Talking to a bot on WhatsApp

By | August 1, 2022

I had a new (and slightly odd) experience this weekend.

I’ve decided to switch my home broadband away from Virgin. My cheap deal has finished and the connection has been a bit flaky lately (not terrible, but amazing either) – and as usual with these things, you have to ring them to cancel the contract.

So on Saturday afternoon, I rang them. I started going through the switchboard menu, then got an option that I’ve never come across before. They suggested that rather than waiting on the phone, I might want to sort it out by text message instead! I wasn’t entirely convinced, but sitting waiting for someone to answer the phone has never been a favourite pastime of mine – so I decided to give it a go. Here’s how it worked for me…

I rang the helpline from my mobile phone, so it might work a bit differently if you call from a landline. The switchboard system checked that I was using the mobile phone they had in their records for me (it read out the last three digits), then offered the text message option.

I said yes (by pressing “1” if I remember rightly), and a text message appeared on my phone.  At that point, I could hang up the call and switch to my text messaging app.

Now, at this point, I wasn’t chatting to a real person – the next chunk was all done with a “bot”. That’s just a computer program that asks you questions like a person would.

  1. First, I had to reply to the text message (it doesn’t matter what you say at that point), just to get started.
  2. This is where it gets a little bit complicated, though. You see, even though the system had said “text message”, what they actually meant was “WhatsApp”. I’m not sure why, but they asked if we could switch the conversation from my normal text message app (SMS) to WhatsApp. I guess it’s easier to manage at their end.
  3. So I gave the bot permission to contact me through WhatsApp, and switched over. So far so good.
  4. I then had a series of questions to answer – why I wanted to switch, if I’d found a different deal elsewhere – all the things I’d have been asked on the phone. I was a really neat system actually. Basically I was just filling in a form for a customer service person to read, but the “bot” made it quick and easy to do.
  5. Then I just waited for a real person to message me back.

The whole experience reminded me of one of those “chat” boxes on a website, if you’ve ever tried on of those. Just from the comfort of my phone!

It’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but I suspect it’ll get more common over time. It worked well for me – I got the cancellation I was after without having to spend ages sitting in a phone queue. And if you’re given the option, I hope that’s given you the confidence to give it a go.

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