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“Mistakes Were Made…”

A former President of the United States once said “Mistakes were made.” Don’t worry, this isn’t a political blog. “Mistakes were made” is a famous example of writing or speaking in the passive voice. He did not say “They made mistakes” or “We made mistakes.” He said simply “Mistakes were made.” While passive voice may have its place in the world of objective journalism, politics and scientific publication, when we use this form of writing or speaking in everyday conversation, it generally sounds odd and begs answers to questions. Furthermore, this form of writing is almost never used in other languages such as Spanish or French.

So, what does this have to do with your call center?

Here’s a bit of history: the words spoken by automated phone systems were first written by programmers. Programmers are scientists and scientists are revered for their cold logic and impartiality. They are taught to maintain objectivity when studying subjects like slugs or weather patterns or planet rotation. This helps them to avoid inserting pesky opinions into their work, as these might interfere with finding the true answer they seek. A programmer probably wrote the first words your automated call center equipment ever spoke. That’s right. Some mad scientist in his Frankenstein-esque laboratory cackled as he penned the words “The number entered is INVALID!” <cue lightning bolt and insane laughter> and the first automated phone system was brought to life.

I’m going to use passive voice as I write the next passage because these ideas are inflammatory and I do not wish to assign blame or make enemies. Sentences like these are still being written for automated systems today! Technology has been labeled as robotic! Technology hate groups are being formed!

Seriously, if we want people to like technology and use automation, we must work to make the experience seem normal. We must come out from behind the technology curtain and use our power for good. If the prompt language in your phone switch, IVR or other call center technology was written a decade ago and you’ve carefully brought the language of those recorded prompts with you to new platforms, it is suggested…no…we suggest you consider these alternatives to your existing prompt language.

Passive: Your appointment has been confirmed – Su cita ha sido confirmada.
Active: We have confirmed your appointment – Hemos confirmada su cita.

Passive: That payment amount was not understood – El monto de su pago no fue reconocido.
Active: I did not understand the payment amount – Yo no entendía el cantidad de pago.

We encourage you to look for other examples. The truth is “mistakes were made.” It is also true that we can correct the mistakes of the past.

During her twenty years in the IVR and phone switch industries, Barbara Hawkins-Scott has been selected as the signature voice of several Fortune 500 companies. A unique background blending directing, production, acting and talent management has served to develop an outstanding group of voice talent and audio engineers for Syntellect’s MediaVoice.

Published in Contact Center Solutions