Worst Online Chat Ever!

In October, Ron Rogowski provided a couple of excerpts from one of our colleague's online chat with her cable and Internet provider. But this chat session was so bad that I couldn't resist the urge to share it in its entirity. (Read to the end for a fantastic Yoda moment.) By the way, I made no edits to the transcript other than to change the names and obscure identifying information.

* * *

User Elizabeth has entered room.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:36:45 EDT 2010) > I don't know my [company] ID or my password, so I can't log in to my account. I tried to set up a new account, but the site says my account already has an online account. Can you please reset my information (so I can create a new account) or help me log in?

Analyst Carol has entered room.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:36:50 EDT 2010)> Hello Elizabeth, Thank you for contacting [company] Chat Support. My name is Carol. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:05 EDT 2010)> My pleasure to have you on this chat, Elizabeth! Remaining committed and focused on my goal which is to provide quality customer service at my fullest effort will always be at the pinnacle. It is with utmost sincerity that I want to extend apologies for any trouble, inconvenience and frustration the log in issue has brought along your way. I simply hope you are doing fine.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:26 EDT 2010)> No worries. As your [company] service representative, I want you to know that issue resolution and your satisfaction are my top priorities for today. Together, we can work this out, Elizabeth.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:33 EDT 2010)> As I understand your concern, Elizabeth, you want to retrieve your [company] username and password for you to be able to access your online account, right?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:37:41 EDT 2010)> Yes.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:37:48 EDT 2010)> Thanks for clarifying that.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:38:12 EDT 2010)> I genuinely know how it feels to be in your shoes right now and how inconvenient it is for you to contact us for this. I admit I sometimes encounter the same problem as yours like whenever I am not aware of my log ins, Elizabeth, which makes me realize on where the feeling of frustration may come from.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:38:31 EDT 2010)> Don't worry, the wait will be worth, together, we will make sure to get this issue done for you. All we need to do is to check your account, look up for your [company] email address, and generate a temporary password for you to use in accessing your account.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:38:35 EDT 2010)> OMG — please stop empathizing with me and just solve my problem!

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:38:37 EDT 2010)> I totally understand how important it is for you to have easy access to your account whenever and wherever you need to, Elizabeth. I can definitely take care of this for you today. Let me go right ahead and pull up your account first. Protecting your privacy is a priority to [company], may I have the name on the account, account number and the last four digits of your socials?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:38:54 EDT 2010)> Elizabeth [last name]

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:38:58 EDT 2010)> Sure, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:39:05 EDT 2010)> [Account number]

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:39:11 EDT 2010)> [Social security number]

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:39:22 EDT 2010)> Awesome! The information truly helps for me to pull up your account! Thanks!

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:39:29 EDT 2010)> I appreciate your cooperation and patience. I have the account up now. I am checking on it, Elizabeth.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:39:46 EDT 2010)> Oh by the way, for chatting in today, I am very happy to inform you that I can sign you up to and take advantage of our best [Company] features. This one's for free!

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:39:59 EDT 2010)> [Company] allows [product] subscribers to get 2 GB of space, a personalized portal, and the ability to share files through this site, [URL]. Plus, you can definitely take advantage of this feature if you have Norton installed in your computer since it automatically backs up files when your PC is idle, so backups won't slow you down or get in your way. Norton Backup will back up files to the local computer. For an online backup solution [company] offers [product] — [URL].

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:40:21 EDT 2010)> You should save your upsell offers until after you solve my problem.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:40:28 EDT 2010)> I don't need backups.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:41:03 EDT 2010)> That is just a heads up for you. But I can understand your hesitation, Elizabeth. If you like to know more about [company] products and features, please feel free to visit this site: [URL]

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:41:05 EDT 2010)> Thanks for waiting.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:41:41 EDT 2010)> I do see here an existing email account with [company] as per checking your account.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:42:12 EDT 2010)> I can surely provide a randomly generated password for you if you happen to forget your own password. I apologize for I am unable to provide the current password you have, as that information is hidden for your account's protection. How is that to you?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:42:24 EDT 2010)> A random password is fine.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:42:33 EDT 2010)> Thank you.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:42:36 EDT 2010)> Before I can reset your password, I need to ask for the security pin. It is a 4 digit code that is sent to you by mail when you subscribe to our phone services. May I ask for the security pin please?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:42:54 EDT 2010)> I don't have it.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:43:00 EDT 2010)> Is there another option?

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:43:35 EDT 2010)> Not to worry.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:44:31 EDT 2010)> We can use your security question.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:44:35 EDT 2010)> What is your best friend's name?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:44:43 EDT 2010)> [Best friend's name]

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:44:54 EDT 2010)> Great! That worked!

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:45:17 EDT 2010)> Let me go ahead and reset your password now.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:45:35 EDT 2010)> I appreciate you staying patient with me. I have now your password.Temporary/Randomly Generated Password: [password]

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:45:45 EDT 2010)> Thank you.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:45:45 EDT 2010)> To make sure your issue is resolved, can you check for me if the log ins work, Elizabeth?

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:45:54 EDT 2010)> Yes, hold on . . .

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:46:01 EDT 2010)> You're welcome.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:46:06 EDT 2010)> Take your time, Elizabeth.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:46:12 EDT 2010)> I would greatly suggest that you personalize your password into something you can easily remember through [URL], under [account] tab to ensure the safety and privacy of the account, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth (Sat Oct 2 11:46:15 EDT 2010)> That worked, thank you.

