Phone or Email? I Need A Human!

In my last post, I wrote about how helping can make us happy. I asked: what does customer service mean to you? Someone suggested we should publish our phone on our site – for customer support. That was a great suggestion, and something we’ll certainly consider as we grow.

A few days ago, I had a personal experience that made me question the importance of the phone. It was one of the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever had.

Earlier this week, I came home and found, in the mail, a Chase credit card application addressed to someone I don’t know with my company name and address on it. Nice!

Just to be sure that nothing was wrong with my account and that I wasn’t financing someone’s vacation in Brazil, I decided to call Chase’s Customer Service. In short, I ended up being on the phone for an hour, spoke to 6 different representatives and the last one hung up on me. Nicer!

In the process, I had to repeat my story and information 6 times (not counting the automated menus prompting me left and right) and none of them apologized for the potential fraud! Of course, each time, I got upset, called back, and after “clearly” repeating my story and asking for the necessary help, I had the chance to speak to a great customer service representative in Chase’s fraud department. Within minutes of talking to the right person, my problem was solved.

Here’s what I learned from this experience. Although I spoke in total to 8 representatives, only 2 actually did their job. Six wasted my time, and the time of their employer.

The two who did help me reassured me, took ownership of my problem and solved it. But to get there, I spent a huge amount of time and became very frustrated. It seemed to me that the first six representatives were like robots – they didn’t care about my problem – they were only going through the motions. Also, the structure of the Chase customer support system allows and encourages agents to pass your call back and forth until one representative decides she can really solve your problem… or not!

So here is my dilemma: between spending an hour on the phone or sending a quick email to a support center, what is the best? Is there really a difference?

My (subjective) answer is pretty obvious: I’d rather send an email and know that someone received my request and is taking care of it. I don’t appreciate being bounced back and forth by robotic customer service agents (many of whom are poorly trained). And I certainly don’t appreciate when an agent hangs up on me. I’m sure that’s happened to you.

What matters the most to me is that a person is happy to help me, not so much whether they use a phone or email to help. If I sent an email, I could have used the extra time to do something else and I would have had proof that my request was being processed. On the phone, I was simply stuck until someone decided they could help me. And when they hung up on me – I couldn’t even prove that I spoke with someone.

So, how do you feel about phone vs. email? And if you were running a small company – how would you provide customer support?