Depressed. I think my new boyfriend is a chatbot

Jul 16, 2021

Depressed.  I think my new boyfriend is a chatbot.

*Some names in this article have been changed to protect identities of real people and real businesses.

If you are in the business of setting up a business (with funding at an all-time-low) the off-the-shelf website builders are alarmingly seductive. My first blind date in the dark world of eCommerce was with lotsalolly*.  I signed up for the basic package for the first month and had the guru Darren* assigned to help me.   It all seemed very promising.

“Darren here from the guru team! Apologies for the delayed response.  Glad you were able to figure it out on your end. Rather than close your ticket, I wanted to make myself available for any questions you have in the future – you're guaranteed a faster answer when emailing a guru directly rather than sending it to the general queue :)”

How could I refuse such help and support? But then, for some reason, Darren morphed into Josh*.  I guessed Darren needed a break from me.  But Josh kept wanting me to upgrade my plan to a higher paying service.   He really had my best interests in mind: “In addition, when it comes to the professional plan, I was looking at your account today and it appears you might really benefit from moving up to our Professional plan. The reason I say this is because during this holiday season your customers might like to give gift certificates to your store as gifts to friends and loved ones.”

Gosh Josh really cares. Or does he? Best not answer that while I’m still at the early stage of the relationship.

And the relationship was about to be seriously tested.   I was planning the launch of my book – a big affair with an exhibition at a top notch gallery in town and three hundred guests – and, yes, on the very same day I would start my online selling platform. What could possibly go wrong?

Everything.  When I discovered all the lost sales (the ordering system wasn’t working) I broke it off in tears.  You’re dumped Darren and Josh. And I never liked your stupid trading name anyway. I hate you.

Back onto the dating site.   New off-the-shelf site builder. Start with the basic package. New helper best friends come on stream – Sian*, Pablo* and Raj*. Learn the platform and, once again, try to understand the labyrinthine complexity of how to coordinate a merchant account and an online selling platform (this is when the Bank is officially dating the Internet).

Several weeks later discover, once again, the online selling is not working. Frustrated customers cannot order. Slow response to my help ticket request.  Digital Rage Episode (unrecorded).  Calm down Alison.  Write.

“Dear Raj

You promised support in the email below – why promise this and not give it? I can only assume you aren’t a real person but an automated service.

This brought on a flurry of emails from Raj saying that he had had a terrible chest infection and been in bed for a few days. I’m thinking TOO MUCH INFORMATION Raj.

Then, unbelievably, an actual phone call from the suffering Raj.  Yikes! A real human being on the other end of the line; and he is miraculously better now (I did enquire); and he wants to help me.  He wants me to stay with his company.  He will be loyal to me.

Oh dear. I’m a teenager again. Let down by the good-looking boy with his promises of commitment and love.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

PS Happily, while this new website is being developed, I have only had to interact with real live humans: listened to their thoughts, looked into their eyes, shared a laugh. Pat, Adam, Garrett — a pleasure to be working with you.

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