Sometimes You Just Have to Rant

The Bencher—March/April 2021

By Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire

Have you ever made a call to a vendor or service company and been put on hold for an unreasonably long period of time? And once you have actually reached a live person, have you ever been put on hold a second time, or transferred to another person and put on hold again? And have you ever wanted to just reach your arm through the phone and shake the representative on the other end, knowing that it was not going to do any good?

Over the years, I have adjusted to all that pent-up stress and anxiety. With the advent of Bluetooth earbuds, I simply assume I will be on hold for approximately 30 minutes and I do other things—like writing this column for example. But then something happened to change all of that—the advent of the live chat. Up until now, I have been a fan of the live chat. I know those on the other end are managing more than one “chatter” at a time, but they are adept at it. I can explain my issue, review my explanation, hit send, and wait for a prompt response. In fact, most of the time I prefer the live chat rather than chancing a live representative from halfway around the world. UNTIL NOW.

This morning I encountered Charmaine. I have to tell you, this column was going to be about an entirely different topic, but my experience with Charmaine stopped me in my tracks. What began as a live chat turned into one of the most frustrating technology exchanges I have ever encountered, and I fear this is the beginning of a new age—the age of the artificial intelligence (AI) live chat. I believe the notion of what is “live” may be a matter of debate in the world of AI and technology. I will save that discussion for another time. Right now, I want to talk about Charmaine. You may ask “what does this have to do with technology and the law?” I will get to that at the end.

I should have simply changed the screen after the first encounter, which was a dialog box indicating the wait time for a live chat response was 33 minutes. Who waits 33 minutes for a live chat? It makes no sense. But I was writing my Tips on Technology article and had the time to wait. Finally, time passed and it was my turn. Charmaine introduced herself and we were off. At first, I had a feeling she was just too busy, attempting to manage too many chats at one time. The responses were not directly on target with my inquiry and seemed canned.

The more exchanges we made, the greater sense I had that Charmaine had a choice of prepared responses from which to choose and selected the closest one. Then it occurred to me this chat was not live at all. I had waited for 33 minutes to be connected to a computer that was feeding me responses based on the syntax of my inquiry. Some computer named Charmaine, in some closet, was trying to persuade me that I was communicating with a live person—and Charmaine was not doing a very good job of it. After wasting 50 minutes I finally ended the chat only to receive a survey regarding my experience. What do you think are the chances of a live person ever reading my response? Actually, I hope no one ever reads that response.

I promised you I would connect the dots between this experience and technology and the law. I could tell you this is a precursor of things to come. I might conjecture that someday you will encounter a Charmaine on the bench, making decisions in matters of great importance. However, I think that is a stretch. The plain truth is this piece may be about technology, but it has nothing to do with the law. I was concerned that if this were simply a rant, no one would read it. And if no one reads it, does it actually count? So, I may have misled you. Sometimes you just have to rant.

Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire, is director of law and technology and visiting professor at Delaware Law School. He is a Master of the Bench member of the Richard K. Herrmann Technology American Inn of Court.

© 2021 Richard K. Herrmann, Esquire. This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.