What's wrong with online customer service: an example

It should not be difficult, slow or aggravating to use the website of a leading virtual fax service (eFax) to cancel a $16.95/month account. But it is all three.

For starters, you can't just fill out a form and cancel. Ugh! Anytime you enter a customer service web interface and find that canceling or downgrading an account requires either a phone call or an online chat session, beware. You are being “upsold” or “retention sold.” (Newspaper companies, my old stomping grounds, maddeningly do this all the time. Want to subscribe online? Sure. Want to put in a vacation hold? Sure. Change your address? Absolutely. Want to cancel? WTF?)

Lots of lessons about what not to do in my chat transcript with eFax, which follows. Note that this is not the entire conversation — I did not include two false starts with chat hosts who pointed me to a dead web page and then suddenly logged off. This is just the final attempt:

Please wait for a site operator to respond.

You are currently number 1 of 1 in the queue.

Thank you for your patience. You are now chatting with 'Lee'

Lee: Welcome to our sales chat. How may I help you?

Jay: I need to cancel my account, and no one seems to be able to do it for me. The site directed me here to sales chat, and I started with another rep. That rep pointed me to a Cancel page that is supposed to initiate a DIFFERENT chat, but the link to initiate that chat is broken. It does nothing. Please help me cancel my account!

Please wait while I transfer the chat to 'Craig H.'.

You are now chatting with 'Craig H.'

Craig H.: Hello, Jay. Welcome to eFax online support. I am Craig H., your online Live Support Representative. How may I assist you?

Jay: Your chat system is screwy, for starters. But let me explain: I need to cancel my account, and no one seems to be able to do it for me. The site directed me here to sales chat, and I started with another rep. That rep pointed me to a Cancel page that is supposed to initiate a DIFFERENT chat, but the link to initiate that chat is broken. It does nothing. So I logged back into sales chat and explained all this and that chatter transferred me to you, where I once again have to explain all this. Please help me cancel my account! I simply no longer need it!

Craig H.: I apologize for the inconvenience.

Craig H.: I will be glad to assist you with the cancellation request via this chat session.

Jay: My efax number is xxx-xxx-xxxx

Craig H.: Could you please provide me your registered email address and billing zip code for verification?

Jay: xxx@xxx.xxx, xxxxx

Craig H.: Thank you for providing your information.

Craig H.: Please give me a moment while I pull up your account.

Craig H.: In the meantime, please type the number corresponding to your reason for cancellation:

Craig H.: 1) Moving to another provider

Craig H.: 2) Bought a fax machine

Craig H.: 3) Business or role changed

Craig H.: 4) Short term project completed

Craig H.: 5) Financial reasons

Craig H.: 6) Problems with faxing or billing

Craig H.: 7) Dissatisfied with quality of service

Craig H.: 8) Too costly

Jay: 4

Craig H.: Jay, as we'd like to keep your business, I can offer you a discount and also waive your subscription fee for 2 months.

Craig H.: After the free period, pay just $12.95 per month. This plan includes 130 inbound pages monthly and extra pages are just 15 cents each.

Craig H.: There is no contract and you may cancel anytime. Shall I switch you to this savings plan?

Jay: No thank you. I don't need it anymore

Craig H.: OK, before I close your account, we now have an annual plan that will let you keep your eFax service for just 14 cents a day.

Craig H.: You make one annual payment of just $50 and pay nothing more unless you exceed 30 pages per month. Extra pages are just 15 cents.

Craig H.: This deal won't be available once your account is closed. Can I switch you to this savings plan which lets you keep your fax number for just 14 cents a day?

Jay: I DO NOT NEED THE SERVICE ANYMORE

Craig H.: OK, I will go ahead and cancel your account.

Craig H.: Is there anything else I may assist you with?

Jay: No, just please send me confirmation that the account is canceled.

Craig H.: Sure, an e-mail confirming that your account has been canceled will be sent to your registered e-mail address.

Jay: OK

Craig H.: Thank you for contacting eFax online support. I hope you found our session helpful. Goodbye and take care.