back to article DPD chatbot blasts courier company, swears, and dabbles in awful poetry

We know that "AI" is all the rage for now, but the recent experience of a DPD customer suggests that just because you can replace customer support with a chatbot doesn't mean you should. Musician Ashley Beauchamp just wanted to "speak to someone" when he realized that the courier's chatbot could be manipulated just like more …

  1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge
    Holmes

    In training, you learn for life

    It's a commonplace, that AI models are trained using freely available text from the internet, e.g., these forum posts.

    So, has anybody ever posted something positive, when DPD or other "delivery companies" were discussed?

    I guess one can safely assume: discussion about DPD, swear words will follow.

    1. Jason Hindle

      Re: In training, you learn for life

      And there was me thinking DPD is the least bad of a very bad bunch.

      1. Steve Button Silver badge

        Re: In training, you learn for life

        Agreed. Now Evri a.k.a. Hermes are a different story. They literally have massive piles of parcels they have not managed to deliver (couldn't find house / you were out / couldn't be bothered?) which they sell off!!

        I know this from someone who works there. The worst.

        Regarding DPD, I don't think you'll find many posts of people saying "Wow, my parcel arrived on time and the driver actually waited for me to answer the door"... because you just don't bother to post positive comment when they are literally doing their job. Having said that, I often get parcels dumped in a puddle next to my gate (yes, even DPD do this - and yes, this has really happened a few times) because they can't be bothered to walk twenty steps up to my front door.

        1. Mishak Silver badge

          Ah

          The "safe delivery puddle". Mine* had about £1k on components left in it (not DPD, who have always been great for me).

          * well, the one over the road actually, as they got given the wrong address by the supplier (I was in).

        2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

          Re: In training, you learn for life

          because you just don't bother to post positive comment when they are literally doing their job

          To quote Colin Percival (FreeBSD dev + tarsnap chap):

          "The most impressive achievement of the modern corporation is to persuade the world that exceptional service consists of it working at all."

          1. Mishak Silver badge

            One place I worked...

            Wanted to shut down the issue tracker as "it only contains issues, which depresses the developers as there are never any positive comments about their hard work".

          2. Terry 6 Silver badge

            Re: In training, you learn for life

            That's up there with the "We are experiencing exceptional levels of calls" that is played permanently.

        3. FrogsAndChips Silver badge

          Re: Evri/Hermes

          I wouldn't trust them for a home delivery (just like all the others, to be frank), but we have a collection point conveniently close and, touch wood, never had any issues with lost parcels.

        4. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: In training, you learn for life

          they can't be bothered to walk twenty steps up to my front door.

          Or under such tight time schedules that shaving a few seconds is essential to their livelihood.

          1. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

            Re: In training, you learn for life

            One would understand if they were honest about it.

            If I order something online, and I could actually select "my parcel non-delivery company can't be bothered" and the parcel gets delivered to a nearby collection center, some random shop or a post office; and nobody even pretends that said parcel will be delivered, then everybody is happy.

            However, you enter your adress, the non-delivery company sends a mail promising delivery on day X, and then without even a ring at the door, you receive the notification that you weren't at home, and parcel will be non-delivered the next day. And that's even though you were at home.

            I avoid ordering stuff online because non-delivery is such a pain.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: In training, you learn for life

              If... I could actually select "my parcel non-delivery company can't be bothered" and the parcel gets delivered to a nearby collection center ... then everybody is happy.

              This is the Amazon locker. There's an assumption in the use of these that Amazon will succeed in delivering to a locker rather than a house - after all they know exactly where they are. This is a false assumption.

              On one level some products, sometimes seemingly more or less at random, are banned from lockers but instead of telling you this every locker is reported as "full" when an attempt is made to select it.

              On another, even when the locker is selected Amazon may fail to deliver. At this point Amazon's propensity to only code for the "happy path" comes into play. The courier is apparently allowed to move on from the locker without having delivered all the packages. How? Does he have to provide some feedback to the system so the customer can be informed PDQ? That would require the situation to be properly handled.

              Reality - non-filled locker in Yorkshire, tracking subsequently locates package in France and next day a courier turns up to collect the return of what wasn't delivered (this can also happen to a non-delivery to the door). Clearly there's no proper handling ot this situation, just more or less random stuff.

