If only I were

Building Great Software

Chat with Sarah – the future of automated help

with 12 comments

PayPal has a virtual agent that is supposed to help field questions. Maybe it is helpful in some cases, but for a significant question it is useless. Here is the actual text from our “conversation.”

Sarah – PayPal :
Hello, I’m Sarah, and I’m here to answer questions you have about PayPal. Just type into the box below and click Submit to get started.
I’m in training now, so if I don’t know the answer to your PayPal question, I’ll try to learn it for next time!

You :
I forgot my password and I can’t get it reset, can you help me?
Sarah – PayPal :
If you have forgotten your PayPal login password, or if your password has been locked, you can reset your password by confirming your identity.

1.  Visit the PayPal website at https://www.paypal.com/
2.  Click the Forgot your Password? link.
3.  Enter the email address you used to register.
4.  Enter the code shown in the security text box.
4.  Click Continue.
6.  Confirm your account ownership and click Continue.
7.  Confirm additional account information and click Continue.
8.  Create a new password and click Submit. Anything else I can do to help you?

You :
I’ve already tried that.
Sarah – PayPal :
Ok, what’s your question?

You :
I already asked my question, you need to give a better answer.
Sarah – PayPal :
I was trained to give personalised answers, which sometimes means that I may have to ask a private question or two! If you think of anything else I can help you with, I’ll be here.

You :
Can you help me?
Sarah – PayPal :
As a virtual advisor I’m here to help you with questions about PayPal.

You :
Can I talk to a real person?
Sarah – PayPal :
I may be able to help with your request. However, if I can’t answer your question, you can visit the Help Center, or Contact Us.

You :
Do you know anything about Alan Turing?
Sarah – PayPal :
I don’t understand. If you think of anything else I can help you with, I’ll be here.

You :
That’s what I thought.
Sarah – PayPal :
If there’s anything else you’d like to ask me, I’m here 24-7 to answer any questions you might have.

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Written by Chris Sutton

September 16, 2008 at 3:10 pm

12 Responses

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  1. I love the “Alan Turing” comment…beautiful

    Tim Barzc

    September 17, 2008 at 12:04 pm

  2. […] Sutton recently posted his chat with Sarah, Paypal's new automated help assistant.  Curious about the service I checked it out and […]

  3. @Tim,

    I couldn’t resist the Turing comment since I already knew I was going to be blogging it by that point. I don’t understand how companies can think they are doing a good thing by putting out a system of such low quality.

    Chris

    Chris Sutton

    September 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm

  4. That is awesome! :D

    Robz

    September 17, 2008 at 10:10 pm

  5. I check the PP site a great deal, seems this is pretty new feature. I follow linguistics recognittion software, these things are usually launched in an unfinished capacity, then they let the first runs of conversations do the hard work of volume training. I’d be interested to see if a commercial chatbot improves quickly or not in an open forum, compared to smaller sample research bots.

    Still, you have to admit at least pushing this sort of thing is going in the right direction, even if it’s pretty flawed now. ;)

    Davis

    September 22, 2008 at 6:11 am

  6. @Davis

    I think putting a system out that is this bad is just an all-around bad business choice.

    Chris

    Chris Sutton

    September 25, 2008 at 7:56 pm

  7. Sad and frustrating. Well, let me tell you, Sarah has not gotten any smarter. Here is my interaction with her yesterday. It’s pretty hilarious:

    “Sorry, I haven’t been designed to discuss human. How can I help you?”

    Paypal sends in agent Sarah to help me sort out my ebay problem. Here is the dialogue. I must admit that I did not initially read the first sentence explaining that she was not human. So, my first entry overwhelmed her. Although, simplifying did not make it any better. To add insult to my frustration, when I did speak to a real person, she was laughing with a coworker about this diaglogue and said that Sarah should be a blonde and not a brunette.

