Pros and cons of online chats

Howard Green, host of Headline on BNN (Business News Network), invited me to talk about my book last Friday. It was a fun interview, lasting about 20 minutes.

“Which industry is the worst offender?” he asked.

I hesitated for a second (since Bell Media owns BNN), but said that telecom topped the list. I get more complaints about phone/TV/Internet troubles than about any other topic.

Provincial governments are passing laws to tame telecom abuses, forcing the CRTC to consult Canadians on a wireless code of conduct. The first draft isn’t bold enough, says Toronto Star columnist Michael Geist.

Today, I’m asking about the value of online chats. Do you get answers more quickly than by calling or emailing a telecom supplier? Do you benefit from having a written record to refer to when told that a promised deal doesn’t really exist?

All depends on the agents who handle these live chats. How well trained are they? How much power do they have to escalate a complaint to a higher level?

If the agents are unhelpful or rude — as they were to Erin Paul, whose story I wrote about here — you might as well stop typing at high speed. You’re no further ahead than by using the traditional methods.

I like the fact that readers are sending me their online chats. So, I’m posting a few below for your reading entertainment. I also have a comment from Jordan C, a reader who feels that online chats are a step backward.

As always, feel free to add your opinions and cite your own experiences.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

13 thoughts on “Pros and cons of online chats”

  1. My biggest issue right now with the Telcos is their use, misuse really, of online chat service.

    Rogers and Bell are trying to push customers to online chat services, but their refusal to properly staff and train these services is disgraceful

    Here are two cases in point from my recent experiences with both Rogers and Bell.

    Let me preface these examples by saying I am a seasoned online user: I work online, play online and have a great understanding and comfort level with most online environments and technology.

    Contacted Rogers to inquire about a wireless bill. I use Rogers online billing system (One Bill).

    They recently redesigned it and it’s now difficult to find many of the details that were easily accessible on the paper bill.

    In my case, I needed to see the details of my calls, texts and data usage, which I could not find on the online bill any more.

    After a call to customer service and a 10-minute wait time and then a 10-minute conversation, I was told to go online and use Rogers’ new chat feature to diagnose the situation.

    I was already online in the One Bill system during the call, so it was annoying to have to call in to be redirected to where I already was.

    How about a link or sign or flare on the One Bill page that could easily direct me to the chat service?

    The phone rep took me through a series of confusing links to get to the chat site. But since I’m a big fan of chat services, I eagerly moved on to Rogers chat service.

    Once there, I was greeted with another 15-minute wait for a chat representative. Are you kidding me? Chat is supposed to be more responsive and quicker than phone support.

    I’ve used many online chat services to resolve customer service issues and the vast majority of them are very fast. I have yet to wait more than 2 minutes for a chat rep to jump on the line.

    So with Rogers, I’m into a 35-minute exchange (between phone calls and chat stalls) to solve a simple question that ultimately was answered in 2 minutes, once I got through to the correct person. Unacceptable, Rogers.

    Bell abuses its chat service in a different way. They are much better at directing customers to chat when you’re on the Bell website.

    Now I know why… because their chat reps don’t solve any problems. They only try to sell you more services. This is not only frustrating, but it’s downright offensive.

    On several occasions over the past 6 months, I have started a chat session with a Bell chat rep to inquire about a billing, service or technical issue.

    On all occasions, the reps took me through 10 minutes of confirming my account info, then asking me qualifying questions… not to resolve my issue, but to qualify me for them to pitch me new services.

    When I didn’t follow their script on the product pitch, they ultimately redirected me to call in to a Bell customer service phone number. Unacceptable, Bell.

    You should either tell me up front what issues the chat reps can and cannot deal with and let me quickly redirect to the appropriate channel/department. Or else, train chat reps to be able to address billing or service issues.

    Don’t make me waste a ton of time to jump through hoops so that chat reps can up-sell me an additional product.

    Solve my problem, make me happy, then sell me more products if you must.

    Heck, if Bell just solved my problem quickly and efficiently, I would choose on my own to upgrade to a new product. What a concept.

  2. Here’s a letter to Kevin Crull, CEO of Bell Media:

    As a long term customer of Bell (TV, phone, wireless & internet), I would like to advise you of my absolute and utter disbelief and disgust at the abysmal level of service and support provided by your company to its customers.

    As President and CEO of Bell Media, you are directly responsible and accountable for all operational arms of your company. As such, I wish to officially escalate my complaint to you personally.

    I’m seeking an explanation, resolution and compensation for the extreme frustration, wasted time, lack of service delivery and annoyance caused by your company in its failure to provide resolution to a simple technical issue.

    The issue is outlined below in the following “Chat” with not one, not two, but three separate customer service reps. None of them could resolve the issue.