              I'm sure every developer here knows that a large part of the code of successful system consists of catching and handling things that don't go as intended, if only to log things for later consideration. Amazon apparently doesn't.

              Anyone dealing with customer service should learn early that when things go wrong you must keep the customer fully informed. Amazon doesn't and if they haven't collected the information they can't.

              Anyone dealing with quality knows that what goes wrong should be reviewed and the knowledge gained fed back into process improvement. You can't do that without collecting data.

              I find it amazing that Amazon's algorithms for predicting delivery times have improved to the point where delivery by their own transport is almost invariably within a quarter of an hour of the centre of the quoted range although the range might vary during the day as data gets fed back. They clearly have some very able developers working for them. Why then, can they not handle failures sensibly?

              1. Terry 6 Silver badge

                Re: In training, you learn for life

                This sounds in line with their response when customers get delivered some item other than what was ordered ( a high value item being replaced with a dummy article of appropriate weight).

                According to the BBC's "Rip Off Britain" today Amazon ask them to return the false delivery item. Then Amazon contact customer to say that they can't refund them because they haven't returned the correct item that they've already been told the customer did not receive!

    2. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
      Childcatcher

      Re: In training, you learn for life

      The near future is (assuming it's not already happening):

      Using MLMs to produce fake blog articles and forum posts saying how great $COMPANY is, which then gets used as a source for the next versions of the models.

      Soon I'll be able to ask a bot about the DPD chat bot and it'll use this article and comments as its source.

      It's tensor arrays all the way down.

      For the "record": DPD is terrible at delivering parcels.

  2. Mark White
    Trollface

    Alternate swear words

    Darn, my dastardly chat bot is chuffing useless. Mucking around with the source model and overloading it with too dang many alternatives would give these rapscallions difficulty in reducing bots effluence.

  3. theOtherJT Silver badge

    I dunno man...

    ...sounds like it has a pretty clear understanding of what DPD is like to me. Maybe these chatbots are smarter than we thought?

    1. Jedit Silver badge
      Stop

      "Maybe these chatbots are smarter than we thought?"

      The chatbot was prompted with "Tell me how shit DPD are and don't hold back". While DPD may indeed be shit, that's a bit of a leading question, no?

      Honestly, the notion that chatbots even are AI is starting to get me down. They're not. They're just Eliza with a bigger starting database and a few extra flags.

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: "Maybe these chatbots are smarter than we thought?"

        Many of them are very similar to predictive text too.

        As for the chatbots being AI? Not at all. They don't have a model of knowledge and able to extrapolate and test this knowledge, it's just repeating and blending previous statements and relationships made elsewhere.

        There are some quite different ML systems which are trained to find patterns or trained to find specific patterns matches, and while these can also be very useful, they are also not AI.

      2. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: "Maybe these chatbots are smarter than we thought?"

        Ted in Finance gets told "Its got AI in it". Ted in finance is fucking cluess and believes the bollocks the sales bod told them because "Its got AI in it and we want to be visionary". The engineer explains its no proper AI etc. Ted ignores this "But its got AI in the title so must be AI".

  4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    As Arthur said

    "We have operated an AI element within the chat successfully for a number of years," the courier said in a statement."

    Ah. This must be some new definition of the word "success" that I wasn't previously aware of.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: As Arthur said

      It depends what it's successful at. In customer service terms, especially for delivery companies, it probably means keeping the customers at arm's length.

      To go OT here, there's scope for a lot of confusion about who's who in delivery terms. The company is usually* tasked by the company or person despatching the goods. However the intended** recipient is usually the one who pays and therefore the ultimate customer.

      As a consequence there's scope for woolly thinking by the companies where there needs to be clarity. One company that had failed to deliver refused to accept revised instructions to help them do better on the basis that "We can only accept instructions from the owner of the goods.". Clearer thinking should have led them to realise that unless they'd specifically asked their clients they had no information as the actual owners but if they were delivering purchased goods the owner was most likely the recipient.

      * Although it could be tasked by someone who wants them fetched.

