After about 30 minutes, I called the company.

Speaking with a senior sales executive I explained who I was and what I do  – and I told her I’d received the worst sales call ever from her company.

She was skeptical and reticent at the beginning of our conversation. There were a few awkward silences between us. But as I continued to describe my encounter with her salesperson and how it was likely impacting her bottom line, she relaxed a bit. “Given what you do,” she said in a somewhat conspiratorial tone, “I’ll share with you that …it was a computer.”

Created by CallAssistant in Utah Echo allows a call representative to work computer technology a bit like a DJ, conversing with customers by choosing pre-recorded, pre-programmed responses that are intended to fit together seamlessly.

The executive I spoke with indicated that while they were still in a trial with the technology, they had experienced a lot of success. A high percentage of customers had accepted the offer to use their coupon immediately. No one, other than me, seemed to notice it was a computer-generated conversation. Also, a very skilled call representative can learn to “work” a different conversation in each ear, she said, obviously providing savings in terms of time and staffing.

Who knew! I didn’t see this coming, that’s for sure.

There is video available of Echo. It is over 7 minutes in length and you likely won’t want to watch the entire marketing message, but if you skip ahead to 3:45 minutes, you may find it interesting. You’ll see a female call representative conducting a customer call … and you’ll hear the male voice she is “using”. Perhaps it’s the same male voice I spoke to on May.

What are your thoughts?

0 thoughts on “There’s An Echo Out There”

  1. I watched the entire video and can not figure out how this works. You have a rep sitting there but they never talk. It is most bizarre! Kind of like a robo call but with someone working the conversation. Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • It is bizarre, isn’t it? And the concept of someone being able to “conduct” two conversations at once … it will be interesting to see how it evolves. Thanks, Vanessa.

  2. I bet you’re glad you called them. I can’t imagine it going very far but, when you think of it, it’s probably no worse than a lot of the phone sales people out there. There are a LOT of people out there that can use your help. Too bad they don’t all realize it… yet.

    • Thanks, Linda. And you are absolutely right – while definitely irritating it wasn’t any worse than many of the calls we already receive.

  3. My thoughts on being solicited by a computer is disappointment that we as a society would have businesses that would implement this. Where is the relationship, where is the quality that comes from dealing with an experienced person? I would never respond to a computer and hope that I too would be able to pick up on the fact that the call was not acceptable. There is no replacement for person to person communication, service and relationship building. It creates sales and makes life interesting!
    Sheila Blair-Reid

    • Thanks, Sheila, for sharing your thoughts. Of course, we are already receiving many different kinds of computerized phone calls – the one with the fog horn comes to mind. I think that in addition to new options created through technology there remains the pressure from shareholders to find ways to create more profit. Companies are actually encouraged to find ways to employ less people. This is one result.

    • Thanks, Natasha. I was certainly surprised. I think it would be difficult to replicate the rhythm of human interaction, but we’ll have to keep watching to see what happens.

  4. Wow – I’m not quite sure what to feel about this! So far, I’d say ‘disconcerted’ and ‘sad’. I hate to think that’s our future!!

    I have to say – I was watching the face of the female operator. For one, she looked like she might doze off. Now THAT wouldn’t make for a good call.

    I work with clients to help them find the meaning in their work – or find other work that is meaningful! I feel for the operators as they MUST want to actually use their voice, their minds, their HUMANITY and engage in actual conversation with these unsuspecting people on the other end of the phone.

    As a business person, I UNDERSTAND the intent behind this product – I just don’t LIKE it!

    Is there no honesty and integrity left in business? It’s one thing to let the prospect know that this is a ‘computer-assisted’ call…but another to dupe them into thinking they’re actually speaking with another human being!

    • Thanks, Gail. Good point about the honesty. What would the success ratios be of the calls if everyone knew the parts of the conversation were being “conducted” with the computer? Hmmmm.

  5. Thanks for sharing Mary Jane. It amazes me that a business that is trying to attract and keep customers would resort to such an impersonal sales approach, and one that could back fire on them so badly. So sad that as a society we reached the point where even a phone conversation is driven by technology.

    • Thank you, Nicole, for sharing your thoughts. I’ll certainly be keeping on “eye” on this technology and how it evolves. What may make this viable is that it is so difficult to tell it is computer generated.


Leave a comment

What's The Phone Lady doing?


  • Remote learning experiences + one-on-one coaching for women entrepreneurs (More info about this three-year program here.)
  • Team and individual coaching with a national moving company to refine their sales process
  • Remote half-day training for provincial tourism representatives
  • Remote seven-part sales training program for US-based SaaS
  • Remote webinar on accounts receivable communication for industrial-services company
  • Remote webinar on validation to college students in entrepreneur program
  • In-person workshop on job search skills for women in the trades
  • Remote half-day webinar on written correspondence to customers

Do you or your team want to improve your communication skills? Do you have a communication question or challenge you'd like to discuss? This quick-to-fill-out form is easy to use and you'll hear from Mary Jane very soon.