Customer service or hostage situation?

Penny Webb-Smart
Oct 29, 2017 · 2 min read
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

There is an odd wrinkle in the fabric of the digital era that customer service can be more like a hostage situation than an actual service. I.e. the situation where a company won’t action a customer’s request unless they are sitting there waiting … until released by the company’s service representative confirming everything has been completed.

This just happened with my mobile phone provider. I wanted to get a data plan deleted. This data plan wasn’t something I had signed up for, it just appeared on my bill. So I wasn’t thrilled about having to spend any time sorting it out.

So I jumped on the company’s online chat service thinking I would just tell them about the problem, which was really very simple, and they would go off and sort it, and that would be the end of it. Instead I spent 40 minutes tethered to my desk while I waited for the problem to be fixed. I was tethered because I started the chat session on my PC but also because the service representative thought they might have questions. And if I wasn’t there, they would terminate the chat session and I would have to start again on another occasion.

This is nuts.

Years ago, you would just post a letter to a service provider making some request about your account, and when they got your letter, they would make it happen while you went about your daily life untroubled by any need to go and stand next to the person undertaking the work and make bright conversation while they actioned your request.

There is no reason companies can’t use chat like normal messaging where two people can carry on a conversation over hours or even days. And where the message will follow the participants across devices (and therefore follow them wherever they happen to be). So if I want to go to the movies, the conversation can seamlessly shift from laptop to mobile, and I won’t be ‘disconnected’ if I don’t reply to a question instantly.

As it is, companies essentially make live chat like a telephone call with the sound turned off. It is still involves waiting in a queue, getting connected, explaining what you want, standing by and wait until everything is actioned, then being disconnected at the end of the chat.

This is the kind of missed opportunity that happens when companies start with solutions (‘lets get online chat’) instead of starting with customer problems (‘how can we make routine service interactions easier and frictionless’).

As for me, I am off to the movies … at last …

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