November 04, 2003

one chart and two hours later...

Yesterday afternoon I got a message from eFax, telling me that my monthly service fee was going up from $9.95 to $12.95 per month, a 30% increase. My first thought was “oh yeah, my eFax account. I really don’t need that anymore, I should just cancel it.” (At which point the voice of my inner discriminatory pricing fan kicked in and said “God knows how many subscribers they’ll lose because of this email – the casual folks who rarely use the service and tend to even forget it’s there…they should have just raised the price on the active users, and left the ‘set and forget’ ones alone.”)

My second thought was “let’s go cancel my account.” Easier said than done. An 800 number for customer support was non-existent. The help section of their website was useless, and the account management form only offered options to update my billing information. But then, buried deep in the FAQ – question #83 out of 83, no less – was the answer: I had to click to join a live chat session with a customer service representative. And that’s where the fun began.

Now, I’m normally a fan of chat-based customer service. When done well, it can be a quick, easy and painless way to get a fast answer to a direct question. When done poorly, however, it can be very, very frustrating.

eFax uses an online chat service from LivePerson, which is helpful enough to tell you what position you are in the queue, and how many people are in the queue, but not quite helpful enough to provide you an estimated wait time until your chat with a representative. So, when I clicked to chat and entered the queue, I was in position 20 of 20. Two minutes later the chat window stole focus from whatever else it was I was working on, and informed me that I was now in position 18, with 24 people in the queue. Two minutes later I was 18 of 26. Etc., etc.

Now, about ten minutes in, I noticed that while I had advanced to position 16, the queue was now 29 people long. So since the chat window was coming to the front of my desktop every two minutes to let me know where I was in the queue, I started to note the time and position, and chart it.

All told, it took me 134 minutes to be first in line and have my question answered (which it was, reasonably expeditiously, after a couple of scripted last ditch efforts by the chat rep to save my account). 134 minutes, 19 position advancements works out to be an average of 7 minutes per customer in the queue. At one point (my minute 94) there were 69 people in the queue. If that 69th person and everyone in front of them had stayed in the queue, and reps had been clearing folks at that average rate (one every 7 minutes), it would have taken them over 8 hours to be served. As you can see from the chart, though, there was a fairly healthy queue abandon rate – from a high of 69 customers in the queue down to 40 by the time I left. Still – that 40th person would likely be stuck “on hold” for 4.7 hours assuming the rate stayed constant and no one in front of him or her abandoned their place in line.

There’s probably a reason eFax is raising their rates 30% – they need to stay in business. And customer service is probably one of their biggest variable costs, so I understand their desire to minimize the expense needed to serve each incremental customer. But the two-plus hour “hold time” I experienced (not to mention the 8+ hour theoretical hold time of that poor 69th chap) completely killed any hope that eFax had of saving me as a customer when it came time for their rep to provide the (reasonably generous) scripted offer of a few free months and an upgrade in service level…

I will say this, however. Had I spent two hours on the phone waiting on hold to cancel my account, I would have been calling the Better Business Bureau. Instead, it was a two hour wait for an online chat, and the upshot is that I’m posting here…