back to article Thank you, FAQ chatbot, but if I want your help I'll ask for it

Do you need help? Oh dear, is this what it has come to? I skipped past my youth, trudged through middle age, and now I'm evidently wheezing into my autumnal years. The website knows it and is offering to walk me safely across the information superhighway. All I did was land on the web page after following an organic search. …

Page:

  1. Warm Braw Silver badge

    I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

    Two sentences that grimly guarantee you're about to waste at least an hour of your life.

    1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

      They are the slightly more modern equivalent of the telephone menu system, although usually of less help.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        I really, really love the sites for big companies that tell us "they have AI to help serve us better". I had some problems with a cell phone company, all the AI ever did was waste my time with circular questions.

        Even better are some that allow you to chat with a human, who start asking you lots of questions to "help locate your account information". After that, they transfer it to another agent that... asks you lots of questions to "help locate your account information".

        At least its customer discouragement strategy does not include Muzak and "this call is very important" statements every 30 seconds for hours.

        1. Michael Strorm

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          "All the AI ever did was waste my time with circular questions."

          Hmm....

          * Can you tell me why the chatbot asks circular questions

          > Do I hear you saying that you want me to be able to tell you why the chatbot asks circular questions?

        2. Joe W Silver badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          A phone manufacturer or a service provider? If the latter (by some stretch of the definition) - Was it o2 (or however they are called now)?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            A provider. And it wasn't O2, we have crappy ones in South Bananistan too.

            I've upgraded my data plan and keep receiving messages inviting me to upgrade my data plan... to the one I already have.

            1. RockBurner

              Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              Must be using the same 'AI' that Amazon use that sends you emails suggestion that you might like to buy the very article that the delivery guy threw over the fence into the ornamental pond that very morning.

        3. nichomach

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          When I'm on a support call with someone and having to wait for something to complete I've taken to whistling "The Girl From Ipanema" on the basis that they'll be expecting hold music.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            "The Girl From Ipanema"

            My word that damn song follows me around... probably my fault for marrying a girl from Copacabana :)

            Lifts, lobbies, hold music, the thing's everywhere. The most egregious offence was probably the time I was having breakfast in the second most expensive hotel in Kiev. A gent walked into the restaurant dressed in white tie and tails, pulls a string to remove a curtain revealing a white grand piano, sits down on the stool (flipping his tails in the approved manner), cracked his knuckles, and started playing the girl from bloody Ipanema.

            1. Martin Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              Nevertheless it's a wonderful song, especially in the Stan Getz/Joachim Gilberto version.

              Quite an interesting article here about the English translation of the lyrics, and how they are different from the original Portugese.

              1. NITS

                Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

                My favorite support call was the time I called Symantec tech support a couple of decades ago. The music-on-hold started out with the Stones' "You can't always get what you want". I burst out laughing at this attempt to soften me up.

                On the other hand, I find it infuriating to have an elevator-music version of "If it takes forever / I will wait for you" come up in the MOH rotation.

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          ""this call is very important" statements every 30 seconds for hours."

          Worst one I ever came across not only made that statement every 30 seconds, but it restarted the same effing music again after each cycle. That was worse than the announcements!

          1. molletts

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            You think a 30-second loop is bad? The Volvo Insurance line had about a 10-second muzak loop last time I called it. I had to wait ages (and boy, does the short loop make it seem even longer) to activate the free "drive away cover" when I last bought a Volvo.

        5. EricB123 Bronze badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          "At least its customer discouragement strategy does not include Muzak and "this call is very important" statements every 30 seconds for hours."

          Really? That sounds a bit like a good day to me.

      2. vtcodger Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        "They are the slightly more modern equivalent of the telephone menu system"

        In recent years, I find I have become quite fond of telephone menus. They are usually fast, efficient and do not waste my time displaying gaudy, but useless imagery, and annoying ads. Neither do they leave me stranded when some step in the process I'm engaged in fails to render or won't accept my input without explaining why.

        Unfortunately, telephone menus have increasingly been replaced in recent years by computer driven garbage that wants to TALK to me. Those rarely work worth a damn. My policy has become NEVER, EVER make the mistake of talking to a computer. At least not one one that purports to be speech capable. If you stubbornly refuse to say anything, they'll usually fail you back to the old telephone menu or route you to an actual person (Although with some companies -- Comcast for example -- the latter is not much of an improvement.)

