'Fake' Voices Are Big Business

Amid the chaos at New York's Penn Station, one employee is chipper and courteous 24 hours a day.

It's "Julie," the automated voice of Amtrak. She helps callers navigate the railroad's electronic answering system with spunk. Callers have given "Julie" a 90 percent approval rating, meaning she's a star in the automated world — and clearly, an exception, reports CBS News correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi.

Unfortunately, neglect is the rule. One home video depicts a cable repairman sleeping on the job. Why? He called his own company's support line, then fell asleep on the customer's couch waiting.

"I call it a customer death spiral," says Paul English, creator of gethuman.com. English's Web site has a long list of companies and "secret shortcuts" to get a real person on the phone quickly.

"The guys who ran the call centers would call or e-mail me and say what you're doing is bad," English recalls.

Five states are now considering legislation to regulate automated phone systems. But the guys who make those systems want everyone to hold on.

Enter Paul Payton. He earns a living telling callers to be patient.

Instead of a source of aggravation, Payton sees himself as useful.

"I'm providing a service," he says.

It's a service many companies want — the industry has quadrupled in five years. CBS News attended a trade show this week at which "virtual agent" voices were sold and awards were given to the "most popular" fake agents.

One participant tells Alfonsi he's a big fan of "Julie."

"We're trying to build a relationship," he says.
  • Sean Alfano

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