Web chat-up impresses

I had my first experience of a customer-service "chat" channel recently, on a US-based website. Online real-time text communication with a customer serviceperson is something few if any New Zealand companies have adopted yet.

I had my first experience of a customer-service “chat” channel recently, on a US-based website. Online real-time text communication with a customer serviceperson is something few if any New Zealand companies have adopted yet. Book and video venture Flying Pig once contemplated it, but still has only a customer email facility on its site.

I was most impressed: my query (about how to terminate a subscription to the site) was met with “I can do that for you now; what is your subscription number?”

The termination was fixed inside two minutes, with an email confirmation. And no toll charges.

By contrast, on another US site, where a small payment for a report did not appear to succeed, their response to my email was to tell me the matter could only be dealt with by a long-distance voice call to their “customer service” department.

Turned out they were suspicious of my using my wife’s Mastercard – for a payment of $US0.99! -- because I had overlooked the latest payment on our shared Visa, and it was being rejected. I had to drag her out of bed to come to the phone and tell them I had her permission for the transaction.

Then there was the site that I pointed out was not functioning as it evidently should for me – while users in other countries appeared to be having no problem.

This, it emerged, was a bug in their Java programs. Because I supplied them with appropriate details so they could run diagnostics, they told me how much they appreciated my help, and sent me a T-shirt advertising their operation.

Subsequently, however, service degraded in a different way. I gather there was a lot of work behind the scenes on this one, involving incompatibility between three companies’ computer systems. It was never completely solved, and they eventually rebranded the offering in an attempt to make the reduced service seem normal. An ingenious move.

So half marks for that lot; at least they tried.

Bell is Computerworld's Wellington-based reporter. Send email to: Stephen Bell. Send letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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