        1. molletts

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          The type of phone auto-attendant I hate most is the bastard child of the two - a limited selection of options which you choose not by pressing a number but by saying a word or phrase. Someone invariably comes and hangs around by my desk just as I'm navigating one of these and gives me odd looks when I start saying seemingly random, disjointed words separated by long pauses. "Support"... "Business"... "Networking"... "Yes"... It's even worse if I have to say a long serial number or something: I know from experience that I can't just read it out naturally - for it to be reliably recognised, I have to say. each. digit. as. if. it. is. a. separate. sentence.

        2. trindflo Bronze badge
          Stop

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          Dell no longer gives you that option from what I can tell. If you press buttons or otherwise refuse to play ball they will just hang up.

          I really object to all the voice print information being collected: I don't think it works all that well and have no trouble seeing it show up in a courtroom regardless.

          1. mikecoppicegreen

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            Good reason just to buy from someone else!

            1. EricB123 Bronze badge

              Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              "Good reason just to buy from someone else!"

              You have found either a company selling goods or services that doesn't do this????

              Do tell!

        3. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          Telephone menus are great when they contain the item you want , actually take you there and get answered.

          Absolute hell when they

          *only provide options they expect you to want ( i.e. there's no "other" option if your issue doesn't fit),

          *dump you into totally different department from the one you selected who hear your long explanation and then say, "Sorry you need to phone back and speak to the X department" which was the one you'd selected or

          * just give you a recorded message then hang up:"Sorry we are far too busy to speak to the likes of you" brrr.

          Best example is BA: They do *all* of those. And the hang-up message is "Sorry we are busy dealing with calls from passengers who's flight is in the next few days". But they obviously aren't because they don't answer the fucking phone so they don't know if your flight is in the next few days or not!!!

          1. WanderingHaggis

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            I remember a conference speaker who had worked on creating these systems describing them as satanic. Looking at it now he would have it not answer the call if there were not enough operators available to handle the load. Avoid winding people up and wasting time.

        4. Fred Daggy Bronze badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          Your point is well made and stands. Just, I'm not sure talking to a meat bag is any better. My father is struggling with an issue with a well known asian airline at the moment. Thier web site is unable to take his date of birth and yet somehow still has his booking, and certainly his money. There have been at least 10 calls to the call center in Manilla, the longest for nearly 4 hours and still no signs of a resolution. Promised call backs never happen, no one wants to take an escalation and now the representatives just tell him "We are terminating this call".

          He's an intelligent person but unused to social media. However, I hear the pages being ruffled on a book of "Twitter for dummies". Mega-billion dollar company versus grumpy old man with time on his hands ... I don't like their chances. It's now personal and he's out for revenge.

          It may be a great way to fly, but that bird has flown and I think that he'll be taking a middle eastern one instead.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

      The majority of websites that have a chat function seem designed only to get you to 'chat' with the bot/entity that is usually at least as dysfunctional as the website.

      Even when I am trying to spend my own money, sometimes I find it extremely difficult simply because there is no way to find the correct product and the means to buy it.

      A case in point, recently I wanted a resin based cement to repair my rainwater deposit, the product I needed was one of three similar so I went to the company web site and determined the correct one, the company doesn't sell direct so I clicked on the 'suppliers near you' button which defaulted to anywhere in the World but Europe aside from giving the European head office postal address.

      Went to the chat box who after a lengthy description of the product I wanted, told me to click on suppliers near you!

      The chatter was obviously someone in a country far, far away and could give me no other answer.

      Now my deposit is repaired with a system using lime that the Moors invented centuries ago, cheaper but only good for two seasons.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        "usually at least as dysfunctional as the website."

        Invariably more dysfunctional, just to disprove your assumption that nothing could be worse than the website.

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        Most American web shops thing Central Europe is somewhere south of Chicago.

      3. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        Cement. I should be s lucky.

        I'm trying to buy a new multifunction home scanner/printer to replace my trusty, now ageing, Pixma TS6150. Which does all I need, as would have its successors, I gather, until recently. When they replaced them with- something different.

        Should be easy, yeah?

        Not any f***ing more it isn't. All the printer companies' web pages tell you everything you don't need to know- written from the marketing dept's perspective, who all seem to think that their machines will be used to print from mobile phones to only 1 type and size of paper, on only one side, mostly by people who don't care about the cost of ink.

