Why Companies Shouldn’t Use Robots In Chat


I've had an Efax account for about a year and a half now. In that time, I have received maybe 5 faxes. I finally decided to cancel because it wasn't worth the money. I had no problems or complaints, I just didn't need the service.

It was tough to figure out how to cancel my account. I had to go to the website (no luck finding a cancel link), find the 1-800 number to call, work my way through the menu, only to be given a URL to use for the cancel. The only way to cancel was live chat. My responses were followed by long delays and then multiple quick chat posts by "Amy." I started laughing so much that I copied the chat session and saved it to a text file. I am 95% sure Amy was a robot, but I will let you decide. It's kind of long, so I'll put it in the extended entry format for those of you that care enough to read it.

Welcome to chat.
The session has been accepted.
{Amy R.} Hello, Rob. Welcome to j2 Global online support. I am Amy, your online live Support Representative. How may I assist you?

{Rob} I need to cancel my efax account. No problems, I just don't use it.

{Amy R.} I am sorry to hear that you wish to cancel. Could you please provide me your fax number as well as the PIN for verification purposes?

{Rob} 1270721—-
pin: ****

{Amy R.} Thank you for the information. Please give me a moment while I quickly check your account in our records. In the meanwhile, may I ask why you are canceling your fax account?
Is it some aspect of the service, which you are not familiar with, or is there any problem with the service? If so, we could help you with the same.

{Rob} Are you a person or a program? I mentioned above that I just don't use it. I've had maybe 5 faxes in the past year.

{Amy R.} Please accept my apology for the inconvenience caused.

{Rob} okay. Can we cancel now?

{Amy R.} Rob, I can understand you concern to discontinue the service however, it is always good to have a alternative faxing service as you may not know when the need for faxing may arise. In the current scenario, as a special consideration and gesture of goodwill.

{Amy R.} Your eFax account will be credited with $25.90 so that you may utilize our services without being billed our monthly fee for the next two billing cycles.

{Amy R.} Since you will not be charged any monthly fees for the next two months you may keep the account till then. If at all you find that you need our services during this period, then you will still have the account. Only usage charges are applicable for sending faxes. If however, you still feel that you do not have any use for our services by the end of the two months credit period, then you can always contact us back anytime.

{Rob} no thanks. Let's just cancel.

{Amy R.} Rob, I can completely understand your wish to discontinue, since you have already paid for the month, I suggest you to retain this number at least till the end of two months credit offer as you will not be charged any monthly fee for the two months.

{Amy R.} As a goodwill gesture for our further association, I would also provide you with an additional gift balance of $10.00 with which you can send up to 100 pages of faxes for free (per page per minute within US & Canada) along with the monthly credit.

{Amy R.} After the completion of 2 months credit period, if you feel that the fax number does not serve your purpose, you can get back to us immediately without any further obligation to stay back.

{Amy R.} We are available 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Please feel free to contact us at any time.

{Amy R.} Just for your convenience, we will crediting your eFax account with $25.90 and $10.00 as gift balance for the next two months for which you will not be charged any monthly fees.

{Rob} No thanks. I have changed jobs and have no need for your service. Let's just cancel.

(There was a long pause here, which is why I typed "cancel" again).

{Rob} Cancel

{Amy R.} All right then! I will cancel your number immediately.
This is the affirmative confirmation that your account has just been cancelled and all your account information has automatically been deleted by our system.

{Amy R.} I'm sorry that you are leaving eFax. At eFax, we are continuously improving our products and services. Please do consider us if your faxing needs should change in the future.

{Amy R.} Rob, we would appreciate if you could spare a minute in filling the survey form as it would give us your valuable feedback which would help us to improve our services. Here is the link where you can fill the Survey.
(url removed)

{Amy R.} Is there anything else you would like to have assistance with?

{Rob} No. Thanks for your help.

{Amy R.} Thank you for contacting j2 Global Online Support, I hope you found our session helpful.

{Amy R.} Good-bye and take care!

Leave a comment with your vote. Human or Program? My vote is that Amy was a program.

  • Bot. Definitely a bot Rob. At least I hope that people have not become this mechanical at customer service.

  • Robot!

    Definitely a robot

  • A robot, enforcing policies created by people who are themselves not much more intelligent than robots.

  • Bender

    why are you judging all robot kind by a bad AOL inspired chatbot? That’s just as bad as human racism. Leave robots in general out of this! This is just a bad script, programmed by evil humans.