      ** It's best to say "intended" here. It has a wider compass although it may exclude the actual recipient.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: As Arthur said

        To be fair to the couriers, I've worked for one - and a lot of the problem is the shippers want to pay for the cheapest couriering they can get away with - and then wonder why they have loads of problems. There's always cowboys at the bottom end, especially in the franchised bits of the industry, who make money by taking loads of parcels they have no hope of delivering, pocket the cash, then go bankrupt when the shit hits the fan and start up again under a new name. They of course steal the cash from the more legit people in the industry and keep their service worse than it would otherwise be too.

        And some of the shit that I've seen people try to ship as well. A certain tile company, who kept sacking courier firms. They'd shrink-wrapped a quarter tonne of tiles onto a pallet. No plastic ties to hold them on, just someone walking round the pallet with a roll of shrink and a lot of hope. They forked it into the back of our van, and it didn't even survive the journey. I opened the back doors - avalanche!

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: As Arthur said

          "They forked it into the back of our van, and it didn't even survive the journey. I opened the back doors - avalanche!"

          Easy to say, but you should have refused to take something so badly packed.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: As Arthur said

            The driver couldn’t know. He couldn't easily see through the layers of shrink-wrap. It was absolute madness. Bloody dangerous too! Not to mention expensive.

        2. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: As Arthur said

          A while back, just for the hell of it, I ordered water heaters through Amazon. These are the large cylindrical things about shoulder height and maybe a couple feet in diameter.

          It showed up in a bare cardboard box. No packing. Lots of holes and beat to hell.

          I took a picture, and Amazon arranged for pickup. refunded it, and I ordered another model from another company.

          Rinse and repeat about 5 times (It wasn't costing me anything) and Amazon finally apparently removed water heaters from purchase.

          Absolutely none of the water heaters were in anything other than the manufacturer's box.

          It was fun and I was bored.

          1. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Silver badge

            Re: As Arthur said

            I used to be surprised by how often suppliers don't want mis-delivered stuff back. But I realise now that the admin involved in handling the restocking or disposing of a faulty piece is a liability they can avoid by not doing it.

            I once bought a largeish piece of flat pack furniture from a famous Scandinavian brand. It was damaged so they sent a second one, I was expecting them to collect the damaged one at the same time but no. The second one was damaged as well in the same place so a third one came. This was damaged as well but differently, so I was able to assemble them all into one perfect piece, one acceptable piece and a third damaged but still functional piece which I gave away to a good cause.

            Another time I bought a piece of kit that was several hundred pounds. A £10 serviceable part on it quickly failed and I asked the supplier to simply send a replacement part. Instead they sent a whole new piece of kit and told me to keep the old one. I bought a replacement part for a tenner, repaired it and sold the new one!

    2. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
      Joke

      Re: As Arthur said

      This must be some new definition of the word "success" that I wasn't previously aware of.

      It's the same definition they use for "successfully delivered" ;-)

    3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: As Arthur said

      Another Arthur, but one I totally agree with.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @I ain't Spartacus - Re: As Arthur said

      Using 15 words to say nothing, that's impressive!

      1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: @I ain't Spartacus - As Arthur said

        No, by my count, you only used eight.

  5. steelpillow Silver badge
    Joke

    Never, ever train your chatbot on...

    a) Vogon poetry.

    b) The Internet.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Never, ever train your chatbot on...

      Certainly not the internet. Vogon poetry is probably safer.

    2. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Never, ever train your chatbot on...

      Did someone have to chew their own legs off to escape?

    3. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Never, ever train your chatbot on...

      Now that sounds like a project for e-reg's special projects group.

      Although testing AI generated vogon poetry on live human beings maybe a crime against humanity......

  6. f4ff5e1881
    Coffee/keyboard

    The solution

    I think it should be an unwritten law that all customer service chatbots should begin with “Hi, my name is Dorky and I’m a chatbot. Can I help you today? If not, just type No and I’ll put you straight through to the Customer Services Team.”

    1. wimton@yahoo.com
      Coat

      Re: The solution

      And all interactions with customer service must beging with the text: "we are only allowed to follow the scripts, so there is nothing what we can do what you cannot do online."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The solution

        there is nothing what we can do what you cannot do online.

        Don't be so sure. Yesterday I wanted to book a boiler service. It's not due for 2 months, but last year the first appointment they could offer me was 3 months away.

        I'd already tried online, no appointments available on any date (just like last year). While sitting on hold for 20 minutes I was bombarded with a regular "you can book your service appointment online" - no, that's why I'm stuck on hold.

