It Takes 1,600 Words, 1 Hour, And 2 Chat Support Reps For Comcast To Tell Man He Can’t Get Service

Jason's chat with Comcast was full of unwanted upsell text.

Jason’s chat with Comcast was full of unwanted upsell text.

Like it or not (and we know that some of you don’t), the use of online chat for customer support isn’t going away. It allows a CSR to work with multiple customers at once, copy/paste ready-made scripts, overcomes some of the language and accent barriers involved with internationally outsourced call centers, and can often easily be saved as a permanent record of the conversation. But if it’s going to be the future of customer service, online chat needs to get its head out of its rectum.

ZDnet’s Jason Perlow recently wanted to know the answer to a simple question — Is Comcast TV and Xfinity broadband available at his house? He knew that his general area in Florida was Comcast, but his particular gated community mostly at AT&T U-Verse, though Comcast was apparently available through a reseller who did not seem to offer broadband Internet.

So Jason hopped onto Comcast’s customer service chat, where he hoped that “Chris” (not me; I swear) would be able to simply put in the relevant info and tell him yes or no.

You can read the whole bang-head-against-wall chat session over on ZDnet, but it basically goes like this:

Jason asks simple questions, Chris interrupts to try upselling.
Jason asks for clarifications on his subdivision’s access to Comcast, Chris says we can deal with those on the final page of the checkout process.

And so it goes for around 1,000 words of chat, including lengthy cut/pastes selling Jason on the virtues of the premium channels he’s already said he wants to order. You don’t need to gush about the product when the customer’s already sold on it.

Then Jason and Chris finally arrive at that checkout page, where Jason should be able to add in the upgrades he’d been promised would be waiting for him. Of course they weren’t.

And so Chris had to pass Jason off to “Order Entry Specialist” Pradeep, but not before spamming him with information about Xfinity’s new home alarm service. It’s like those horrid, too-loud ads you hear when you’re on hold, except in chat form. Yay!

Almost immediately, Pradeep realizes there’s a problem.

“I’m afraid I am unable to locate this address in my system,” he wrote to Jason. “Would you please confirm the address I have is correct?”

After confirming the address, Pradeep hit Jason with the bad news that Chris could have given to him an hour earlier.

“Unfortunately, I am unable to add an account at this address,” he wrote.

Which is fine — you can’t always get your cable company of choice (not that any of them are particularly beloved by consumers).

What isn’t fine is that Jason — and many, many, many other online chat users — have to wade through lengthy, mangled chat sessions just to get to the information they requested at the start. And you’ll notice that Chris wasn’t actually doing anything — like placing the order or verifying availability — for Jason during his long portion of the chat. In reality, he was just the guy looking over Jason’s shoulder as the customer did all the filling-in.

If companies like Comcast are going to push for online chat as a viable customer service option then they will need to do at least two things —

1. Cut back on all the scripted nonsense. At least when it was on the phone, some CSRs were able to make it sound conversational. That’s simply impossible on chat. These highly scripted upsells also clutter up the screen, distract the customer and make the entire process last longer than it should.

2. Cut down on the number of people the rep is helping at any given time. Yes, maybe your chat rep can field questions from 5 people at a time now because it’s not as obvious to the customer as being put on hold by a phone operator, but those lags can seem interminable to customers on chat. Jason says that his chat took longer than an hour. That same conversation — even with all the upsells and being passed around — would not have taken more than a few minutes on the phone.

Companies may say “Your time is valuable to us,” but what they really mean is “What’s really valuable to us is our time… duh.”