        Stuff I need to know; is there a second place to put paper, can it double side, even how many ink cartridges it takes and what size they are is hidden away in small print at the arse end of three links. You have to do this individually for every sodding printer you think might be the one you need.And, despite this being their sales pages they provide no help whatsoever to help get you though the morass. Even the dratted "help" pages give no guidance. And the chat bots boot you back to the generic sales page. Grrr

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          Or on a completely different subject, offspring has been filling in UCAS forms (university applications for those not familiar with the term). Back in the day, a university prospectus was a glossy, possibly colourful book with a welcome from the head honcho on page five, three or four pages describing the location, the laundrette in the student union and the seedy nightclub in the town which has the cheap beer, and then section after section from each individual university department listing all the courses they run - maybe one page per course - what the requirements are for entry, what sort of careers you could go on to and maybe some testimony from a current student or "industry" about how good the thing is, topped off with the occasional "former student, 'Z', went to work for the Jensen car company and now owns his own engine-tuning business supplying power to half the teams in National Karting".

          I was surprised to find you can still get paper propspectuses posted to you, but their content is the same as the woeful online version (other than a lack of drone video and scrollable 360 degree views). Plenty of gloss and colour, testimonials, photographs of the student accommodation, sports facilities, the thirty three onsite cafes, restaurants, bars, swimming pools, gyms and burger vans, the vibrant city nightlife and lots of stock photos of models posing as happy, smiling students (there's no way those people are actual students) relaxing in the summer sun on a grassy bank outside the new Arts block with 1,000 seat theatre and subsidised performances by the local schools orchestra (leaving aside the fact that when there is summer sun in the UK it's likely either to be exam time or home-for-the-holidays time)...

          ...and if you are lucky, about four pages of dense type with a simple list of departments and courses. Possibly standard offers. No idea at all of anything special the particular university offers. You can go to do "History" at any one of a hundred different institutions, and unless they offer some kind of open day (open days this year are mostly 'online' and timed for just after the UCAS deadline) you are unlikely to learn that the senior lecturer at university 'A' was once chief archaeologist to the Queen, or that research carried out at university 'B' conclusively proved that William didn't conquer anything more than a pebbly beach in Dorset.

          Yes, offspring wants to know that the student flats are well looked-after, and that there are plenty of them, but after that some way of distinguishing between Developmental Psychology courses at universities 'C', 'D', 'E' and 'F' would be very welcome instead of reliance on teachers saying "we hear that university 'H' is best for History after Oxbridge but we don't know why Oxbridge is still thought of as the best given that the Grauniad rates Suffolk as the best in the country". (no, really, Suffolk - a university I'd never heard of - is apparently the best in the country for History according to the Grauniad. Or maybe it was the Torygraph. Or perhaps the Stun.

          We're doomed.

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            and lots of stock photos of models posing as happy, smiling students (there's no way those people are actual students)

            A decade or so back The Inquirer had taken to spotting one particular young woman who appeared to have been enrolled in at least a dozen universities at once, while doing promotion for at least another dozen or so, and also for numerous commercial companies. They tried to get her a Wackypedia page as "Everywhere Girl", but it was deleted as being for someone not famous enough.

            Her German counterpart is 'Emma' who is (or was; I rarely see her any more) holding oodles of jobs as helpdesk telephone operator. Probably got replaced by AI[0] chatbots.

            [0] Absurdly Inane.

            1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

              Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              The TeamViewer website had this image a while back before that had a makeover...

              https://web.archive.org/web/20121116071122im_/http://www.teamviewer.com/styles/sprite-index.jpg

              One of the commentards here (@Michael Strorm) identified her as "Rebecca (AKA 'Ariana') Givens"...

              https://www.google.com/search?tbm=isch&q=%22rebecca+givens%22+stock

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

                Wow, she got around a bit..

                ( preferred this image of her from that link https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fi.reddit.com%2Fr%2FDamnthatsinteresting%2Fcomments%2Fayxvz3%2Fmost_famous_stock_photo_model_rebecca_givens%2F%3Flimit%3D500&psig=AOvVaw1o1qmkWMiTk23ikxKQjOcm&ust=1639920742925000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=2ahUKEwiQyoD8uu30AhVdgM4BHU00AQIQr4kDegQIARBP )

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            "given that the Grauniad rates Suffolk as the best in the country"

            So is that Norfolk or Sussex?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              Ipswich

              They're a bit desperate for students...

              (yeah, 4th, not 1st)

              1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

                Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

                I think even for the Grauniad that would be a bit too much of a misprint.

            2. ashdav

              So is that Norfolk or Sussex?Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

              You're not in the UK are you.

