back to article You call Verizon. A Google bot answers. You demand a human. The human is told what to say by the bot

Verizon has turned to Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI to automate its customer-service phone calls and chatbot conversations. “Verizon customers in search of support may soon find a more natural and streamlined digital experience, thanks to a new collaboration with Google Cloud,” the US telecoms giant gushed on Monday. “What …

  1. DavCrav Silver badge

    "Whether through voice call or chat, customers will not need to go through menu prompts or option trees; they simply say or type their request, and the natural-language recognition feature finds the best way to assist them. No stilted speech or robot-like commands," Verizon claimed."

    Had this for years at my bank. You don't tell it what you want 'in your own words', you learn what the keywords are and just say them. 'Payments', 'Balance', 'Transfer', etc..

    1. b0llchit
      Devil

      But now Google is helping them. That means, the first three or four tries will result in an adword supported answer.

      Asking for "balance" will have opportunities for fitness outfits, alternative medicine and loan-sharks. The "payments" should be attractive for the less-than-organized pay-me-or-else crowd. And, "transfer" may also mean a taxi or selling your house. Plenty of lucrative possibilities.

    2. JetSetJim Silver badge

      I wonder if there's a website that violates service providers with a description of how to talk to a human, much like the old "say no to 0870" website that gave landline numbers of them instead of their money-making 0870 numbers (in the UK, at least)

      1. DreamEater

        Not sure about a website, but generally have success at mashing the # or 0 key, usually around 5 times is enough for the system to crap out and go to an operator.

        The other cheat is to go to accounts or termination, they don’t like to risk those depts with bots usually

      2. JetSetJim Silver badge

        sheesh - just noticed the rather tragic typo due to auto-correct! Still, it this was a popular website then service providers might feel a bit violated!

  2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
    Happy

    Yet another reason to not use Verizon

    I have led a Verizon-free life since January. Much happier for it.

  3. doublelayer Silver badge

    I can hear the conversations already

    System: Good morning and thank you for calling Verizon customer support. How can I help you?

    Client: I am trying to activate a new phone online, but it says that the eSIM requires me to call for activation.

    System: I will help you resolve this situation. First, may I have the phone number you are using to call us so we can call you back if needed?

    Client: Sure. Here it is.

    System: And now your subscriber number?

    Client: Here.

    System: And your pin?

    Client: Here.

    System: Thank you. The SIM card slot is usually located on the side of your phone or in the battery compartment. You may notice a small hole.

    Client: Wait a minute. I have an eSIM problem, not a SIM problem.

    System: You can use a paper clip to eject the SIM card tray from your device, but make sure to turn it off before you do so. If there is an existing SIM card in the device,

    Client: Stop. Cancel.

    System: ... remove that card from the tray and insert your new Verizon SIM card.

    Client: Other query. Help. Not my question.

    System: There is a triangular cutout on the card which should align with the tray.

    Client: If I wait it out, will it let me do something else?

    System: If your SIM card is too large for the tray, you will need to break out the smaller card ...

    Two minutes later:

    System: Has this solved your problem?

    Client: No.

    System: I'm sorry to hear that. How can I help you?

    Client: Activate new device.

    System: I am capable of recognizing human language. Please phrase your request in full sentences.

    Client: I am having trouble activating a new device.

    System: I will help you resolve this situation. Is the number you are activating the same as the number you provided earlier? That number was two [long pause] four [long pause] eight [long pause]

    Client: Of course not; I can't activate, so I have to call you from a working line.

    System: six [long pause] zero [long pause] [...]

    Client: [after number has been read] No.

    System: May I have the number of the line you are trying to activate?

    Client: Here.

    System: Thank you. This line is not associated with any devices on your account.

    Client: Right.

    System: Has this solved your problem?

    Client: No.

    System: I'm sorry to hear that. How can I help you?

    1. Christopher Michaelis

      Re: I can hear the conversations already

      You made it a lot further than I would have. If it were my exchange...

      Client: Operator.

      System: You may state your question and I can help you. What can I do for you today?

      Client: OPERATOR! (minor flying of spit)

      System: Before I transfer you to an operator, what's the nature of the problem you're experiencing?

      Client: (Mashes zero forcefully, hoping the force will transmit through the line)

      1. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        [moves to less idiotic provider]

      2. Martin-73 Silver badge

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        I have a rotary dial phone as my main phone here... no, really. I have learned to be VERY discerning as to what companies i will interact with, and which I will leave potentially illegal voicemails for.

      3. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        The problem is that, unless they operate the nice kind of call center, you are liable to finally get an operator after an hour of the same two advertisements on a loop to have this discussion:

        Client: I am trying to activate a new phone online, but it says that the eSIM requires me to call for activation.

        Operator: I will help you resolve this situation. First, may I have the phone number you are using to call us so we can call you back if needed?

        Client: Sure. Here it is.

        [...]

        Operator: So you don't need help with your SIM card then?

        Client: No, I need to activate a new device.

        Operator: Well, I'm in the troubleshooting call center, but fortunately I can forward you to the activation call center. It'll just take a second.

        Client: Thank you.

        Advertisement starts again.

        System: Good morning and thank you for calling Verizon. How can I help you?

      4. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        Mash the hash key instead, zero is all too often a 'start over' or 'return to menu for 5' command.

