So I was logged onto the website for Zappos, an online shoe and clothing retailer, to see if I could cancel an order. The night before I had impulse-ordered my daughter a faux shearling bomber jacket for Christmas, only to realize the next morning that SHE ALREADY HAD ONE. I clicked the “live chat” button to “talk” with customer service and someone named Justin started typing to me.

I explained my dilemma to Justin and gave him my order number, and he said he would look into and get back to me in a few minutes. And then he said, “By the way, do you have any Netflix recommendations? I just finished ‘Dark’ and I need something else to watch.”


Was I actually talking to a … person?

I am used to visiting company websites to try and contact customer service only to be sent down a rabbit warren of Frequently Asked Questions that are absolutely no help — but I am welcome to call the 800-number if I can find it, even though it is only staffed three hours a day in Pacific Time, and it will not be answered by a real person, and will only send me down another rabbit warren of recorded menu options. (Looking at you, AT&T.)

Whenever I do manage to track down a real voice, the customer service representative and I generally speak politely to one another. We may joke about the bureaucracy we are both trapped in, or chat about the weather, but there are certain boundaries we don’t cross because, let’s face it, we are in an adversarial relationship.

But Justin seemed to be trying to have a … conversation?

Was Justin a bot? Was this some sort of weird automated response to humanize the customer service experience?

I mean, technology is increasingly taking over our job of being polite to one another.

Facebook reminds me of my friends’ birthdays and encourages me to send them greetings.

LinkedIn tells me when people get promotions and suggests I congratulate them.

Gmail scans my emails and suggests responses for me — “Thanks for sharing” or “I got it!” — so that I can just click a button and not have to bother typing out three whole words.

Ah well. If Justin was a bot, he was a really good one.

I threw caution to the wind and typed back, “What sort of shows do you like?”

“Sci-fi, action. And drama, of course,” Justin answered.

“You might like a movie called ‘Attack the Block’ I just found. It’s British sci-fi/action but also funny. Kind of like ‘Shaun of the Dead.’”

Justin typed back: “I LOVE SHAUN OF THE DEAD”

And suddenly we were having a real conversation about movies and what a brilliant director Edgar Wright is, and had he seen “Hot Fuzz,” and had I seen “Baby Driver,” and not yet because it’s not available to rent on any of my streaming services.

And then Justin said he was sorry but he couldn’t cancel my order.

Lisa Davis is Features Editor of The Anniston Star. Contact her at 256-235-3555 or

Features Editor Lisa Davis: 256-235-3555.