By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I wrapped up last year by buying a lot of products online—well, at least it was a lot by my standards. Some items were gifts, a few were for myself as I took advantage of Christmas sale prices, and the rest were for work to complete purchases before the fiscal year ended. As I investigated options and made my selections, I interacted on more than a few occasions with various customer service channels.
Though far from scientific, my empirical results can inform and encourage us.
As a consumer I’ve never been a big fan of chat services. Though my typing speed is decent, my accuracy isn’t. Plus, as a recovering perfectionist, I double-check and triple-check my words and their meaning before I click “send.” A phone call, assuming that option is available, seems so much more effective.
Plus my past encounters with web chat were never good. Sometimes a rep never came online, other times the delay between responses was unbearable, and many times the rep never really answered my questions. Once after a response that was completely off topic, I made the mistake of typing, “Did you even read my question?” The rep’s response wasn’t kind. These experiences conditioned me to avoid web chat.
Things have changed, however. My recent web chat experiences were all great, approaching excellent. (I imagine hearing a collective sigh of relief from all of you who provide this service.) Each time I received the help I sought in a timely manner. The reps responded to my chat requests quickly and answered my questions fully, engaging me in the process.
One of the best was from a well-known computer company. I asked the rep how many simultaneous sessions she handled. Her answer was three, but she added, “Sometimes they ask us to handle four if we get busy.” I doubt these requests are optional, but it was refreshing for her to use the word ask instead of make.
With my computer order placed, I later needed to call the company: After a month of shipping delays, they canceled my order. There was something fishy about their explanation, but the result was that I needed to reorder since my original configuration was no longer available. I had two options: go online or call a special number.
I opted to call. I mistakenly assumed the rep at this special number would know about my situation and have a quick, easy resolution to speed my new computer to me. I was so wrong. I spent about ten minutes trying to explain the situation to the phone rep. Once he finally understood, I thought I was seconds away from ordering a new computer. Instead he said, “Let me transfer you.”
The second rep claimed to have no knowledge of my first conversation, but it only took her a couple minutes to understand the situation—and then she transferred me. The third rep, Sylvestor, was the hardest of all to understand, with me pleading for him to repeat—sometimes more than once—what he had said. In the end I caught most of it.
Though I didn’t ask these reps where they were located, their accent suggested a country known for its call centers. This surprised me because I heard that this company had brought their call centers back onshore in response to the outcry of their customers.
Within seconds of hanging up, I received an email from Sylvestor. He confirmed my purchase and provided a link to track its progress. The link didn’t work, and the transaction never showed up in my account. I replied to his email to express my concern—twice. I was still waiting for his response when the computer showed up. My purchase still hasn’t appeared in my account.
This company excelled with their web chat, disappointed with their phone service, and had an epic fail with email. Their channel experiences didn’t align, and I judge them by their weakest channels, not their best one. My three decades as their customer has ended.
Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time. Learn about his books and read more of his articles at Peter Lyle DeHaan.