Tech Support Chat: Modern, but Inefficient

I think almost constantly about the degree to which technologies such as e-mail, chat, and instant messaging have changed our lives, and wonder whether the changes are a net positive or not. Today I needed a new keyboard for one of my machines, so I thought, I’ll try the vendor warranty support chat line to see whether it’s any faster than hanging on the phone and speaking with a helpful representative from India reading from a script from which he Must Not Deviate Under Any Circumstances.

I hop on to the vendor website, computer service tag at hand, and navigate to the chat page. I am informed that I am #2 in the queue. It takes 4 minutes to get to the “next in queue” position, and 3 minutes more to reach “Eric,” who seems to be an actual human. OK, 7 minutes to get to a human is not too terrible. I explain the hardware issue, provide the service tag number, and make my request for a replacement keyboard. It takes 4 minutes for Eric to determine that my machine is in warranty. (Gee, that only took me thirty seconds on the Web. Is my access better than his? More likely, he’s juggling multiple customers at once.) Next I’m told that I have to send the machine in for the repair. I reply that no, I’d rather just receive the part and install it myself. He says OK; but why wasn’t I offered that option in the first place?

Eventually I am provided with a service request ID number and advised that the part should arrive by mail in the next few days. Total time from initiation of the chat window to problem resolution: 24 minutes.

A “chat” is always a casual and pleasant experience, right? I have to say that it seems a grossly inefficient way to handle a simple request like an in-warranty keyboard replacement. E-mail might be a better way, but I can’t help thinking that if “Eric” and I had been on the phone, we could have gotten things squared away in 5 minutes, easy. We like to think of technologies like “chat” and IM as cool and modern, but I don’t know that they are actually *efficient.* Today, to me, they feel like just the opposite.

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