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Claire – the chat bot that failed us

We run a walking group. Our band of happy hikers enjoys a pub lunch en route.

On one of our walks we planned stopping at The Hare & Hounds which was conveniently located at the halfway stage. It was perfect for a pie and a pint. Eight people had signed up for the walk and we thought it prudent to call the pub and check if we needed to book a table. The pub telephone number was easy to find on the internet and we gave it a call. The call was quickly answered "Chef and Brewer, the Hare & Hounds Inn, how can I help you today? My name is Claire".

We quickly explained the purpose of the call and were surprised when we were interrupted. This was because we weren’t speaking to a person, our connection was with a chat bot. The bot wasn’t listening; at least it wasn’t listening to what we were saying, it had its own agenda. The bot asked the date we wanted to book a table and for how many guests. It then told us there was nothing available on that date.

This surprised us because we know the pub and it occurred to us that the restaurant part of the pub may be full but we doubted that the bar, where they also serve pub food, would also be chocker. And, if the whole pub was full, we wanted to know if we could order food and sit on the tables outside. We needed to speak to someone to check if any this was possible. But no, the chat bot was having none of it. We couldn't get it to redirect us to a real person who could advise on our options. There were no other contact details by which we could avoid Claire and get in touch with a human being. We gave up and decided the safest bet would be to take our own sandwiches.

On the day of the walk we called at the pub to buy a drink and eat our sandwiches at the tables outside. When we entered the bar at 12:30 PM to buy drinks it was almost empty. We asked the bartender if they were full and he looked surprised. “Not at all. As you can see, we’ve got lots of room”. We explained that we would have liked to have eaten inside the pub but the bot had told as it was fully booked. “Oh that happens all the time” he said. “You just have to shout at it and it would put you through to someone”. Hmmm.

This episode is a glimpse into the future. We have no doubt that chat bots will become more common. They are always available, they don't ask for a wage rise, and they can deal with simple questions. However, questions aren't always simple and it is on such occasions that we value great customer experience. We were disappointed and frustrated by Claire. Be prepared for more of this chat crap. And, assuming that you are in the business of customer experience, make sure that there is a safety net below the chat bot that links your customer to a real person that doesn’t require you to shout in anger down the phone.


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