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You couldn’t make it up (Series 11, Episode 4)

The other day I met up for a pub lunch with an old pal [hereafter referred to as “A” in order to protect both the innocent and guilty] – well, to be brutally direct about it, actually a friend of an old pal – whom I used to know quite well but haven’t seen for about four years. In the process of “chewing the cud” he told me told me a tale of recently trying recently to deal with one of the major utility providers [which I shall refer to it hereafter as “B”] over the matter of closing his account with them because he was moving house.

It had not gone particularly well.

For starters, B (understandably) required a “final meter reading” in order to prepare their final invoice as part of the process.

As it happened – because the period between exchange of contracts and date of completion of the sale of his (unoccupied for five months) house had been so short – five days – A had been obliged to organise his removal van to “do their thing” just four days before completion.

On that “removals” day A had taken down and photographed a reading from the meter concerned and then submitted it to B via their website on the basis that, once he left his house that day he was not returning and (hopefully) B would therefore accept his reading taken four days before completion as his “final” one.

However – in the event they could not – he indicated he would be prepared to accept their estimate of the “product” used by the house during the period up to completion day – and the arrival of the new owners – as being a fair record and pay any invoice based upon it in order to close his account with B to the satisfaction of all concerned.

A week after completion A had then received an email from B announcing that the “final” position on his account with them now showed him to be nearly £400 in credit!

A was puzzled as to how this could have come about as he thought he paid his bills from B by debit card and not direct debit. The only other explanation he could think of was that perhaps the Government’s “help the public” energy handouts initiative has somehow rendered his account in this “healthy” state from his point of view.

He resolved to contact B on its customer phone number in order to register a request/demand that they pay him the outstanding amount that they now owed him.

His phone call was answered by a pre-recorded lady explaining that, in these hard times, B was prioritising its vulnerable customers and everyone else might be best served by going to their website – where the answers to most queries could be found and (if that failed) they had available both a 24/7 chat facility and/or a WhatsApp service. He stayed on the line and – when prompted by the “automatic lady” – gave his account number, name, address and date of birth by tapping them in on his phone keyboard.

Having then spent 20 minutes waiting in vain to speak to somebody at B, A decided to give up and try the online “chat” facility or, failing that, B’s WhatsApp service.

The “chat” facility was clearly being operated by an automated system or robot, so he switched instead to try the WhatsApp service.

What now follows is a word-for-word laying out of the chat that followed between A at B’s WhatsApp service. I can say that because A showed me it on his computer and I photographed it – having first heard him read it out to me at the lunch table – because I sensed that perhaps fellow Rusters might gain some insight, mirth or entertainment from it.

[The exchange began with B’s operator – a “virtual assistant” (i.e. robot) – asking for A’s name, account number and postcode. When A gave both his “old” postcode and “new” postcode, explaining why there were two – and the robot then reacted to the effect that this didn’t look like a valid postcode – the conversation continued thus]:


Don’t be ridiculous, I know my postcodes!

B’s robot:

Excellent. Your account has been identified. It’s currently taking longer than normal to get through to our agents. Our agents should reply to you within 24 hours.


Forget it – my issue would take 2 minutes to resolve if only I could just speak to a human being. I am fed up talking to robots!

[A then discontinued the contact].

[A B staffer – referred to hereafter as “C” – then responds 38 minutes later].

B staffer:

Hello. Thanks for contacting B. I am sorry for the delay in response.

[B then went on to say that he had checked A’s bills and account and it would be helpful if A could supply a “final meter reading” and then gave more details about their other services.].


Hello C – thanks for making contact.

[He went on to explain the circumstances of how he submitted a meter reading four days before completion upon his house sale and offered to send C a copy of his photograph of the meter reading taken on 6th February.]

B’s robot:

Welcome to messaging! I am B’s “virtual assistant” and there are certain things I can help you with.

I cannot understand your query so let’s try again – please tell us in a different way why you are contacting us today.


I am sorry, after many horrendously ineffectual “conversations” with your robots, I am “done” with dealing with them. I thought I was dealing with a human being named C. I am discontinuing this chat because I refuse to “talk” to robots.

B’s robot:

I’m sorry to hear you’re unhappy. I need to take a few details from you so our agents can help put things right. Please can I have your account number? If you don’t have it, just say “no” …

[Chat ends because A has quit his WhatsApp facility].


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About Guy Danaway

Guy Danaway and his family live on the outskirts of Rugby. He is chairman of a small engineering company and has been a keen club cyclist for many years. He has edited Cycling Weekly since 1984 and is a regular contributor to the media on cycling issues. More Posts