'Virtual moron-idiot': Online chatbot infuriates Telstra customers

Telstra customers have been frustrated and infuriated by a "useless" virtual assistant chatbot installed to deal with online inquiries.

The telco launched virtual assistant chatbot Codi on its 24x7 live chat in October 2017. By February it had dealt with 300,000 customers inquiries, the Australian Financial Review reports.

But it appears customers are less than thrilled with having their questions answered by Codi. A number of tweets illustrate issues the robot has had with processing questions and often appearing to crash.

One Twitter user tweeted a screen capture of his conversation with Codi in a complaint to Telstra.

In the discussion, doctor of computing Paris Buttfield-Addison - or "the man who goes by Paris" on Twitter - repeatedly asks Codi for assistance. But the bot appears to confuse the Tasmanian's name with the French capital and asks if he wants data roaming.

"Please file somewhere that Codi is a thoroughly unpleasant experience," the man later tweeted to a Telstra rep.

Another Twitter user said Codi couldn't process her request to get through to a "human chat consultant" after she gave the robot her name, "Asha".

"Codi is such a complete and utter waste of my time. New service: throwing sim in the bin and going elsewhere. Hopeless," another user tweeted.

Another frustrated customer tweeted that Codi is "the worst idea in the history of customer support" and that the robot is "beyond useless".

On Facebook, a man who's paying for his mobile phone from overseas, labelled Codi as a "virtual moron-idiot" after he repeatedly asked if he could pay a $70 bill.

In February, a number of tweets from Telstra claimed "Codi is still learning" and it "doesn't appear to be working as it normally does".

A Telstra spokesman told Fairfax the plan wasn't to replace people but instead be a "further engagement option for customers".

He added Codi "continues to learn with each customer interaction and will improve over time".

In a statement to Yahoo7, a Telstra spokesman said the telco was using a "digitisation program" to provide customers with "a variety of options to engage with us, when they need to and how it suits them".

"This includes visiting a Telstra store, on the phone and through our digital self-service channels," he said.

"Improving and expanding our digital self-service channels is one of the ways in which we’re making it easier for customers to connect with us in the way that suits them. Codi, our artificial intelligence virtual assistant has been selectively rolled out from October 2017, helping us to respond quickly to customer queries. The introduction of Codi supports a big shift of interactions with our customers increasingly choosing to interact with us via our digital and self-service tools. Codi now handles a set of simple, specific enquiries and has engaged with hundreds of thousands of customers since its launch."

The spokesman added Codi is "undergoing re-training" and many of the examples of customers complaining in the past had "been fixed".

"As with all artificial intelligence applications, Codi continues to learn with each customer interaction and will improve over time," he said.

"If Codi is unable assist or resolve a customer’s inquiry, the customer can choose to be transferred to a human chat agent. A customer can ask to speak to a human live chat agent at any time during their conversation with Codi."