How to Talk to a Robot

Every time my Google Voice number rings both of my phones I know fun is about to happen. I reserve that number as my junk phone number for borderline reputable Internet sites and free fishbowl lunches. It is usually preceded by my junk Yahoo email. I know if someone is calling both of my phones that their goals of making a sale and my goals of having fun are going to clash.

When I noticed both of my phones ringing I had both of the kids in the car, parked in the garage and playing. My daughter was busy pretending to drive us to the store and my son was bouncing around in the back seat. Back seats make excellent, cushioned play pens in an unmoving car.

It’s always much more fun when a telemarketer calls when the kids are around. I sometimes ask my daughter to talk on my behalf but she always freezes under the pressure. We are still working on sharpening her sarcasm.

So I answer the phone.

Me: Hello? …. Hello?
Lady: (Long Pause) He-hello?
Me: Hi.
Lady: Oh Hi there. Hehe. I’m looking for the business owner.
Me: OK.
Lady: Are you the business owner?
Me: Sure. (At the time I was running a daycare out of my car)
Lady: Ok great. Well we’re offering great low rate loans to businesses like yours (car daycares) and I just have a few questions if that’s ok?
Me: OK lets go.
Lady: OK great! So how long have you been in business?
Me: (Looking at the kids) Almost 3 years?
Lady: OK. (strange calculated pause) Does your business generate more than $10,000 a month?

In a split second of time, I reran the whole conversation over in my head. The personality, the clipped pauses, the uncertain “he-hello”, and the slightly odd progression of the conversation – it suddenly hit me that I was talking to a chat bot. A very convincing chat bot. I’ve had these conversations before but didn’t realize it was a convincing robot until after the conversation. Realizing this during the conversation was like waking up during a dream and I could fly!

Me: Hey wait! You’re a robot!
Robot Lady: No sir. I assure you I’m a real person.
Me: No way! I know you’re a robot! (Changing my voice as if I’m speaking to a child)
Robot Lady: (giggles girlishly) Oh sir!  I am a real person. Can you hear me OK?
Robot Lady: (Changes her voice back to the serious inquisition) Can we continue?
Me: Yes…

I’m right! Her playful tone quickly switched back to a prerecorded “can we continue?” Also, she made no human reaction to my change in voice – which could have called for her to jump off the script to ask why I thought she was a robot. At this point I think I can reset her, forcing her into an endless feedback loop of fun, and agree to continue with the questions.

Robot Lady: Would you be interested in low interest rate loans for your business.
Me: You’re a robot!
Robot Lady: Uh, I am a real person.
Me: Yes you are. That’s exactly what a robot would say.
Robot Lady: No. (flatly, robotic, angry?)

Meanwhile my daughter was getting frustrated trying to open a water bottle.

Daughter: I can’t do it!
Robot Lady: Sir these are questions we have answer. (100% confirmation!)
Me: Can you help us open the water bottle?
Robot Lady: I can’t help with that. (Clipped pause) Can we continue?

She continued with a few more of her robot questions. Eventually and I got transferred to a gruff old man who sounded real. My son was trying to climb into the front seat to join in the conversation.

Gruff: Hey it looks like we’ve emailed you the information already and Matthew is working on your file.
Me: Yeah but your robot called and I told her I wanted to talk to a real person.
Gruff: Oh Matthew will be in touch soon. We won’t bother you with the robot anymore. Sorry.
Me: Can the robot lady come over and watch the kids?
Daughter: NO! He try bite me! Whaaaaa!

-Dial Tone-

I had read this article awhile ago and I have been causally on the lookout for robot callers since. The calls from the Time article are below. It sounds like this same “Samantha West” is back and is now selling business loans.

At least in the 80’s, all the robot girls sounded like robots…

Update: Upon further research, apparently (as of 2013) this Samantha West is guided by a real person who is just punching a soundboard. I imagine this could be true, but if you’re going to call someone with a soundboard it should always include the question, “Who is your daddy and what does he do?”

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Top Google Searches by Letter

While I was searching for the best words to go along with the letters for the Pop Culture Alphabet (which you should begin using when spelling your name over the phone), Google helped decide which words are the most popular.

Here are the most popular search terms, by letter, in the United States:

Amazon
Best Buy
Craigslist
Dictionary
Ebay
Facebook
Google
Hotmail
iTunes
Jet Blue
Kohls
Lowes
Mapquest
Netflix
Old Navy
Pandora
Qwop
Rei
Skype
Target
USPS
Verizon
Weather
Xbox
Youtube
Zappos

The obvious hack joke here is that we are a society that loves buying stuff, listening to music, social networks, we don’t know how to spell and there are some people that still use Mapquest.

Also, I’d be curious to find out how many people misspelled dictionary, while searching for a dictionary, and were surprised to find that google fixed the spelling for them but went ahead and searched for their word in dictionary.com anyway…

Showing results for dictionary. Search instead for dickshawnary

The strangest popular search was for Q – QWOP.  It’s a game where you guide a handicapped Olympic runner down a track by telling him which neurons to fire and which muscle to control.  My best run was 4.1 meters before crashing headfirst, and bleeding all over the clay.  Urban Dictionary has a much better description.  Given it’s the most searched for Q word on Google, apparently I was the only person who didn’t know about it.

Apparently it’s a 100 meter dash to a long jump. An Olympic first.

1 Hour to Cancel Verizon Fios

If you want to cancel Verizon Fios be sure to have all of your information ready. Gather up your: birth certificate, passport, an 8 x 10 photo from your last vacation by the ocean, an extra phone so you can call your mother to confirm her maiden name, your outside voice, and your last bill.

