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Paul English vs. It’s getting ugly

Dec 19, 20054 mins
Enterprise Applications‘s attempt to turn lemons into lemonade has left a sour taste in Paul English’s mouth. And yet, in a bit of lip-smacking irony, it was English who provided the lemons. sells interactive voice-response (IVR) systems that are used by some 1,400 customers, including dozens of brand-name companies. English is the suddenly world-renowned author of the “IVR Cheat Sheet,” a how-to manual for frustrated consumers who desperately want to bust through corporate IVRs to gain contact with a live human being. You can read his cheat sheet – which says features not one of its customers – at

English calls “sleazy.” assures me it wants to take the high road and is only interested in telling the IVR industry’s side of the story.

English says couldn’t find the high road with a GPS device.

What fun.

Chances are that over the past month you’ve watched English interviewed on TV, heard him interviewed on the radio or read an interview with him in a newspaper or magazine. ‘Net Buzz wasn’t first – No. 5, actually – but my Nov. 14 column was followed in short order by cheat sheet coverage from The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC, “NPR Morning Edition,” ABC’s “World News Tonight,” The Guardian, Slashdot, Kiplinger’s, The Sydney Morning Herald, People Magazine, CBS’ “The Early Show,” BBC Radio, the “Today Show,”, and The Times of India. (What? No Oprah?).

The expansiveness of the coverage is important not because it shows that journalists are incapable of independent thought but because all that public interest represents a referendum of sorts on IVR. Each negative press report was a lemon smack off the forehead of the industry.

So decided to break out the juicer. The company went on a public relations and online advertising counterattack that included a cheat sheet of its own – “The IVR Cheat Sheet for Businesses” – as well as purchasing the Google keyword rights to the name Paul English, so that anyone searching on the moniker will see a “featured link” for its cheat sheet first. English’s original list comes up second.

English calls these tactics sleazy. calls them opportunistic.

English and others following this tempest also believe that someone associated with was responsible for the comment postings of a “Kate Robins,” whose fawning praise of popped up on a couple of sites – including the blog of a Wall Street Journal writer – that had been touting English’s cheat sheet. The postings tell a touching tale of how’s product has allowed “Kate’s” dad to prosper selling baseball collectibles on eBay. No one has been able to find this “Kate.” denies having had anything to do with her handiwork.

Of course, there is a real issue underlying all this minor-league mudslinging: How do companies make IVR systems less painful for their customers?

Putting aside the appropriateness of glomming on to English’s gimmick, the cheat sheet does offer plenty of good advice on that score – a point English concedes, while noting that his site had similar advice posted first: Do not hide the option for callers to speak with a live agent; whenever possible, give the caller an approximate time for the completion of the request; and do not make callers repeat information collected in the IVR to the live agent they are transferred to. The full list can be accessed here . made it clear to me last week that it wants no part of an ongoing feud with English.

As for English, he says he’s just getting warmed up. His cheat sheet site will be taking a “much more aggressive” stance toward the IVR vendors in coming weeks, he promises.

I hear Oprah calling.

I’m also off for vacation. Have a merry and a happy. Comments to