  • a

    I doubt that this is a robot. I suspect it’s just a collection of premade scripts that {Amy R.} was selecting from. Since they’re not recruiting the brightest and best for these jobs, sometimes the choice of scripted answers is retarded.

    My 2 cents.

  • John

    Robot! They are great!

  • Othello

    I say it’s a person, possibly a trainee. I don’t know first hand how it works, but a friend of mine did this sort of work for a bit. You’re given a script that you are required to follow, word for word, and if you improvise you get penalized. You might get more leeway once you’ve gotten more experience, but it probably depends on the employer.

  • Thaddeus

    I say human. She’s using a special chat program that lets her pick pre-written responses from a menu.

  • month.
    Cynthia J.: Let me know the one you would [refer.
    Cynthia J.: I apologize for my typing mistake as above.


  • Chris

    human, too many spelling errors to be a bot, but deff had a selection of premade quick chats.

  • Charlie

    Chances are it’s not a bot. Most companies have Live Chat with scripted dialogue, AKA the agent handling it simply selects pre-written text rather than typing everything out by hand. It’s extremely common, and is done to save time. As shown above, if they agent doesn’t use the scripted dialogue at the proper time it can make them look robotic.

  • EdZ

    I had a very similar conversation when I cancelled my efax account. Whilst the conversation was not exactly the same, many of the responses are word-for-word. I’d guess that it’s not a bot, but a person with a set of pre-created responses to speed up conversations (maybe it’s partially bot controlled, with a human operator overseeing and making any required choices which are than acted upon by the bot system).

  • Dude

    Surely a human would have noticed that you already commented on the reason for cenceling.
    If in doubt, just swear at them, a bot will reply politely, whereas a human would curse back

  • Maybe it was 50-50…

  • zappa

    it was a human, but she could only respond to you with responses given to her. i know how this stuff works. they dont let her talk freely for fear she hauls off on the customers. they give her a board on which she can click different statements to say to you. this reminds me of cancelling aol.

  • Gzur

    Is this some sort of reversed Turing-test? And if it is, what does it bode for humanity if Amy is human? Real stupidity can beat artificial intelligence any day.

  • robot!

  • Cjmovie

    I think it could have easily been a person, but using a rule-based system to lookup all the answers, so that they wouldn’t have to train anyone anything. They type “cancel” and it says bla, then they copy and paste or such.
    Apart from the chance of that, robot.

  • Dave

    Scripted chat program w/ canned responses selected by a human.

    But at _least_ as irritating as a bot.

  • Daniel

    It was a robot. It doesn’t make sense to use a real human if they’re just going to use scripted answers that a robot could do much cheaper.

  • David

    I say human with only specific responses available. I would hope that they wouldn’t let bots cancel someone’s account without any kind of human supervision.

  • zeb

    I think a bot would have had more personality.

  • 120807

    As a robot, I am personally offended by this article.

  • e


  • I can see it as being a person too. Someone who chooses the responses from a database.

  • I agree with Todd. It is likely that it was a human, who had to follow some interaction script. it’s easy enough to implement the natural language understanding (based on keyword spotting, e.g.), but it’s unlikely they’ve done it that way.

    so your story doesn’t really support your claim implicit in “Why Companies Shouldn’t Use Robots In Chat”. it’s much more about scripted interaction with customers. that applies to chat as well as to call centers.

  • steve-o

    Human, but with lots of prefabricated responses. Dell has a lot of those.

  • Joey

    My vote: 1337 progz.

    That could, in no way, be a human.

  • Dave

    Definitely Human. I have dealt with Efax before via chat and the phone. Their entire operation is outsourced to India. You were talking to an Indian tech person.. the misspellings are a dead give away.

  • TheEdiitor

    Either a bot or some script reading moron in India.

  • John

    Probably not a bot, I used HP’s help chat a few days ago, and I thought the person I was talking to was a bot because of the long pauses, but I think they copy and paste some text, because I asked the person if they made any extra money if I ordered something, and they replied, BUT WITH A TYPO!

  • CTZinck

    Yes, I’d say it was a robot, or maybe a blond, or a blond robot?

  • gldnspud

    i vote human.

    why? because i was once a human in this kind of scenario. i worked for the then-ahead-of-its-time irc-based tech support department for the now-defunct-for-quite-a-while sprynet dialup service.

    we were required to handle up to three persons at a time, and when it got busy, we would often take on one or two more simultaneously.

    with that in mind, and with the general crappiness of the service, it became essential for the irc support staff to craft response templates, in order to keep sanity and accuracy for an 8-hour shift.

    some people would ask us if we were bots, and we’d reply that we weren’t, and we were generally pretty well known for having a human touch. that doesn’t change the fact though that with the ratio of support reps to customer demand, having no response templates to help us would have been a nightmare.