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:47:08 EDT 2010)> Magnificent that is! It feels great on my part knowing you were able to log in now. I really appreciate the time and opportunity you've given me in resolving your issue today, do you have anything else in mind aside from retrieving your logins, Elizabeth?

Carol (Sat Oct 2 11:47:09 EDT 2010)> No need to thank us. We're here to thank you.

* * *

Ron had good advice for frontline reps providing customer service, regardless of the channel: Be human, and answer the question.

I'd love to hear your reactions to this chat and your thoughts on where it went wrong.


Non-native speaker

Hi Kerry,

The most obvious fault of this chat is that it's being conducted by a non-native English speaker. That means there are all sorts of extraneous words and phrases "Carol" includes while trying to bide time to figure out Elizabeth's problem. On the phone, consumers can hear a slight accent in someone's voice and forgive them (or not) for having to take extra time to understand them. But in an online chat situation, it's important to find representatives with strong writing skills in the desired language.

I'm not sure I would have even trusted this representative with my personal information!


Is that a US-centric issue?

hi Julie! How are you doing? It's nice to hear from you!

The native language issue is definitely a huge gripe in the US, and I wonder if it's also a problem globally. I'd imagine that in parts of the world where many languages are spoken, there might be more latitude for non-native speakers?

Maybe someone from outside the US could provide some insight.

Likely not a US-only issue

I don't think the native speaker issue is a US-only one. Our global call center hires representatives who can serve their native language, English, and one other, but we don't have live chat yet, mostly because of the challenges of written language. Even when native speakers respond to consumers via email, there can be some linguistic nuances that need to be addressed. I think that hiring reps for live chat or other written responses requires attention to very different skills than hiring for a call center where you're looking for someone who is genuine and personable and who can think well on their feet.

Most of the companies's customer services is outsoured now

It happens everywhere in customers support whether it is call center or live Internet chat, now it will become normal for us.

- John Devis
Magento Themes

I think you're *partially* right

For companies that are looking to be cost leaders, I think you're right that outsourcing (or other low-cost customer service approaches) will be the norm.

But companies looking to differentiate through customer experience will likely move their call centers back home. As Tony Hsieh says in Delivering Happiness, "our belief is that the telephone is one of the best branding devices out there. You have the customer's undivided attention for five to ten minutes, and if you get the interaction right, what we've found is that the customer remembers the experience for a very long time and tells his or her friends about it."

Automated banalities!

Great post Kerry – Thanks. It’s eerily reminiscent of a few of my own chat sessions. I have often wondered if companies such as this are resorting to asking service reps to send automated, canned responses (with autofill used for personalization) to messages in order to keep the customer "engaged" and provide the appearance of activity. Perhaps some are even using fully automated systems for this? Such responses seem aimed at keeping customers from being frustrated at the slow response - is it a problem of under-staffing I wonder? Certainly the banal messages sent in this conversation smack of filler - I find it hard to believe, imagining how busy these associates must be, that an associate would take so much time to type lengthy messages that have no service value (perhaps "Carol" has a page full of phrases she uses to paste into the conversation to save time). I feel I can usually tell the difference between engaging in a real conversation and being part of a semi-automated routine. This level of service simply makes me want to find another provider (as I did recently after a similar experience that went unresolved).

I hope that highlighting the problem will cause companies to re-think this critical aspect of customer engagement!

Yup, this smacks of canned responses

When I read this transcript, I was really struck by this phrase: "Awesome! The information truly helps for me to pull up your account!"

It just feels so different from an encounter Steve Portigal related in a comment on a previous post: "I went to a relatively new In-N-Out Burger in Redwood City a few weeks ago and the very very young woman behind the counter chirped 'Awesome!' when I said that I *did* want onions and it really felt good."

Both reps used the phrase "Awesome!" But the end result was very different, and (to your point) was likely due to the response being canned or not.

Just Guessing

I'm just guessing here, but I suspect that the entire transaction was an automated script, not an interaction with a person (either from the USA or not).

ELIZA, is that you?

So "Carol" is really ELIZA?? :)

(For those not familiar, you can learn about her here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA)


Sounds like a good topic for some research! Where's Eliza? .... could it replace where's Waldo?

ELIZA was my first thought

I remember how that ersatz psychologist would mimic your responses and drive you even more insane. "Carol" sounds like she's trying to soothe but accomplishing just the opposite. I think Tony Hsieh is correct about the phone; I put in a call to the Apple Genius Bar, and I've been telling people ever since about why it's another reason to love the Mac.

It is chat sessions like these...

.. that make executives question the efficiency and effectiveness of chat as a strong alternative to voice. (My first reaction to this chat transcript was OMG- unbelievable!). I had a recent chat conversation with a Top 3 computer company and the session was terrible- 11 minutes while waiting for the chat agent to just respond to my basic question- that too on a sales chat.

However, there are several terrific chat sessions that are outstanding for the consumer and relieves senior execs of CSAT and cost headaches. Many companies adopt chat either because it saves cost or it is a good to have on their website. But chat management is more than that. It requires a balance between ECS or Experience, Cost and Scale. And if companies do not get this balance right, consumers end up facing irritable situations like above. (I invite you to read this http://www.247customer.com/innovationlabs/blog/)