Real life

How I got one over on the chat bot

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

2 July 2022

9:00 AM

‘Your service contract has been completed,’ said someone or something from British Gas, in the chat box on its website.

I had been watching the squiggly lines of the icon telling me a person or a bot was typing. When it finally spat that out as the reason I could not book an annual boiler service, I was baffled. Completed? Did they mean deleted?

I had to do battle with the chat box because there was no way of booking my annual service by logging in under my username and password. Everything I pressed directed me back to a home screen asking me to take out a contract.

But I was sure I already had one, which I took out last winter. I would have taken it out when the boiler was installed five years ago but British Gas told me they didn’t want to insure my new Worcester Bosch.

So I got my mate Terry the plumber to service it for three years, and then last year I had another go. I rang British Gas and they were delighted to give me a service contract. They sent an engineer out promptly to do a service.

Now if anyone can explain that to me, I would be delighted to hear their theory of why British Gas won’t service a new boiler but will service one that’s four years old.

The key thing is, I now have a contract, but I hadn’t heard anything from them approaching a year on, which was why I went online and tried to book another service. And when I couldn’t get anywhere I opened one of those blasted chat boxes.

What then unfolded was so complex in its tone and content that I pressed a button at the end which offered to send me a transcript, but this did not happen. I’m not surprised, because no company would want anyone to have a transcript of what went on during that chat.

Luckily, I took pictures of most of it with my mobile phone because I’m cynical like that. After typing my opening line, ‘I want my annual service please’, here’s what I got:

An entity, let’s call him Raoul, who was either a human being or a figment of the computer’s imagination, I have no idea which, came onto the chat and informed me in bizarre diction that I should rest assured, he was about to facilitate everything he could. His squiggly cursor wobbled away, and eventually he said: ‘I’ve checked your HomeCare account for the property and it has been completed.’

I asked him what on earth that meant and he said it meant that I did not have a policy. I took one out and somehow it ended, after one service. And he made as if to leave.

This was ridiculous, I typed. I did not cancel my policy and the payments have been coming out of my account every month. Whereupon he asked me, in all apparent seriousness, to provide details of this particular direct debit I was claiming existed, including the reference number as it was shown on my bank statements.

I asked if he was really going to sit in this chat box while I went and dug out bank statements and went through them. He said he was.

It seemed a long-winded way to book a boiler service, but I did it. And because God favours the brave, the first envelope in a huge pile of bills stuffed in the cupboard of my writing desk that I put my hand on was my latest bank statement, and when I opened it the first page featured very high up an entry involving BG Services, £12.02 a month.

‘I’ve got it!’ I typed, and pressed return. Nothing for a few seconds. Raoul’s squiggly became inactive. It had been wiggling away, happily tapping out something sarcastically encouraging, no doubt: ‘May I assure you that once you find the 12-digit reference number we will be pleased to assist you in this regard…’

I typed that 12-digit reference number. I typed it real good, squinting to focus without my glasses because I was so excited, then I bashed the return key, whooping as I did so.

A few seconds of calm. Then Raoul’s little squiggly started jumping about like an electrocuted fly. Eventually, this came up: ‘I’ve checked your HomeCare account for the property and I can see there is an active cover on your account and annual service is included in your cover.’

I typed: ‘I would like to book my annual service please.’ And Raoul’s squiggly made a series of little jumps and starts, before spitting out: ‘I have managed the slot for your annual service on Monday June 27 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Will this slot work for you?’

Oh yes, I told him. It will work just fine.

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