8 March 2012 Jay Shepherd

How not to do online-chat customer service, by AT&T

Calling customer service can be very frustrating. Some companies realize that, and have begun offering online-chat services as an alternative. This makes sense. I would rather type a quick summary of my issue and read the answer realtime instead of waiting on endless hold. Plus, online chat allows you to avoid insipid remakes of Christopher Cross songs or worse, advertisements for other things sold by the company you’re currently unhappy with.

So when I had an issue come up with my AT&T, I noticed that they had a button for online chat. I had become a reluctant customer since the iPhone was introduced in 2007. I live in a major suburb of Boston, and yet in the four years I had an account with AT&T, I had an average of three to five calls drop a day. Every day.

So last November, when the iPhone 4S came out, I pulled the plug and moved my number to Verizon (actually, back to Verizon, because I had ported it to AT&T to get my first iPhone). This, of course, led to an unexpected complication.

You see, last summer, before I quit AT&T — “Ah wish Ah knew how to quit you” — I gave my 11-year-old daughter one of my previous iPhones and added her to my AT&T account. But after I moved my phone to Big Red, AT&T somehow forgot how to process my autopayments for my daughter’s account. Which led to my daughter getting pestered with texts and phone calls. “Daddy, what’s a deadbeat?” (OK, possibly not an actual transcript.)

Finally, I got a letter stressing the dire need to pay my daughter’s phone bill (which I had thought was getting paid automatically). I didn’t want to call their 800 number for customer service, because that’s a hole whose gravity well is so strong that neither light nor helpfulness can escape. So I went to att.com and found a button that said “Click here for an incredibly helpful online representative.” (Again, I may be embellishing what the button said.) Since I was pretty sure that no one had figured out how to play shrill on-hold music on a chat button, I went for it.

After a short wait, words magically appeared on my screen. The words purported to be from a customer-service representative named Julius Ray Something (he gave a actual last name, but I won’t share it). I explained that I could no longer access my account and therefore couldn’t pay my daughter’s bill.

Julius Ray (who perhaps was just a computer algorithm) helpfully described the process for setting up a brand-new account. So I explained why that wasn’t what I needed.

What follows is the exact chat conversation between Julius Ray and me, cut and pasted from the chat window. The only changes I made were redacting J.R.’s surname and my and my daughter’s phone numbers. Read it and tell me what you think:

Jay Shepherd: Uh, OK. Here’s the thing: I had a wireless account with the number 617-XXX-XXXX from 2007 until November 2011. I added this phone for my daughter (age 11) this past summer. When I moved my phone number to Verizon, my daughter’s was left somewhere in space. Or something. [Yes, I always write this way. It’s a personality flaw.]

Julius Ray XXXXXXX: I apologize but you will have to call Customer Service at 1-800-331-0500, Mon-Fri 7am-10pm, Sat-Sun 9am-7pm, for assistance with that. I can provide only limited assistance through Click to Chat.

Jay Shepherd: Fantastic. Thanks.

Julius Ray XXXXXXX: You are very welcome. I was glad to help you today! Is there anything else regarding online account access that I can assist you with?

Jay Shepherd: You didn’t help me at all, Julius Ray. My “fantastic” was sarcastic.

Julius Ray XXXXXXX: Thank you for visiting myWireless at ATT.com/wireless. We appreciate your business, once again my name is Julius Ray XXXXXXX.

Chat session has been terminated by the site operator.

Seriously? So in the end, the online chat was actually worse than calling customer service, since it accomplished nothing except wasting time. But the insult-to-injury part was the gleeful “I was glad to help you today!” That’s when I thought that maybe Julius Ray was a computer. You didn’t help me at all, Julius Ray. You didn’t fix my account. You didn’t open the pod-bay doors.

Online chat can be a useful customer-service tool, if done right. But don’t offer up a cut-down version of your regular phone customer service and expect me to be appreciative when you can’t help me. Don’t be like AT&T. Don’t be like Julius Ray.

Update: I was able to create a new login account on my own and link it to my daughter’s account, thus sparing her a lifetime of credit woes.

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Comments (4)

  1. AT&T Online Sales Representative, NOT CSR

    AT&T DOES NOT OFFER CUSTOMER SERVICE ONLINE. You were talking with a Online Wireless Sales Representative which is WAY different. Why do AT&T Customers never read the green text when they enter a chat? IT clearly states that WE DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO ANY OF YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION. This may be an old post, but it pisses me off when it clearly says we do not have access to your account, and the customer STILL asks for account based questions. AT&TY CUSTOMERS PLEASE READ, It even says “NEED HELP ORDERING? CHAT NOW!” not “Need help with anything to do on your account? Click here!” You people are the worst customers we need to deal with.

    • I can’t tell from the address headers if the previous comment is from a legitimate AT&T person. Given the tone, I’m going to assume it is. Plus, who in the world would claim to be one who wasn’t?

      So thanks, “AT&T Online Sales Rep.” You’ve pretty much proved my point. You obviously have such great respect for the people who pay you. Maybe you should read your own site. The link I clicked on was indeed for your unhelpful customer-support chat, not the presumably unhelpful online-sales chat. But thank you for playing.

  2. KVB

    While I am upset with AT&T for plenty of other reasons I have had good experiences with chat representative the last couple days. My situation was that I moved to another location within the same city and needed to transfer my service. My first chat experience was not helpful but only because my circumstance were not too common. I was told that the chat rep normally could transfer my service but the exact service I was signed up for was not available at the new location (less speed available) so I needed to speak to someone on the phone to take care of it and schedule a technician. OK, fair enough. My technician told me, however, that I was misinformed and that service at my new address was actually faster than my old one. I tried to upgrade my service online but got an error saying my account status was “pending” so no changes could be made. According to my online account information this was an error so I hooked up with a chat rep who was able to correct the problem and enabled me to upgrade my service. Overall I think the chat reps saved me time as I was able to do other things while chatting (as opposed to being put on hold) and the chat rep were both quick to respond.]

    The reason I was upset with AT&T had more to do with needing to wait at my house from 8 AM to 8 PM on a week day (had to take a day off from work) only to find out at 8:30 PM after waiting for 12.5 hour that my order had been cancelled around noon due to unspecified technical difficulties. They should have called me to say nobody was coming, I completely wasted a day and had to reschedule the appointment (and take ANOTHER day off from work). Whatever, it done now. I’m not happy with AT&T but was pleased with the chat reps. I guess that’s my point.

  3. Harmony

    So I’ve used the chat option several times now, but I’ve realized that it could very well be a computer because of the frequent spelling errors. Everytime I talk to someone (or chat) there are several spelling errors and it bugs the crap out of me. How can they have someone representing their business if they can’t even spell correctly?

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