  • John Short

    it is a person. 75% of the helpdesk systems out there come with canned messages. its all programed into the system and they just click on the responses. it allows 1 person to monitor multiple chat sessions at once. i know because i an checking into them for a business

  • bot. however, it was suprisingly smarter and more responsive than what I would give credit for on a typical bot.

  • User777

    That’s human using chat scripts. I made an IRC-Chat software myself, operated bots on chat servers a while ago. We did that all the time, 24/7 with multiple Reps, because it’s efficient and convenient.

  • I work with CRM software what you had there was an agent that actually is only allowed to speak with pre-scripted phrases. This is quite common in live chat support because the incidence of someone mis-speaking (typing) can be quite hi with Chat. Most places will allow the agent to type some of their own response but the general idea is that 90% should be scripted responses approved by the company. It is the agents job to follow these scripts. They’ll work multiple chats at one time basically doing the work of the a bot but there to step in live in case the script would fail or you say something out of grammar.

  • g0thikac1d

    Nah nah, she just a dumbfuck h0.
    aint n0thin th0.

    i woulda slapped her bitchass up th0 if i g0t the chance

  • Anonymouse

    Domon arigato Ms. Roboto

  • daniel s

    I think it was a human following a set script. Just like the way people in call centres do it.
    They probably have specialized chat software where they can click to get standard responses to be inserted. The long delays were probably because they were also managing several other chats, or were even on the phone at the same time.

  • David G

    It was definitely a human Rob, the following are most likely;
    1) From the grammar, it’s clear this person is a 2nd-language English (speaker),
    2) From the made-up launguage and faux-formality used (affirmitive confirmation etc.), I’d guess they were in India
    3) The delay you encountered was due to the fact that this agent has been asked to maintain (probably 3+) simultaneous chats – and is taking some time re-orienting themselves in the context of the conversation before replying
    4) 80%+ of their response is scripted (canned)
    5) The agent is not ignoring you, they are following policy and trying to hit their numbers when they repeatedly offer you specials – you most likely ruined some-one’s “win-back” metric for the day

    This entire experience could have been much better using the same agent if eFax just adopted more customer-friendly policies – mixing sales and support is one of the most common mistakes firms make in customer service.

    Lastly, chat is the least efficient service interface, especially for support – I wish web companies would wake up to that.

  • I had almost the identical “conversation”. I’m sure they are real people using canned responses.

    Here it is:

    I blogged about it again today when I noticed how many people are finding my blog when they search for “efax complaints”.

    I recommend Faxpipe. http://www.faxpipe.com. They’ve been really good to me and are not corporate. Good customer service to (I’m not affiliated with either company, just my experience).


  • Darin

    This is a human. She is probably not really named Amy (if it is even a woman), but Amy is a non-threatening name so it is probably everyone’s psuedonym at efax.com. She is probably responding to at least four other chats simultaneously and is not able to keep up with exactly what is going on with each customer. When I managed training for a contact center at Royal Caribbean we had a lot of agents who simply forgot what was going on in the call. It is natural and normal because you are responding to contact after contact after contact all day long every day. It starts to get a little blurry. ‘Amy’ is definitely told what to ‘say’ and is picking scripts. She is getting a bonus if she can recapture potential cancellations and her matrix only gave her two ‘saves’. It looks like it did not work our for ‘Amy’ this time around…


    My vote? ROBOT, without doubt :)
    Guess eFax should really upgrade their customer service huh? In fact look what i found here: http://www.dumbshoppers.com/internetfaxing These guys are actually recommending US or Canada citizens to NOT take up eFax services… must be a reason huh!

  • hemiz

    Got tired of the constant price increases, so I solved my efax problem by going to Ringcentral Fax, 1/2 the price at 2x the service.

  • Sarah

    Hi, my name is Sarah and I am an analyst at Balestriere Lanza PLLC, a trials and investigations law firm in New York. We have been investigating eFax’s potential misconduct and would be interested in hearing more from you — and all of those who have commented on this blog and might read this comment — about your experience. Please feel free to contact me at your convenience at sarah.goodman@balestriere.net or at (212) 374-5400 x 132.