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A Tale of Two Chats: Persistent Chat Outweighs the Chatbot

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Image: Anna Berkut - Alamy Stock Photo
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” – Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities.”
So it is with customer service these days. Some experiences are better than ever; others are worse than ever.
You might think (given the maturity of the contact center) that recent migrations to the cloud, the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), and all of the enhancements we hear about every day should improve all customer service, right? A rising tide should lift all boats, yet some boats have gaping holes and are sinking like rocks.
This idea was confirmed just a few weeks ago when I experienced two very different chat interactions on the same day.
I recently ported a phone number from a unified communications (UC) voice provider to T-Mobile. This process required two separate service requests, the first to have the number ported and the second to have my UC plan downgraded to a lower level. One of those requests is relatively complicated, and the other is as simple as they come. You can probably guess which request went quickly and without any heartburn.
If you had guessed the downgrade was the easy request—you’d be wrong.
Let’s dive into what happened.
The Tale of a Bad Chat Experience
To downgrade my UCaaS account, I logged into the website and clicked on all of the tabs related to my subscription but could never find an option to downgrade my service. I Googled to see what I was doing wrong, but I couldn’t find any option on the portal to downgrade my account.
After trying for 20 minutes to find a solution to the problem, I gave up and clicked on the chat button. After answering a few questions about the nature of my request, the chat client just stopped; I had reached a dead end. I went through this a few times and finally got through after I changed some of my answers to the questions presented.
When I finally did reach an agent, I explained that I wanted to downgrade my account. The agent asked me to hold for three minutes and told me I needed to log in to the portal and click the option to select a lower plan. Annoyed with the implication that I hadn't tried self-service, I told him the portal didn’t present me with the option to downgrade. He asked me to hold again. During the second hold, I received an important phone call that lasted four minutes. When I returned to the chat, I noticed the agent had logged off because I didn’t respond for three minutes.
Unfortunately, I had no way to reconnect with the agent, so I had to start the entire process all over again. When I finally got a new agent, the agent either didn’t have access to the previous thread or did not want to be bothered with reading it. Either way, I had to start from the beginning. Eventually, the new agent made the change to my account. All in all, it probably took 45 minutes of my time to get this sorted.
The Tale of a Good Chat Experience
Surprisingly, the number porting part of this process was as smooth as glass. I’ve done enough ports in my life as a consultant to know this rarely goes well.
I knew number porting was something I would need an agent for, so I logged into the T-Mobile app and started a chat. A chatbot entered and asked me some questions about the nature of my request. An agent joined the chat a few minutes later and immediately went to work on the port. She asked so few questions that I wondered if she knew what she was doing.
Amazingly, she reviewed the information that the chatbot had collected and was able to put the order in without having me repeat any information. A few minutes later, she confirmed the completion of the port. I was honestly shocked at how easy and quickly the port went.
So what made the port request such a better experience than the downgrade? Below are two critical differences in how both agents handled the support chats.
1). Intelligent chatbot: The first chatbot failed even in the most basic way, taking me to a dead-end based on certain answers. Even when I finally got through to a live agent , the chatbot didn’t seem to provide much value to the transaction. I suppose it helped route me to the right agent, but that was it.
In the second example, the chatbot not only got me to the right agent but also collected some basic information, so the agent was better informed when she joined the chat. The chatbot saved us both time, providing real value to the interaction. And kudos to the agent for reading the information collected by the chatbot so that I didn’t have to repeat myself.
2). Persistent chat: Implementing persistent chat is one of the more innovative things T-Mobile has done regarding support. The chat thread doesn’t disappear into the ether if you don’t respond for three minutes or your browser crashes. It allows a conversation to start, pause, and continue based on your schedule and availability. The chat is always there; even if an agent logs off and another agent joins, the new agent can review the chat log and pick up where the previous agent left off.
While the idea of persistent chat doesn’t seem super exciting, it’s one of the more practical innovations I can think of in terms of something that truly provides value to the customer.
As the industry seems to be leaning heavily into chatbots and AI, I hope that more companies will focus greater attention on the customer side of the equation and choose "spring of hope" over "winter of despair" customer experiences.

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.