Chatbots for online customer service?
April 15, 2010 8:56 PM   Subscribe

Do companies use chatbots for their online customer service live chats?

My cable's out, so I went online to chat with a customer service rep from my cable company. And I swear to god, it felt like I was talking to ELIZA. Are these companies using natural language processing for automated conversations in their online customer service?
posted by mr_roboto to Technology (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
probably what is going on is that you've got customer service people in Bangladesh or Kazakhstan who read what you type, and respond with canned answers.
posted by b1tr0t at 9:06 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally: yes, absolutely. I did this exactly once, and it just kept saying "Sorry I don't understand" even after I said "you're just a robot aren't you" and then started swearing at it.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:10 PM on April 15, 2010

Libraries don't use bots. Which is semi-relevant to your question.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:12 PM on April 15, 2010

The company I work for uses real people. I'm friends some of them! I promise they are real people. They like the job because they can listen to their ipods while doing it. They have to talk to 3-5 people at a time though, so I imagine it can seem sort of delayed/structured. I have not done live chat myself, but I'm sure I will at some point.

I paid a credit card bill online a couple months ago (to a store), and I had to do the live chat thing. It seemed more to me like they were copying/pasting, rather than being a bot.

Right now, I work in-person with people, and a lot of the conversations I have are very very similar, so I get the ease of the copy/paste thing. It saves time, and narrows down the conversation. I know you are a special snowflake, but there are lots of special snowflakes that are having the exact same issue you are right now.'s either a bot, or someone who is talking to 3-4 other people.

(For whatever it's worth, I work for a place in NYC, and everyone who works for us is in/around NYC :)
posted by AlisonM at 9:14 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Live chat reps have access to lots of canned text, and very little motivation to stray from it. drjimmy11, it wouldn't surprise me at all if there was a live person sitting there firing "Sorry I don't understand" back at you while dealing with three other people. Profanity gets pretty boring in that kind of customer service after a while.
posted by gnomeloaf at 9:36 PM on April 15, 2010

Verizon uses a bot at certain times and for certain issues. First thing I always do is ask, "Are you a bot?"
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:09 PM on April 15, 2010

No, it's not a bot. Yes, it's a real person. Yes, it gets very tedious to be constantly asked "Are you a bot?" much less with the swearing.
posted by ErikaB at 10:49 PM on April 15, 2010

I've talked to tons if customer service bots. They suck.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 10:49 PM on April 15, 2010

It would depend on the size of the business as well. I am the owner of my small company and answer the chat questions myself. Sometimes there is a bit of a delay as I look up info or check for typos if I am answering from my iPhone. That might make it seem a bit stilted sometimes.
posted by Vaike at 11:11 PM on April 15, 2010

They may be actual people, but in order to standardize the language a lot of customer service reps have software that says "Press 1 if the customer is asking about Gizmos, Press 2 for Gadgets, 3 for..." and then it spits out a canned response. So it's a real person navigating a decision tree on your behalf. Enjoy.
posted by GilloD at 11:24 PM on April 15, 2010

It may or may not be a bot. Some companies use bots, some companies use people and a lot of standardized text.

It may even be both -- you may start out using a bot and get shunted to a real person when the bot can't figure out what you want, or once the bot figures out what you do want and the person can be tasked with actually helping you.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 AM on April 16, 2010

I've had more interactions with very-well-programmed customer service bots than I care to remember. If you know what you're doing, you can always ferret out whether or not it's a bot, even accounting for the fact that live customer service reps do, indeed, have tight scripts they stick to, so it can feel like you're talking to a bot when you aren't.

My most recent "live" customer-service chat. This one was with Adobe. I could go hunting up the others in my history, but I think this should suffice as proof.

No, it's not a bot.

Yes it is, sometimes.

Yes, it's a real person.

No it's not, sometimes.
posted by tzikeh at 8:48 AM on April 16, 2010

tzikeh, it's not clear to me that that is a bot, rather than an actual customer service person cutting and pasting canned responses without the ability (or motivation) to break free of the script and assist you. I've received the same fastidious politeness and formality from an Indian support rep for Microsoft Xbox support on the phone, for example.

The real tragedy is that companies turn actual humans into 'bots' instead of providing them any incentive or authority to really assist the customer.
posted by Gortuk at 9:45 AM on April 16, 2010

Paypal uses bots for live chat. I went through the whole you're a bot, how many dolphins are there on neptune (random "I don't understand, please type your question again" replies), if you're a human being respond by saying "I'm human" and after "it appears you are asking about blank, here is the FAQ for that" type crap for an hour, I called Bangladesh (or wherever) and confirmed it was a Bot.

And that the servicepeople there had no idea what a 1099 was, they thought I was asking for a payment for $10.99. paypal is kinda sucky

Lots of big companies use bots. Telecommunications companies and satellite providers, though, are typically people.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:08 PM on April 17, 2010

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