Online Chats A Reasonable Replacement For Phone Based Customer Service?

from the not-if-the-customer-service-call-is-to-your-ISP dept

When I run into a problem with a company online, I’ll admit that live chat is usually the fourth customer support option I’ll go with (depending on the situation) after self-service, email and phone. I’ve only used online support chats a few times, but every time I have, it’s turned out to be a much simpler process than having to call up a customer service center and deal with hold times and annoying customer service reps. It appears that more and more online sites are looking to implement online chat offerings, though there are mixed opinions on how well it works. Some retailers say that it’s just as expensive as telephone support, but that doesn’t make sense: they’re not paying for phone time and chatting customer service reps can handle multiple chats at once (though, that can lead to other problems). One interesting point that a user of online chat makes is that it’s a different skill set, and often folks who make good telephone customer service reps are not the best online chat reps. Still, I may start using online chat more often, as it has one other side benefit compared to phone support: you have a full text record of the conversation. Of course, this won’t work for the customer service center I end up calling most often: my cable modem provider. The times I’m calling are because I can’t get online, so online chat does me little good (though, I am reminded – incorrectly – by the friendly recorded voice at every step of the way through phonetree hell that I can go online to try to get answers to my questions).

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Comments on “Online Chats A Reasonable Replacement For Phone Based Customer Service?”

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AMetamorphosis says:

Only 4%

I just read in last weeks USA Today that only 4% of people are satisfied with on line chats as a way to resolve a problem.

Also, as someone who has had to man these awful forms of ” customer service ” I can assure you that they are NOT effective and do more to piss of the customer than to actually assist them.

And as a side note, I’ve noticed that people are blatantly rude and aggressive when using this as a form of communication. They are not so much looking for a solution as a means to abuse the person who is on the other end.

Adam Jackson says:

Re: Only 4%

My only experience with chat-support has been with my Auto-insurance provider, 21st Century. I have gotten rate change qutoes and handled other questions with them via their chat and have been satisfied.

Caveat: Although they ‘pick up’ on the chat line much faster than on the phone (usually ~20+ minute hold times on the phone), the back/forth response time on chat is very slow. Luckily, it’s chat, so I can do lots of other things while i’m waiting for my replies and yes, the minimized window DOES blink when the operator has responded, so i won’t forget about it.

I also like having a record of the conversation to keep on disk. I’m waiting for the day I have to fax it over to my insurance agent!

I wouldn’t file a claim this way, though, that, to me, is still too important for “chat”.

NewsJunkie says:

Re: Only 4%

As a customer, I had horrible experiences with online chat help — to the point where I cancelled my account with one ISP and in the other case, told the provider that I would be looking for an alternative provider. What got me — the generally mild-mannered consumer — so pissed off when I didn’t start out pissed off or rude? Well, after waiting for 10 – 20 minutes for “live” help, I found people who were at best, Level 1 support, and who seemed incapable of actual problem-solving technical skills. If they couldn’t cut and paste an answer, they were lost. On the other hand, I’ve had fantastic live helpdesk experiences with #helpdesk for Their primary support is email, but customers (and anyone who’s having problems) can stop in, 24/7/365, and if someone’s around, get immediate help. And when they don’t know the answer right off, they’ll help you search for it and really work with you to solve problems — even if the problem isn’t Cotse-related. Too bad more companies don’t provide the kind of interested and dedicated chat helpdesk support they do.

Oliver Wendell Jones (profile) says:

I hate 'em

The one time that I recently used a live-chat support was to resolve a problem I was having in an online game.

I went to the website of the company and accessed their live chat function. I had to wait almost 10 minutes before someone was available to help me, and unlike a phone call where you can put someone on speakerphone while you’re on hold, you pretty much have to stare at the screen and wait for them to acknowledge that they are there.

The technician (and I use that term loosely) listened (read?) patiently while I explained the problem and then apparently cut and pasted several paragraphs of text telling me that a) they don’t support the use of routers or firewalls with their online-only game (in this day and age who doesn’t use a firewall on the internet?) and *if* they did, these are the settings they would recommend, but they don’t so don’t use them.

I say apparently cut and pasted, or else that ‘technician’ is able to type at greater than 600 words per minute and was able to scroll text off my screen far faster than I could have ever read it.

Then after telling me that there wasn’t really anything they could do to help me, I was disconnected from the chat.

After the experience was over I was given an option to have the entire chat log e-mailed to me which was a nice feature but turned out to be useless as the advice they gave me did not solve the problem. Uninstalling and reinstalling the game completely resolved the problem.

Bobby says:

I can't agree more

I work for a well-known hosting company that was started by the ex-Netscape guy (wink). We use IRC (internet relay chat) internally to manage everything for maintenances to large-scale outages. Not only has this been extremely effective, you can scroll back and replay events. The channels are logged and often used in root cause analysis.

Real Life Example:
Large Data Center in San Jose has a power “accident” and literally cause every device to power cycle/reboot. The worst nightmare has occurred, “someone rebooted the Internet!? We all know how much a sun 4500 with gobs of CPU and mem loves to be randomly keyed. Multiply this buy 800 and you have a lot of fsck’ing and app restarts manually too stabilized entire architectures. This started at about 2PM on a Friday (thank god) and buy 2:30 all hands (yes every technical person in the company) were on deck virtually (ssh’d in). Most site where up and functional with in 1 hours (about 800 machines). Ever have to bounce an EMC? yeah, painful. 2 sites needed some TLC with their db’s and reindexing which took an additional 2 hours.

How does chat fit in?
Con-calls are the DEVIL! We used IRC and had a channel for each site/architecture with a main channel for resource allocation. We had a channel for chatter for those who wanted to laugh,cry,curse,sigh. A large “Cluster F” con-call would have stretched the fix out several more hours.

I have NEVER had a good experience with a con-call during an outage from a technical perspective. Con-Calls are for VP’s who need up to the minute info and are “chat challenged”. The techy needs to be left to fix the problem in a colabarative environment with their peers and mentors, not managers breathing down necks for an “update”.

John Holstein, Cotse Helpdesk/Support Coordinator (user link) says:

Online Support (Chat and Email)

Our entire support infrastructure is based on Online Support, such as Chat and Email. We do not provide phone tech support and with the overwhelming positive response we’ve received from our Cotse.Net subscribers, we have no intention of offering phone tech support any time soon.

Our IRC server, (open to any standard IRC client or our Web Interface) is open not only to our subscribed users, but to anyone with a Computer related problem.

From the Testimonials and the “Thank You’s” we’ve received, our users are very satisfied with our support.

Our chat line is managed by Computer PROFESSIONALS. The Cotse Management Team is comprised of highly trained and skilled computer pro’s. We’re system administrators, programmers, and network engineers. Along with Cotse Management, we have an assortment of Power Users, Technicians and other System Administrators present to assist visitors. We do not read from “flip charts”. Nor do we “abuse” or “neglect” users. Our response time is relatively instantaneous. We’re staffed by folks across the United States and Europe, making it a bit easier to provide assistance 24/7.

If you want to see an example, stop in for a visit. Everyone’s welcome and we’ll handle each call in the order in which they’re received 🙂

John Holstein,
Cotse Helpdesk/Support
No Other Privacy Service Compares.

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