I walked through the robot lady’s button presses on the customer help line and got received the privilege to talk to a real life human Verizon representative (not even at the zoo!).  “I’d like to cancel my account.” I cheerfully said.  “Here is my contact phone number.”  After a few moments and ‘sorry to hear you go’s’ she exclaimed, “OH you live in a different state, I’ll have to transfer you to your state!”  She dutifully transferred me to the correct state.Our questions will break you!

Things finally got straightened out and I was talking to the woman of my cancellation dreams who had the god-sent authority to cancel my account.  I forget her name (dammit!), but for the sake of this post, she will be referred to as Turd Muffin.

We got really close to her saying it was ok to cancel my account when Turd Muffin put on the brakes. Turd Muffin said that I just had to tell her how much my last payment was or what the last 6 digits of my account number were.  I told her I didn’t have my last bill or my account number. She couldn’t cancel my account without me “securing” my account. My word as my bond was not enough and she insisted that I find the information for without it I could be anyone.

So begins our journey…

I started guessing what my last bill was.  They have not been consistent lately (because they had screwed up and overcharged me by $200 in January and Feb (a story for another day)).  My last bill was negative 3 dollars.  No good.  $211 before that?  Nope.  Around $105?  I think I got really close because of her encouraging tone, but Turd Muffin said I needed to tell her down to the micropenny the exact amount I paid (but it would be OK if I rounded up on the last digit).

So I went online to look for my account number or bill amount. I told Turd Muffin that she had to wait while I grudgingly looked it up. I signed on to my online account and read her the numbers. “That is not the right number,” said Turd Muffin like a disapproving mother who was asking what happened to the fence and was tired of me lying.

“But it says “account number” and has numbers right after that spot!” I exclaimed. Apparently I was signed into my internet account, which I was also canceling, and she could not use my internet account number to confirm that I am who I am.

Keep in mind all of this is just to prove that I am who I am saying I am.  She is seeing all of this information on her screen.  She is holding me and my account hostage until I give her a magical password.

I asked if there was something else we could confirm with; my address perhaps or the name of my favorite animal. “How about I read you today’s Family Circus cartoon instead? It’s hilarious because the blond haired kid doesn’t understand something his mom told him…”

“No no no account number only!” screamed the wretched Turd Muffin. My happiness with talking to the woman was fading. She said that every time I have made changes to my account I have confirmed with an account number.  I told her I have never had to give my account number before, but she pulled out of her docket, Exibit A, and listed off all of the times I had done so.”Right here it says you gave your account number and ‘secured’ your account at this date at this time!”  Liar!  I have never even known my account number.

Normally I enjoy having my own words thrown back in my face and being called a liar on the phone, but not today!  At this point the glue holding my outside voice in unstuck and I started talking at Turd Muffin very loudly (but cuss free).  She said that it was a rule that I couldn’t talk to her that way. Noticing that we were getting away from the point so, I told her that I had made a new rule and it was for her to freaking cancel my account.  I asked if it was a rule to stall by requiring customers to provide ridiculous information so they would give up on canceling and keep the service because it’s not worth the effort.

This entire time I am pouring over six or so webpages trying to find the numbers to appease Lord Turd Muffin.  A lightbulb went off in my head.  I pulled up my last Verizon email.  The email had the last 4 digits of my account!  I excitedly read them off thinking I had finally found the launch code!

“Sir I need the last SIX digits of your account number! Four is not enough.”

Stunned.  “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” I said.

“Sir there are other customers waiting.  If you can’t find this information I am going to have to end this call.”

“I want to talk to a supervisor.”

“Sir, the supervisor is going to the need the same information. I cannot transfer you to a supervisor until you give me either the LAST SIX DIGITS OF YOUR ACCOUNT OR THE LAST PAYMENT AMOUNT!” She said the last part, mocking as if talking to a child. I was tired of hearing the words, “account”, “number”, and all of the words created by her voice.

We went back and forth for awhile with some heated words, talking about nothing and getting nowhere.  Meanwhile she is holding on to this information refusing to take the next step, mocking me, and being a generally terrible person holding the keys to the gate of my Verizon Fios Free life. She told me that I could call the Internet help department to help teach me how to use a computer and squeeze my account number from their terrible site that only shows internet account numbers!

Then it happened.  She said I was wasting her and the other customers’ time and was going to end the call.  I was in the middle of thanking her for wasting my time when the phone beeped dead.

INTERMISSION (go get something to drink!)

I called the internet help department to try to learn how to use a computer.  They tried to look up my account with my phone number.  “Oh you’re in another state! That’s why I can’t get it! Let me transfer you!” **HEAD SMACK**

Then a completely clueless guy ends up on the phone.  “Is your number 123-456-7890? Is that your phone number? What did you need help with?” The last 4 numbers were the same as from my email!

I quickly exclaimed, “READ THOSE NUMBERS AGAIN!”  He did. “Thanks sucker, you just accidentally gave me my account number. Now, can you help me cancel my account?”  Of course not.  Transferred again.

To close this long story, after being bounced once again for getting transferred to the wrong state, I got on the phone with a friendly woman who canceled my account within 5 minutes – not once asking for my account number.  I talked to her supervisor and told on Turd Muffin and suggested non-phone related activities for her to do and where to send her final paycheck.

Three Weeks Later

I’ve been back home with Comcast for the last 3 weeks.  The internet isn’t as fast but it is mostly unnoticeable.  I don’t have cable TV anymore (because: go outside; it’s summer), but discovered yesterday that they still accidentally broadcast BASIC 13 channel cable for free so I feel like it’s 1985 all over again.  I’m going to start watching Sesame Street again starting from Episode 1.

A year from now you’ll be able to read about my explosive cancellation of Comcast.  Expect: Bigger Deals made out of Nothing and Longer Strongly-Worded Conversations!