Sunday, January 6, 2008

Customer Service in a High-latency Environment

A couple months ago I sold some stuff on e-Bay and I got an invoice from them for my seller fees. I logged into my account and verified that it is setup with automatic payment via PayPal and I ignored that invoice. Yesterday, I got the same exact invoice. So it would appear that the "automatic" part isn't so "automatic" and I decided that I needed to contact their customer service.

Like all customer service these days (even for good companies) you have to wade through a mine-field of options that are structured to stop you from asking a question to a real human being. So rather that hunting longer for a phone number (or just finding it on wikipedia which I'm sure has it) I just tried out their "Live Help" functionality which is simply instant messaging.

Either they've got a few superheroes handling dozens of simultaneous conversations by multi-plexing them or they've got a bunch of two-fingered typers because it's SLOW. Every question that you ask takes a couple minutes to get a response. Even still, that's not the main thing that I noticed...

And that is, that when it takes so a long time to respond, typical courtesies that CS reps use are actually annoying. For example:

bq. "Hello, Andrew, I'll be happy to assist you"

bq. "Just a minute while I look that up."

bq. "Hold on while I transfer you to the Billing Department." (the "rep" that I'm talking to should be virtual and they may transfer under the covers, but don't let me know that)

It seems to me that answers in an IM/chat-based customer service system need to be FAST (why would I go through the hassle of using it if it's more of a pain that talking to a REAL person) and they need to prize word economy (cut the pleasantries and just get me the answer... I'm not chatting you up because I saw your latest change on Facebook).