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Chat gone wrong

Imagine paying $216 per year for the privilege of receiving your monthly invoice at the correct address. In order to change the billing address on his account, CenturyLink chat reps led one customer on a 68-minute odyssey that would involve four reps, three hand-offs (including the dreaded escalation to a supervisor), multiple requests for repeat information to authenticate the account, and a requirement to upgrade to a phone plan costing $18 per month more than his existing plan.

In this case, the customer’s CenturyLink service is located at a vacation home that he has owned for several years. He recently moved his primary residence which required CenturyLink to update the billing address to mail the monthly invoice for the phone service at the vacation home. While he is currently forwarding his mail from his old home address to his new one, the USPS mail forwarding service expires after six months.

Here are the edited (but unembellished) details:

1st Rep (9/28/2020, 12:44:10 PM): Thank you for contacting CenturyLink.

Customer (9/28/2020, 12:44:23 PM): I need to change my billing address.

1st Rep (9/28/2020, 12:44:39 PM): …I will be glad to connect you with the proper team in order for them to help you.

1st Rep (9/28/2020, 12:44:45 PM): To validate you as an authorized user, may I have your full name, email address and account number?

(Information provided by customer)

2nd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:48:18 PM): Thank you for contacting CenturyLink.

2nd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:48:34 PM): …Please allow me a moment while I go through your previous chat and assist you on your request.

2nd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:50:54 PM): I will transfer you to the Care team they will be able to help you change the billing address, do I have your permission?

Customer (9/28/2020, 12:51:05 PM): yes

2nd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:51:59 PM): Before doing so I have to validate you as an authorized user, may I have your phone number, email address and full name as on our records?

(Information provided by customer for a second time within 7 minutes)

2nd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:56:36 PM): Please keep connected while I transfer you to them.

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 12:57:10 PM): Hi there, thanks for contacting CenturyLink! How can I help you today?

Customer (9/28/2020, 12:57:23 PM): can you review the chat?

Customer (9/28/2020, 12:58:15 PM): just trying to change my billing address…shouldn’t take 20 minutes

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:03:09 PM): can I do paperless billing?

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:03:23 PM): Yes, once your online access is set up, you’ll be able to update your billing preferences

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:04:29 PM): While you’re setting up your password, I can set up a records update order to update your billing address and add paperless billing.

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:06:25 PM): I’m getting an error issuing the order because you’re on an old plan; let me see if there’s any way around this

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:09:02 PM): Okay, I did check with my supervisor and there is not any way around this error; in order to change anything, even just the billing address or adding paperless billing, we’ll need to update your phone plan.

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:09:17 PM): The Price for Life home package without internet includes all the phone features and unlimited local and long distance calling and is $60/month plus taxes & fees…

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:09:34 PM): What am I paying now?

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:12:18 PM): You have the old home phone plus package for $42/month plus taxes & fees, with per-min long distance instead of unlimited

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:12:47 PM): Not changing my plan

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:13:29 PM): I don’t need an online account. Please just change the billing address or set up paperless billing

3rd Rep (9/28/2020, 1:13:54 PM): …the system will not allow me to do either of those things without changing your plan.

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:14:47 PM): supervisor please

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:18:06 PM): Good afternoon…I am a supervisor here in our chat department…I understand you are looking to change your billing address…How can I help today?

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:18:43 PM): Not changing my plan so that you can change a billing address. Let’s not go around and round about this.

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:19:57 PM): Definitely not our intention to go around and round…you have a rate we don’t offer any more and any account changes required that to be changed to make the plans

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:20:15 PM): supervisor please

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:20:51 PM): I am a supervisor

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:21:02 PM): I’d like to speak with your supervisor please

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:22:19 PM): I’m sorry…my supervisor does not speak with customers. You are able to go above my head, that process is going through our corporate office and that starts by reaching out to that team on facebook or twitter at our centurylink page. A member of our corporate team will correspond with you.

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:22:44 PM): don’t have facebook or twitter

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:23:16 PM): phone number for corporate?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:23:26 PM): We don’t have a phone number…I’m sorry

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:24:47 PM): You don’t have a phone number for corporate?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:25:08 PM): No, there isn’t a phone number to call

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:25:18 PM): You are a phone company?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:25:33 PM): …a case has to be opened from (Facebook or Twitter)

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:26:03 PM): I don’t have FB or Twitter

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:26:15 PM): I really don’t!

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:26:32 PM): I believe you, I just don’t have any other contact options for you than those

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:26:49 PM): So, you are a phone company that doesn’t have a phone number?

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:28:50 PM): So, in order to change my billing address with CenturyLink I need to open an account with Facebook or Twitter?

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:30:19 PM): Can I call and make a payment over the phone?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:30:30 PM): Yeah of course, or mail in your payment, etc.

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:30:45 PM): Great. Where are you going to send the bill?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:31:02 PM): If you can avoid that change, that would be awesome too

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:31:19 PM): We have (your former home/billing address) on file

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:31:37 PM): Are you suggesting that I should move back to my old house so that your software can process my $50 a month invoice?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:33:04 PM): Well you can forward your mail through the post office if you want

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:34:11 PM): Thank you for explaining the moving process for the USPS. It expires in 6 months. Then where will you send the bill?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:34:37 PM): To (your former home/billing address)

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:34:54 PM): I don’t live there

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:35:01 PM): I don’t receive mail there

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:35:36 PM): Ok, then (when your USPS mail forwarding expires in 6 months) it will go back to (your former home/billing address)

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:36:49 PM): (If I’m not able to receive a hard copy of my invoice each month mailed to my new home/billing address) How can I find out what I owe each month?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:37:53 PM): …

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:38:20 PM): And I can pay it there?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:38:56 PM): Yes you can

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:40:38 PM): Perfect. Paperless billing just like I requested. Glad we got there. Can you text me when the bill is due?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:41:33 PM): You actually set that up through notifications in myaccount

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:43:53 PM): Problem solved

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:49:19 PM): Yes, you can pay it from there

Customer (9/28/2020, 1:49:39 PM): Great. Why did this take an hour then?

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:50:06 PM): Great question

4th Rep/supervisor (9/28/2020, 1:55:17 PM): Any other questions for me?

Customer (9/28/2020, 2:00:49 PM): Want to be Facebook friends?


Lessons from losses:

  • A customer’s request to change a billing address on an account that’s in good standing should not take 68 minutes.
  • A basic request, such as a change of billing address, should not require four reps, three hand-offs, and necessitate the involvement of a supervisor – and a request for that supervisor’s boss!
  • Once transferred, a customer should not have to prompt the rep to review the previous chat conversation to avoid having to repeat himself.
  • Once transferred, a customer should not have to re-authenticate his account when he’s clearly done so earlier in the same chat dialogue.
  • A customer should not be required to upgrade his residential phone plan when the only thing changing is the address to which the invoice is mailed each month.
  • In order to get in touch with corporate headquarters, a customer should not be limited to social media channel such as Facebook and Twitter. A phone number, email and/or mailing address should be offered as an option to the approximately 30 percent of U.S. adults who do not maintain a social media presence.
  • There should be no supervisors that are unwilling or unable to speak to customers.
  • Whenever possible, customer service issues should be resolved in the channel initiated (and likely preferred) by the customer. In this case, chat.

Are you exploring chat options for your own business? Here is a fantastic article from MobileMonkey that details options and choices for adding live chat tools to your website.

Illustration by Aaron McKissen.

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