Do you like 'Live Chat' based customer service?

Live chat has been around for ages including on some not-so-savoury online services, so it's surprising that Indian companies are electing to add this to their websites just now. Most e-commerce websites have begun to display a Live Chat option prominently on their home page.

At first glance, Live Chat seems like a win-win option for both customers and companies. Customers save the cost of a phone call and long hold times which raise their blood pressure and keep the phone busy. Also, you can save a live chat transcript in most cases, so you have got an answer in writing from the company which acts as proof in case of further correspondence. 

And companies get to free up busy call centre lines, leaving them accessible for other callers. Most non-urgent queries can easily get handled through live chat especially new product enquiries and requests for information. And it provides easier monitoring of the quality of customer support - I presume chat records are faster to scan through compared to call records and can be shared easily among supervisors.

In the course of the last few months, I have used Live Chat several times on different e-commerce sites with the same end-result. I was not satisfied with the resolution I got through chat and each time I reached for the phone to complete my query. Here are my main complaints;

1. Technical issues : 

Laggy chat windows which take a lot of time to log into the system, log me out suddenly and provide no feedback as to whether I am still online in the chat or no. Nor do I get to know if a new message has arrived (like the flashing window in GTalk)

2. Long response times : 

I wonder if support executives in chat are multi-tasking while attending to me, or find it harder to respond in real time. As a customer I appreciate the advantage of multi-tasking while chatting but I do not appreciate it being extended to customer support! I still expect a speedy resolution.

Every chat I opened dragged on for at least 20 minutes. Effectively I was put on hold and while it was not as irritating as holding a phone, it defeated the purpose for me. Combined  with point 1 above, I found myself accessing the chat window several times to check if it was still working.

3. Unsatisfactory closure of complaints/ requests : 

I would find in each case that the chat would terminate without a proper resolution. The customer support exec. would leave suddenly or without notice leaving me to close the window and try again on the phone. It's interesting that this is exactly what happens when you chat with friends - long silences/ non-response is OK and people assume automatically that you are busy or away from your PC. It's alright to leave a question unanswered on chat  but you would never do that if you are on the phone with the same person. 

While I am not going to name the sites I chatted on, I would conclude that Live Chat still has some way to go to get streamlined. Smoother interfaces, faster response and closure of complaints all need to be worked on. Till then I am sticking to the phone!

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