        1. JetSetJim Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: I can hear the conversations already

          Blasted auto correct "return to menu root"

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: I can hear the conversations already

      The sad part is that I don't see how this will be any different from the current situation. A minimum wage worker reading from a script doesn't generally do any better than that.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        Like my ISP:

        Me: I can't connect to the internet. Both the DSL and Internet lights on the (external) modem are off. I think it's due to the noise on the line.

        Tech: Have you tried rebooting your computer?

        (20 minutes of "troubleshooting" later that could not possibly solve the issue...)

        Tech: I'm afraid I can't help you with that. I'm transferring you to Tier 2.

        Tech2: What seems to be the trouble?

        Me: I can't connect to the internet. Both the DSL and Internet lights on the (external) modem are off. I think it's due to the noise on the line.

        Tech2: Can you connect to the web interface on the modem? Great. Read me line ___ on page ___. Whoa... that's some serious noise on the line. I'll dispatch a tech.

        If only "shibboleet" actually worked...

        1. Martin-73 Silver badge

          Re: I can hear the conversations already

          If you're in the UK, Andrews an Arnold. Shibboleet works.

    3. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: I can hear the conversations already

      [Client]: I can't access to the internet

      [System]: I can direct you to our service outage web page which will highlight any service affecting outages in your area

      [Client]: ..but I can't connect to the internet

      [System]: Have you really tried? I mean, *really* tried?

      [Client]: Fuck you, you robotic moron

      [System]: I will not tolerate techno-phobic comments, you have been reported for crimes against technology, a re-education center official will be in touch shortly, please hold the line.

    4. onefastskater

      Re: I can hear the conversations already

      It's all so sublime. I was on the telephone line with UPS - United Parcel Service, in the US and was unable to change the delivery options for an Amazon package on line. "Technical difficulties, refresh your browser or try later". Sigh. None of the keywords worked I was stuck in and endless, mindless loop. The f'ing MBA's are a bunch of idiots. I hate to say it, really hate to say it, hope Bezo's buries UPS.

      1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

        Re: I can hear the conversations already

        The f'ing MBA's are a bunch of idiots.

        But isn't it redundant to say that, about **ANY** MBA?

    5. onefastskater

      Re: I can hear the conversations already

      It's all so sublime. I was on the telephone line with UPS - Uniter Parcel Service, in the US and was unable to change the delivery options for an Amazon package on line. "Technical difficulties, refresh your browser or try later". Sigh. None of the keywords worked I was stuck in and endless, mindless loop. The f'ing MBA's are a bunch of idiots. I hate to say it, really hate to say it, hope Bezos buries UPS.

  4. Just A Quick Comment

    Oh dear...

    We are SO screwed...!

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Oh dear...

      Why do you think it will be any worse than the current awful menu and script systems?

      Reminds me of the scene in Small Soldiers where Alan calls the toy company and asks to be put through to a machine.

      Call centres and scripted issue handing are examples of the limits of rule-based systems. They are expensive and frustrating for all concerned. A domain-specific ML system should be able to identify the issue (it really only needs to identify a few key words) from the description and use the knowledge base to suggest solutions, or move the call quickly to a trained expert if required. Assuming they keep reviewing the calls and improving the matching this should soon outperform the existing systems.

  5. Pangasinan Philippines

    Robocop

    Put down your weapon.

    You have ten seconds to comply!

  6. Frumious Bandersnatch Silver badge

    Ya tvoi sluga

    Ya tvoi rabotnik!

  7. Dan 55 Silver badge

    How to social engineer a Googlebot

    Could you get it to send a SIM to a new address and activate it so you can SIM swap someone?

  8. arctic_haze
    Terminator

    The AI if only serving its masters

    The problem is the masters are not mundane Reptilians or Grays but psychopatic CEOs.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge
      Headmaster

      Re: The AI if only serving its masters

      Sociopathic, perhaps, instead of psychopathic.

  9. Flywheel Silver badge
    Pint

    Natural language

    I'll buy it a virtual pint if it can understand and act on "WTF" "WTAF" and "FFS". That's the kind of "natural" language I generally use if it gets bad enough to need to phone up!

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Natural language

      If Alexa can, and I think it can, then the system certainly can.

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: Natural language

      I'm sure Tay would have no problem with "emotion enhanced verbiage". Maybe Google/Verizon could get a license at a discount.

  10. Robert Grant Silver badge

    You're through to Google. How can we help?"

    "I'd like to check my balance, please."

    "Sure thing! This is Google Fit. Can you start by standing on one leg for me?"

  11. Martin Summers Silver badge

    Anyone deploying this type of customer suppression is not doing it to help the customer. Very rarely have I found an automated system that actually helps with anything.

    Eventually companies' call volumes will reduce and they will think they are on to a winner. Until they realise that most of their customers left for the sake of not being able to get a simple query resolved. It will take a while for that to kick in but it will happen, and by then it may be too late for them. Taking the human element out of customer service rarely works.

    1. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      But that's when I go out of my way to find EVERY possible email at the company, sales, press contacts, etc. And CC them all on a nasty message.

  12. Donn Bly

    Robotic Overlords?

    Is this one of the first documented and verifiable accounts of our robotic overlords in action? If we don't bow them, they just put us through to a human slave that does their bidding, taking their instructions in real-time?

  13. Not Enough Coffee

    The best customer support I ever had was from the original WordPerfect. They even had a hold music DJ!

  14. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Daisy?

    Just ask the bot if it can sing "Daisy". If it's truly intelligent it'll put you through to a human immediately.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      Re: Daisy?

      We could also try asking it to divide by zero for a laugh.

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