Death to robo-responses!

Death to robo-responses!

The responses to Carol Bartz’s blog post are an interesting read, and not just because of the astonishing amount of attention being paid to her language. One person pointed out how irritating it was to be “helped” by Yahoo’s dumb automated “support” system:

I have never – repeat, NEVER – had a human response to ANY email or form-submitted help request that I’ve sent to Yahoo!


All my experience of communicating with Yahoo! customer ’support’ is characterised by exchanges such as:

Me: Hi, I need help with Messenger on the Mac

Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Here are some tips for getting Messenger to work on Windows.

Me: Uh, thanks, but I’m on a Mac. Can you help me with Messenger on the Mac please?

Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Please follow these steps for uninstalling Messenger and re-installing it on Windows.

Me: Um.. haha… good one. No. Really. Can you help me with Messenger on the Mac please?

Y!: Thankyou for contacting customer support. Here are some tips for getting Messenger to work on Windows.

And so on…

I’d like to think the people who actually work in customer support are just as amazing as you say they are, but I’ve never had contact with one so I have no way of really knowing.

Not long after reading that, I had a similar experience myself. I had ordered something worth several hundred dollars from the UK, and it was sent via Parcelforce. I used the on-line tracking system to check its progress, and late on 28 February I was surprised to see the following line had been added:

28-02-2009 17:00 Delivery Agent – AUSTRALIA Parcel delivered

I was surprised because no such delivery took place. I had been at home at the stated time and there was no hint of a delivery van, ring on the doorbell, or box left at the door. Even if the stated time was for the UK rather than my local time, I was in then, too.

So I used the Contact us link to ask what was going on. I filled in all the details requested (including the tracking number) and received an automated response fairly quickly:

Thank you for your email.

This is an automated acknowledgement to your Email, please do not respond to this message.

We will aim to reply to your enquiry within the next two working days. Our business hours are Mon-Fri: 8am to 7pm and Sat 8:30am to 12.30pm. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience that this may cause.

I have no problem with this kind of auto-response. It confirms to me that my query is in their system and they have my correct email address. However, two working days is an excessive amount of time to wait for a response for this kind of service. What if I had needed the parcel urgently? As it happens, I didn’t, so I waited patiently for the real response.

In the meantime, the parcel was actually delivered on 1 March, about 24 hours after the tracking system had preemptively claimed. On 2 March, I received this follow-up email:

Dear Steve Johnson

Thank you for your enquiry.

Please accept my apologies for the inconvenience caused to you as a result of this delay. I can understand your disappointment that the parcel was not delivered on the due delivery date.

Hmm, how can you understand my disappointment? You didn’t understand the problem. There wasn’t a due delivery date. There was a false delivery recorded in the Parcelforce tracking system, which is altogether different.

At present I am unable to arrange for an investigation into the whereabouts of your parcel until I have received the information listed below:

Sender’s details (name, UK address, *contact telephone number)
Recipient’s details (name, address, *contact telephone number)
Posting date
Description of item
Parcel contents (Mandatory – search cannot be initiated without this information)
Value of item

*Please note our Search Team require telephone numbers in order to contact either the sender or the receiver of the parcel. A search cannot be initiated without this information.

To ensure that you receive the quickest response to your enquiry, please could you forward the above information to [removed] we will then be able to commence the search.

I am sorry I cannot deal with your enquiry at this stage but can assure you that once the above information has been received, our Search Team will do all they can to resolve this for you.

Really, WTF? The email subject included the tracking number, which leads directly to most of that information in the Parcelforce database. The information that isn’t readily available in that way is information that I, as the recipient, would quite possibly not have available. For example, what if the parcel is a gift? This list of demands looks like a deliberate attempt to hamper communication with customers.

Kind regards

Tracy [removed]
Parcelforce Worldwide
Customer Service Email Team

Hmm, Tracy, I don’t think you’re real. You’re a computer-generated response, aren’t you? Now I have my parcel, I don’t think I’ll bother trying to communicate with you any more.

Why do companies like Parcelforce and Yahoo! insist on sending out useless robo-responses like this while attempting to maintain the obvious fiction that they are human responses? Maybe at a superficial level it appears to save money? Maybe it does, but that doesn’t allow for the lost income from the customers it drives away. Customers who need real support but don’t get it. Customers who object to being lied to. Even customers, like me, who are just trying to inform a company about failures within its systems? Failures that won’t now be addressed, because nobody human is ever going to read about them.


  1. When I once tried to get my DSL problem fixed, I ended up speaking to my ISP’s overseas customer service department. I believe I spoke to someone in India first, then got transferred to a supervisor in Manila. They were no robot, but they might as well be. They all kept reciting scripts based on my issue. In the end, no one overseas was able to fix the problem. They kept issuing trouble tickets and asking me to check back. As it turned out, it took a contractor in California to physically repair a cable before my apartment building to resolve the issue.

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