Sometimes voice-recognition software just can't get the job done. Bill Andrews, general manager of Self-Service Speech Solutions for Convergys, a Cincinnati-based provider of outsourced ­customer-care solutions, says well-designed ­systems always give users an easy opt-out because voice recognition does not work seamlessly for everybody, particularly for those with speech impediments or heavy accents.

If you're frustrated by a tin-eared computer, there are ways to bypass the voice-rec maze. Go to Gethuman.com, click on the Database tab, and you'll find a long list of companies and the secret formulas for getting through to a real, live person.
It Really Does Work

Imagine my voice as you read this. Why? Because this sidebar was "written" using Nuance's Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a voice-to-text computer program. What is impressive is that the start-up time needed for getting the program to recognize my voice with a high degree of accuracy was under 30 minutes. That's a vast improvement. Four years ago, I broke an arm in a freak accident, and to stay on deadline, I used a voice program for the eight weeks my arm was out of action. Ramp-up time for that software was about a day - a long day spent reading texts into the computer to teach it how to recognize my accent, intonation, and other­ speaking quirks. And the program was never very accurate - perhaps it got 80 percent of my speech at best. With today's software, Nuance has cut the learning time down to just a few minutes. How's the accuracy with the new program? Pretty good. Not perfect, as text still needs a close review and some polishing. But call the software 95 percent on target.

Even better, this is software that can be used to do most tasks on a computer. Integration with Microsoft Office is complete, meaning you can write in Word, do e-mail in Outlook, and even use Excel and PowerPoint, with all data input happening with your voice.