I recently had the wonderful experience of my debit card being hacked.  My bank was good about it, immediately cancelled the card, reversed the charges the hackers incurred.  But, then one of the things they ordered was delivered by FedEx a couple of days later.  It turns out that this is part of the scam, as the goal of the scammers is to intercept the package before the addressee gets it.  It also explains the skeezy looking dude outside my house the morning after the package was delivered.

All of that is a royal pain in the arse.  But the best was yet to come.  That package that arrived was the product of fraud.  The hackers stole money from me to steal product from this corporation.  I have no use for said product and, generally, believe in karma, so I attempted to return the product.  This is the first email I got back, with identifying information redacted:

Hi Matthew ,

Thanks for contacting XXX xxxxxxxxx! and for being a XXX VIP Elite member.

We completely understand that somebody got the access of account and tried to use it.

We would request you to reach out to our nearest XXX stores and get assistance in person. We would request you to apply for new XXX VIP account as it might be unsafe.

Please call us at 1.888.xxx.xxxx to have this issue resolved. If you are calling from outside of the U.S. you may reach us at xxx.xxx.xxxx. Please have your credit card and order number available at the time of your call.

Our Customer Research Representatives are available between the hours of 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday. If a response is not received within 48 hours, your order may be cancelled.

Thank you for choosing XXX,
Uberto, Xxxx Xxxxxx,
XXX xxxxphoria! Center We’re ready to help.

Great.  But there are problems: 1) I am not a member of this corporation’s VIP Elite, I have never shopped at it and there is no nearby outlet to return the product to.  So I responded with that information.  Here is the response I received from the corporation:

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for contacting the XXX xxxxphoria! Center and being a XXX VIP Club member.

We totally understand your concern and apologize for the inconvenience caused to you.We really do not want our shoe lovers to experience such a situation. We request you to take your order and visit any nearest XXX store regarding this concern. Our store manager would be happy to help you.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, we are happy to help.

Thoughts? Questions? 
Give us a call at 1.866.XXX.XXXX (1.866.XXX.XXXX). We are here for you Monday – Friday 7 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. EST.
Thank you for being a Xxxx Lover,
Stefan,XXX Lover
Xxxxphoria! We are ready to help.
Note that ‘Stefan’ did not actually respond to my concern.  In fact, ‘Stefan’ ignored the points I raised and gave me a stock response.  So, once more, I responded with  my problems, that I am not a member of their VIP Elite programme, having never shopped there, and more importantly, there is no nearby store.  I got a response almost immediately (note the spelling error):

Hi Matthew,

Thank you for contating the XXX xxxxphoria! Center.

The quickest way to complete a return or exchange is to return the item to your local XXX store. If you are requesting an exchange the store associate can place the new exchange order for you.

Please feel free to contact us if you any other questions or concerns, we will be happy to assist you.

Thoughts? Questions?

Give us a call at 1.866.XXX.XXXX (1.866.xxx.xxxx). We are here for you Monday – Friday 7a.m. – 10p.m., Saturday 10a.m. – 10p.m., and Sunday 12p.m. – 9p.m. EST.

Thanks for choosing XXX,

Cole, Xxxx Lover

xxxxphoria! We are ready to help!

Then it hit me.  I’m not dealing with live people.  ‘Uberto,’ ‘Stefan’ and ‘Cole’ aren’t actually human beings.  They’re bots.  Chatbots are all the rage in the Customer Service field, based on the idea that people won’t care if they’re talking to a live human or a chatbot so long as they get the customer service they want.  Some estimates suggest that by next year, up to 85% of such interactions will be via Chatbot.  Not surprisingly, this is great for corporations, who can cut labour costs by upwards of 30% by having Chatbots deal with routine customer service (why a human did not take over my queries, I don’t get).

There are all kinds of problems with this, of course.  One, people will lose jobs.  Probably a lot of people through automation.  And, second, until the technology catches up, people with complicated issues (you know, like having product delivered to your home that was stolen from the corporation by someone stealing my money) cannot get help.  This is a bad look, customer service-wise.

If Chatbots do not deliver good customer service, and corporations don’t care enough to monitor them, then why would consumers choose to shop with or at such corporate outlets?  We are in this grey area where the technology, at least the cheap technology that these corporations are willing to pay for, has not yet caught up to what those corporations, or their consumers, want it to do, as my experience with Chatbots show.  And while there are countless articles in trade journals and media outlets like Forbes about the value of customer service, much  of the literature is a discussion about convincing CEOs and other bigwigs of the need for good customer service.  And, clearly, CEOs and their minions are not interested in spending the money on customer service.

At best, this means we get left on the phone with ‘Jared’ who follows a script and cannot veer from it, at worst, we are stuck with Chatbots.  I guess in the end it’s six of one, half dozen of the other.  But at least ‘Jared’ is a human (I think) and gets paid, as miserable as his paycheque may be.