Daily Mail

Am I talking to a chatbot, I asked. Then my troubles with Evri really began...

- By Sue Reid

HOT nights under a duvet were wrecking my sleep this summer, so I ordered a voluminous white cotton sheet to throw over my bed instead.

The promise of quick delivery from the normally reliable John lewis made me think my insomnia troubles were over. Then I waited.

I holidayed in Spain, went to South Africa on a work assignment and visited friends in the Cotswolds for a long weekend. Six weeks later, the parcel I ordered on the internet in early August still hadn’t turned up at home.

The first time I found a moment to chase up my missing king size sheet was mid- September. I looked up the parcel reference and sent a message to the delivery company.

Their name — evri — should have sounded the alarm. I know now that this snappy title is the new branding of German delivery giant Hermes, which had been accused — in media reports it strongly refutes — of carelessly throwing parcels around holding depots and over customers’ garden fences.

When I emailed evri, I got a quick reply from someone called Sophie at customer services saying she would look into my missing sheet. I thought the message sounded a bit robotic, I could have been wrong. So I asked, rather cheekily, at the end of my next message: ‘Am I talking to a chatbot?’

From then on, all my messages from evri as the parcel search went on were entitled: ‘Chatbot Inquiry’. But, during our correspond­ence, they never answered my question about whether I was dealing with a machine.

When I did some research, I found that my suspicion was not completely off the wall.

All sorts of businesses have been steadily adopting chatbots to answer customer questions. No wonder, installing chatbot software can save up to 30 pc in costs.

But as one article on the rising popularity of these digital devices, which mimic human conversati­on or messages, says: ‘They can never really offer a genuine “I’m sorry” the way a human can.’

That’s certainly the truth. I bristled at Sophie in a series of emails and the missing sheet remained ... missing. I was told to check if another household member or a neighbour had picked up the parcel. Infuriatin­gly, I was asked if the sheet had been located since my original inquiry.

Finally (again referencin­g their reply as Chatbot Inquiry), another email came in from evri customer services. This said an investigat­ion had shown the parcel had been left in an ‘unsafe place’ by the garden gate on September 29 — a date that was wildly out as the original delivery date was August 10.

More bizarrely, evri suggested I should ‘resolve’ my complaint by contacting ‘ Sports direct’. Whoops! I simply emailed back: ‘It was John lewis.’ There has been silence ever since.

I finally got my sheet delivered when I called John lewis. A nice human looked up my order number and arranged for another delivery company to send a substitute.

So what happened to the original parcel? No one will ever know precisely. And I believe, if the truth be told, that evri is in the dark, too.

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