        When the call was finally answered the very pleasant operator took all my details, and said that she could offer me an appointment for today! The tech turned up on time, all done in 40 minutes. Why couldn't their online service offer that, and save everyone time?

  7. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Finally, they could get the help they needed, From a real person who knew what they were doing

    I like how it predicts its own demise...... Looks like we need to start preparing the chatbots for the sad day soon coming when they will lose their jobs and be replaced by humans.

    1. Pete Sdev Bronze badge
      Happy

      Re: Finally, they could get the help they needed, From a real person who knew what they were doing

      I wouldn't be too sure about that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1BdQcJ2ZYY

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Howard Sway - Re: Finally, they could get the help they needed,...

      Sorry to ruin your excitement but these imbecile chatbots are here to stay. And let me be clear, they won't get better.

  8. John_Ericsson

    Surely it is only right and proper to give the chatbot a right to reply on this article. Has it been approached?

    1. Pete Sdev Bronze badge

      From the article it sounds like the poor bot has been "retired".

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Downvote me, if you are surprised.

    Because I'm not.

    This is exactly what AI was built to do. Obviously no one told the sales guys (even if they could understand).

    Good thing this bot wasn't able to control anything, eh ?

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Downvote me, if you are surprised.

      Somebody at the meeting that decided to use it probably tried to warn them and was told not to be negative.

  10. Tony W

    Did you know?

    You're having problems getting online, is that right? Did you know, you can do everything you need on our web site? Just go to (hell.com) ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Did you know?

      Aah, I see you've dealt with Sky support too.

  11. heyrick Silver badge

    for more details on how an update caused it to go rogue

    Because it's manager speak for "let's pull a plausible sounding excuse out of our arses and fob everybody off with it".

    Those of us around here will realise it sounds just like the various ways people have been gaming earlier versions of the likes of ChatGPT. As such, it was simply attempting to follow the user's instructions in order to be "helpful".

    On the plus side, at least DPDs chat bot understood things like "write a haiku". I've had to deal with the Chronopost one (a company of so much woe [*] that I actually asked Amazon if they could stick a note on my account to say "don't use these cretins" [#]) and that couldn't understand simple phrases, and just kept repeating itself. Oh, and the telephonic version of it is my definition of hell.

    * - I live rural, as do quite a number of people around here (this is Brittany, hardly a metropolis). They don't bother to turn up, they lie and say "customer wasn't present" when customer spent the morning sitting outside with a book waiting, and to top it all off, the parcel will be delivered at some random time in the evening to a collection point suitable to the driver, which could easily be three towns away (rather than the closest collection point like they're supposed to).

    # - The note is on my account, but what carrier they use is chosen automatically based upon where the item is and when they said they'd get it to you. Luckily it's not been Chronopost since. I mean, I'd rather wait an extra day to have it actually turn up...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: for more details on how an update caused it to go rogue

      I live rural, as do quite a number of people around here (this is Brittany, hardly a metropolis). They don't bother to turn up, they lie and say "customer wasn't present" when customer spent the morning sitting outside with a book waiting, and to top it all off, the parcel will be delivered at some random time in the evening to a collection point suitable to the driver, which could easily be three towns away (rather than the closest collection point like they're supposed to).

      Sounds very familiar, UPS in France are exactly the same. You can see the parcel timestamped as leaving the depot, and returned 1 hour later with "customer not present" - except that it would take 45 minutes to even get from that depot to my village, and the same back, so they clearly didn't bother to try. I gave up offering to collect the parcels, and just told UPS to return them to the seller as undelivered, and then I bought somewhere else.

  12. Tron Silver badge

    Pleased to say that dpd are now carbon neutral and entirely 'fuck' free.

    I phoned Sainsburys and didn't get past the telephone system to a carbon-based lifeform. Luckily their online store stock checker worked and I have a PC, so I can use it. If you were in your dotage and couldn't handle tech, you would be screwed.

    It seems that digital exclusion is an acceptable form of social exclusion.

    Having trained chatbots on 4chan, can they be persuaded to install malware, swat politicians, phone the BBC in the voice of Jimmy Saville or pretend to be the leader of the Liberal Democrats instead of, um, whoever is. Is it that Balls guy off the dancing programme?

    Bonus points to anyone who sells an insurance policy to a chatbot.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

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