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Sometimes when I call a company's customer service phone number, an automated phone system answers. These systems will ask me questions to identify the type of information I am seeking, the type of problem I am experiencing, and/or a personal identifier (such as account number).

After I have responded to one of the system's questions, I will sometimes hear a typing sound effect played for a few seconds. It's obvious that I'm not talking to a person (sometimes the system even tells me that it's an automated system), so why play a typing sound effect?

I would think that the company would have optimized their database to be able to pull up the records (based on my account number or whatever information I provided) instantly, so they should be able to reduce the duration of the phone call if they didn't play this typing sound effect. If in fact it really does take their system some time to pull up the records, then I understand it may be helpful to give the caller some auditory feedback to let them know the call hasn't disconnected. However, it seems a typing sound effect isn't really appropriate, since no one is actually typing anything. Why not just have the automated phone system say "Please wait a few seconds while I look up your account"?

  • Could you put your phone on speaker and record it on video and upload it to YouTube? I am going to guess that it's not a typing sound but rather just some noise so that you don't get distracted from the task at hand. I would imagine that this noise is better than stone cold silence because it re-enforces the idea that something is processing. – MonkeyZeus Sep 23 '16 at 19:47
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This is quite common on some IVR systems, and it's intended to transmit the idea of work is being done and the system didn't hang up.

Think about this: if a human person attended the phone, you could ask her for some information that she doesn't have at hand. Then she would have to look in the system, and quite probably you'll hear... typing noise.

Same happens here, in what we could call as some type of aural skeuomorphism: computer imitates the behavior and ambience of this situation to convey a known scenario to user.

Additional Reading

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I'm not 100% sure what exact sound you are referring to. In my personal experience they usually either clicking sound that goes up and down in volume or they often do have a person say "Please wait while I access your information".

I can think of a few reasons why using a sound is better than having a person ask you to wait.

  1. No language barrier - If someone doesn't speak the language well, the less spoken in that language the better. A sound can be internationally recognized.
  2. Talking takes time and can't be looped - They don't know exactly how long it will take to retrieve the information. A person talking may take longer than it takes to access the information. A sound can be cut off if its short, or it can be looped if it takes longer than expected.
  3. Its not a keyboard sound - I've always thought its more to the equivalent of having a spinner show on the computer while something is loading or waiting. To my own ears it seems like a natural sound for something like this. (This is obviously based solely on my opinion).
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As other posters have said, the purpose seems to be to reassure the caller that they are still connected. I agree with you that if there isn't any actual typing taking place, playing a typing sound is poor aesthetics.

It would make more sense to play the sound of a database query, but since Simon & Garfunkel named a famous song of theirs after that particular noise, it would fail to achieve the original purpose of letting the caller know that they were still connected at all.

To avoid playing a fake sound, and to communicate to the caller that they are still connected, I would simply play a recording saying "Please wait while an automated system performs countless calculations per second in order to respond to your needs."

The typing sound is the result of a person programming a computer to imitate a person using a computer. My design conscience suggests that we should cut out the middle man.

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  • +1 (although the Simon & Garfunkel ref is over my head) – Midas Aug 21 '17 at 15:34
  • the sound... of silence – chaimp Jul 26 '18 at 1:54
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I have heard this before. Usually the phone system has some sort of "AI" with some natural language processing ability that is pretending to be an actual call representative and will point the caller in the right direction based on how they answer certain questions.

I am guessing the organizations that use this phone system are hoping that enough people will be fooled into thinking they are actually talking to a real person to prevent as many people pressing 0 to go straight to a real caller, which will mean they won't have to keep as many phone representatives on salary. Including the typing sound when performing queries helps make it seem more like a real person is on the other end of the line.

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