    Here it is, both sad and hilarious. Thanks PayPal:

    Sarah – PayPal :
    Hello, I’m Sarah and I’m here to answer your questions about PayPal. Even though I’d like to be a real person, I’m not. I’m programmed to answer your questions. How can I help you?
    You :
    I am an active ebay buyer. I usually choose to pay for items over $100 with AMEX; however, after reading PayPal’s security guarantee with each transaction, and having to press Yes to Change, when presented with the ubiquitous “Are you sure you want to use a different payment method?”, I’ve relented and relied on direct withdrawal from my bank account. – the obviously preferred method by PayPal. Now I am experiencing a potential problem with a seller (they sent the wrong item). Paypal’s resolution center says that refunds are handled outside of Paypal. If I had charged the item to Amex, I could ask for a hold or refund. Please explain to me how Paypal protects me when I pay with direct withdrawal?
    Sarah – PayPal :
    Sorry, but your phrase is too long and I will not be able to perform a full analysis. I would be very grateful if you could try to make it a bit shorter and more concise.
    You :
    So Sarah, you are computerized and not a real person?
    Sarah – PayPal :
    I’m listening. How can I help you?
    You :
    Please explain to me how Paypal protects me when I pay with direct withdrawal and do not receive the right item from the seller?
    Sarah – PayPal :
    Sorry, but your phrase is too long and I will not be able to perform a full analysis. I would be very grateful if you could try to make it a bit shorter and more concise.
    You :
    Please give me a phone number so I can talk to a live person.
    Sarah – PayPal :
    If I can’t answer your question, you can visit the Help Center, or contact us by email or telephone. The customer service number will vary, depending on which account type you have.

    To find the phone number:
    1. Click here for the Contact Us page.
    2. If you haven’t already done so, log in to your PayPal account.
    3. The PayPal Customer Service phone number for your account is listed.

    To contact us by email:
    1. Click here for the Email us page.
    2. Log in to your PayPal account.
    3. Provide the requested information, and then click Continue.

    Before we continue, was this helpful?
    You :
    No
    Sarah – PayPal :
    I’ve just opened the right page for you.
    Sarah – PayPal :
    Anything else I can do to help you
    You :
    If you were a live person, perhaps. But your lack of analytical abilities is not helpful.
    Sarah – PayPal :
    I’m sorry but I’m unavailable right now. Please try again in a few minutes.
    You :
    Circuit overload?
    Sarah – PayPal :
    I’m not sure I’ve understood. Could you please rephrase your question?
    You :
    Thanks for great blog fodder
    Sarah – PayPal :
    You’re welcome. If you think of anything else I can help you with, I’d be happy to assist you.
    You :
    Tip, be sure to turn yourself off before you take a bath
    Sarah – PayPal :
    I apologize if you can’t find the information you seek by speaking with me. Please enter a new question, visit the Help Center, or Contact Us.
    You :
    Hopeless
    Sarah – PayPal :
    Really, that frustrates me… Because I do my best to improve every day. If you think of anything else I can help you with, I’d be happy to assist you.
    You :
    Bring a human in to assist you.
    Sarah – PayPal :
    Sorry, I haven’t been designed to discuss human. How can I help you?

    Kirsten Waerstad

    March 5, 2009 at 1:12 pm

  8. Hello Sarah, i have tried to open a paypal account but it got all wrong with the paypal password that i need to log in but i never got it. i have tried to log in again using my other email account and again i got stuck. please help me or cancle everything that i did so i can try it again. many thanks

    cornelis hendriksen

    April 1, 2009 at 12:04 pm

  9. Almost a year later, still no improvement..

    Hello, I’m Sarah and I’m here to answer your questions about PayPal. Even though I’d like to be a real person, I’m not. I’m programmed to answer your questions. How can I help you?

    You :
    an online transaction is being denied because PayPal is telling them I have no funding sources for my PayPal account?

    Sarah – PayPal :
    Sorry, but your phrase is too long and I will not be able to perform a full analysis. I would be very grateful if you could try to make it a bit shorter and more concise.

    You :
    no funding sources for my PayPal account

    Sarah – PayPal :
    Yes, that’s the website you are visiting.

    You :
    Linden Labs

    Sarah – PayPal :
    Sorry, I haven’t been designed to discuss horticulture with you.

    Jerry

    August 5, 2009 at 10:26 pm

  10. It would help if you dummies asked proper questions. It’s not a real person, no programmer could programme the script to answer silly long questions like that. In the first example, the question was answered, but the person didn’t follow the instructons. Sometimes, people complain about things without working out that they are in the wrong.

    Joe

    September 26, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    • @Joe, thanks for your insight. I was thinking the whole time it was a real person. Thanks for clearing this up for us all.

      Chris Sutton

      September 26, 2009 at 1:45 pm

  11. So, if I recently changed my password and forgot it, and I get hopelessly sucked into the vortex known as Sarah, is there a path to a real person?

    steve

    January 24, 2012 at 10:05 am


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