AI Customer Service: Not Quite Ready For Prime Time

I had a problem with my phone, which is a landline (and yes, I’ve heard all the smartass remarks about being the last person on earth with a landline, but go ahead, take your best shot).

The point is, I had a problem. Actually, the phone had a problem, in that it didn’t work. No tone, no life, no nothing. So that became my problem.

What did I do? I called my provider (from my cell, which I do have) and after going through this bizarre ID verification process that basically stopped just short of a DNA test, I got routed through to their AI voice assistant, who pleasantly asked me to state my problem in one short sentence.

As soon as I heard that voice, which used the same dulcet tones as Siri, Alexa and the rest of the AI Geek Chorus, I knew what I was dealing with. Somewhere at a board table in the not-too-distant past, somebody had come up with the brilliant idea of using AI for customer service. “Do you know how much money we could save by cutting humans out of our support budget?” After pointing to a chart with a big bar and a much smaller bar to drive the point home, there would have been much enthusiastic applause and back-slapping.



Of course, the corporate brain trust had conveniently forgotten that they can’t cut all humans out of the equation, as their customers still fell into that category.  And I was one of them, now dealing face to face with the “Artificially Intelligent” outcome of corporate cost-cutting. I stated my current state of mind more succinctly than the one short sentence I was instructed to use. It was, instead, one short word -- four letters long, to be exact. Then I realized I was probably being recorded. I sighed and thought to myself, “Buckle up. Let’s give this a shot.”

I knew before starting that this wasn’t going to work, but I wasn’t given an alternative. So I didn’t spend too much time crafting my sentence. I just blurted something out, hoping to bluff my way to the next level of AI purgatory. As I suspected, Ms. AI was stumped. But rather than admit she was scratching her metaphysical head, she repeated the previous instruction, preceded by a patronizing “pat on my head” recap that sounded very much like it was aimed at someone with the IQ of a soap dish. I responded again with my four-letter reply -- repeated twice, just for good measure.

Go ahead, record me. See if I care.

This time I tried a roundabout approach, restating my issue in terms that hopefully could be parsed by the cybernetic sadist that was supposedly trying to help me. Needless to say, I got no further. What I did get was a helpful text with all the service outages in my region. Which I knew wasn’t the problem. But no one asked me.

I also got a text with some troubleshooting tips to try at home. I had an immediate flashback to my childhood, trying to get my parents’ attention while they were entertaining friends at home, “Did you try to figure it out yourself, Gordie? Don’t bother Mommy and Daddy right now. We’re busy doing grown up things. Run along and play.”

At this point, the scientific part of my brain started toying with the idea of making this an experiment. Let’s see how far we can push the boundaries of this bizarre scenario: equally frustrating and entertaining. My AI tormenter asked me, “Do you want to continue to try to troubleshoot this on the phone with me?"

I was tempted, I really was. Probably by the same part of my brain that forces me to smell sour milk or open the lid of that unidentified container of green fuzz that I just found in the back of the fridge.  And if I didn’t have other things to do in my life, I might have done that. But I didn’t. Instead, in desperation I pleaded, “Can I just talk to a human, please?”

Then I held my breath. There was silence. I could almost hear the AI wheels spinning. I began to wonder if some well-meaning programmer had included a subroutine for contrition. Would she start pleading for forgiveness?

After a beat and a half, I heard this, “Before I connect you with an agent, can I ask you for a few more details so they’re better able to help you?” No thanks, Cyber-Sally, just bring on a human, posthaste! I think I actually said something to that effect. I might have been getting a little punchy in my agitated state.

As she switched me to my requested human, I swore I could hear her mumble something in her computer-generated voice. And I’m pretty sure it was an imperative with two words, the first a verb with four letters, the second a subject pronoun with three letters.

And, if I’m right, I may have newfound respect for AI. Let’s just call it my version of the Turing Test.

1 comment about "AI Customer Service: Not Quite Ready For Prime Time".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Ben B from Retired, April 10, 2024 at 7:51 p.m.

    Hope you got the landline working again Gord from the human. AI doesn't know jack about costomer service.

Next story loading loading..