        2. Tim99 Silver badge
          Meh

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          ...to replace my trusty, now ageing, Pixma TS6150. Which does all I need...
          Good luck with that. I've been trying to replace an MX516, which was a distress purchase after my previous 10 year old Canon failed three days before I was moving house nearly 10 years ago. It seems to be almost impossible to avoid buying a multifunction that doesn't want you to install hundreds of MBs of software and "help you" print over the internet.

          I'm retired, so I am wondering if I can manage without one when this one packs up. I thought that my main use would be to scan the occasional document, but I have discovered that my iPhone makes a reasonable job except for the paper not being flat (laying a sheet of glass over it fixes that). For the 4 pages or so that I print every couple of months, a USB stick and the local library and will probably do...

          1. Nifty Silver badge

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            Install the scanner Pro app. You can take a photo of a page at an angle and the software converts it into a correct rectangle for saving to your cloud drive or locally as PDF, job etc. Can also make multi page PDFs.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          "Even the dratted "help" pages give no guidance."

          The best tactic when buying anything even vaguely technical is to find out if you can download the user manuals. Eliminate those that don't from consideration. The rest should give you some guidance as to what they can do. Remember that if something you'd expect the product to do isn't mentioned in the manual assume it can't actually do it.

          1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

            Make sure its the manufacturer that is providing the user manuals.

            3rd party providers of manuals just seem to be fronts for malware slingers..

        4. veti Silver badge

          Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

          "It looks like you may be thinking about buying ink refills from a third party. Have you thought about just f***ing off and not wasting our time, you deadbeat?"

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

      I'm not sure if it because I'm getting a bit older or that UI design has gone backwards so fast that any education on that front is apparently now again chiseled into stone tablets, but I must confess I have frequently felt the urge to help whoever designed the layout and flow of some websites with making their next enema a lot easier, mainly with the help of a cactus.

      Is it really so hard to use your own website for a bit on a low throughput connection to see if the flow is sensible, people can back off and/or restart and you haven't added so much crap that even a 2GB circuit has trouble coping with the flow?

      To be honest, what astonishes me most is that these people get repeat work. I'd stick them in a padded cell and make them read War and Peace.

      Via a 300 baud modem on wet string, a telex and no flow control.

      1. Coastal cutie
        Thumb Up

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        Upvote for the cactus, even though it did make me shower the keyboard with Diet Coke (other beverages are available)

      2. skeptical i
        Mushroom

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        "If it won't load within a minute on dial-up, it's too big."

        "If your Aunt Minnie can not find what she's looking for, your navigation is too complicated."

        Just as true today as in my Web Design 101 class lo these many years ago. (The Aunt Minnie directive was more eloquently stated, but I can not recall the exact phrasing.)

        What should be done to these oh-so-clever web "designers" who can not resist the urge to add every single bit of javascript shiny to what should be a simple HTML page -->

      3. swm Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        I manage a square dance website. I had many arguments with the officers of the federation who wanted "flashy and shiny". My ground rules are:

        1. No scripts

        2. Must be viewable over a low-speed link

        3. No fonts or preformatted text

        4. Minimal number of clicks to get to where you want

        5. etc.

        The website is for users not web designers.

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: I manage a square dance website.

          Surely you want your visitors to go round in circles, backwards and forwards, ending up where they started (and with the correct partner)?

          1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: I manage a square dance website.

            .....then lead them back to the start & dozy D'OH! your site visitor!

      4. Stork Silver badge

        Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

        I leaned some web design over 20 years ago. The problem then was that far too many designers did their stuff on huge (21" monitors those days), tested locally, and were early 20es with perfect eyesight.

        This resulted in impressive stuff that decision makers wanted right away, order in!

        What we did then to simulate bandwith was to run static stuff from a floppy.

        It got more interesting around 2000, it was very difficult to explain the client that the design they had decided for, based on a PowerPoint presentation, could not be implemented to work for someone with a VGA and would be slow with a 14.4 modem (that was reality in parts of Africa and South America then)

    4. imanidiot Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

      Unless it's preceded by the words "I'm from the Government and"

      In that case you're not going to see your loved ones for a while (or ever again).

    5. styx-tdo

      Re: I am here to help. What can I do for you today?

      let me fix that for you:

      what can i do you for today?

  2. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
    Joke

    Help

    "I'm addicted to collecting Beatles records."

    "You need help."

    "No. I've already got that one."

  3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Intelligent websites?

    You know you're getting autumnal when...

    You go to a certain website named after a big river and under 'top picks' it offers you Adult defibrilator pads. True.

    I prefer their other option (under clothing) of 'women's bottoms'

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022