    This chat followed a similarly frustrating series of lengthy telephone calls with telephone support CSRs who either couldn’t solve the problem, disconnected the call or insisted on transferring me to someone else who couldn’t solve the problem either.

    And this was if I was lucky enough to be connected to a live person at all.

    The “self-serve” options available on your website (, to which we were cheerily directed by your inept CSRs, were equally useless and frustrating.

    In total, I have spent 5 or 6 hours of my time over the past three days trying to get access to my email account because of a technical problem caused by Bell.

    If this was the first time it happened, I might be more understanding!

    This is at least the third time(!) in a year this particular issue has cropped up and I’ve had to spend my valuable time to sort it out with your incompetent technical support people.

    They have advised me on separate occasions that the issue (locked email accounts) is related to a glitch in the date of the customer’s billing cycle OR because of technical issues associated with your partnership/acquisition by Microsoft.

    Whatever the cause, it has angered and frustrated me enough to write you this letter.

    I wonder how many of Bell’s customers feel the same way and don’t bother to write? Or just take their business elsewhere?

    Warkworth, Ont.

    Chat start time Dec 30, 2012 4:56:38 PM EST
    Chat end time Dec 30, 2012 5:43:53 PM EST

    Duration (actual chatting time) 00:47:14

    Chat Transcript

    Luther: Hello! Welcome to Bell Internet Services, I will be continuing with you from here.

    you: Luther, I was chatting with Brooke and she abandoned me. Perhaps I will have better luck with you? Here is the contents of my previous chat:

    Chat representative Brooke has joined the session and is ready to help.

    Brooke: Hello! Welcome to Bell Internet Services. How may I help you today?

    you: My email account(s) are locked.

    Brooke: I regret for the inconvenience caused and I assure you that I will definitely do my best.

    Brooke: May I know the e-mail address that you are facing the issue?

    you: All of them.

    Brooke: May I know the exact message you get?

    you: I am using Outlook. It keeps pinging the server as if my password is not correct. Same problem when I try to access via webmail. I HAVE NOT CHANGED ANYTHING ON MY END. The problems exists with Bell’s system.

    This happened previously and I was told that the billing cycle affected a small number of clients and locked their email account as if they had not paid their accounts. MY ACCOUNT IS PAID AND UP TO DATE.

    Brooke: I’m going to do my best to make sure this is your last call for this particular problem. Let’s get started.

    Brooke: Thank you for bringing this matter to our attention, and I am sorry to hear that you are having this problem.

    Brooke: I understand how frustrating this can be on your part. Your patience and cooperation are highly appreciated on this matter. Allow me to assist you in fixing the problem right away.

    Brooke: Is that on this computer you are facing this issue?

    you: Any computer. MY COMPUTER IS NOT THE ISSUE. Bell has locked my email accounts for some unknown reason. Please just reset the password(s).

    Brooke: Sure, I would reset it now for you.

    Brooke: Once the password is reset, please update it on the email clients on respective email addresses.

    Brooke: If you wish I can do that for you.

    you: How?

    The chat session should begin shortly, thank you for your patience.

    Luther: Please give me a minute to review your previous chat session.

    you: OK

    Luther: Thank you for your patience.

    Luther: I see that you have issues in accessing your email accounts. I apologize for that. I can check your account and help you with the details.

    you: That is the hope.

    Luther: To validate your account, may I have your complete billing address in this format street number, street name, city, province & postal code?

    Luther: Thank you. I see that this b1 number is associated with “Corporate External”. Please be informed that this is Bell residential internet support department and from our end, we have limited access to your account. I will help you with the maximum options I have now.

    you: I have no idea what “corporate external” means. This is not a business, it is a residence.

    Luther: I understand. Residential and corporate accounts are different. No problem.

    Luther: Please let me know whether you access the email through website or through any email program like outlook?

    you: Both, but usually through outlook (2003).

    Luther: Thank you. Now please open a new browser and type

    you: Done.

    Luther: Enter the email address and password and try to log in. Let me know if you have any error message.

    you: It looks like someone else might be using your account To help you —and only you —get back into your email, we need to verify that it’s yours.

    Luther: Thank you. Do you see “next” button in the page?

    you: I’ve done all this already. I ultimately got an email message from Microsoft, saying they couldn’t help me because it was another ISP.

    Luther: Okay. I understand that the verification you did has been submitted already to Microsoft. Not to worry. I will now provide you the corporate external department contact details. You can just contact them and representatives will reset your account from their end.

    Luther: You can contact them 1-888-239-0039, where representatives will have complete access to your account details and assist you further to log in into your email account.

    you: Oh no. Don’t YOU give me the runaround. I have spent a good 3 hours of my day to get this far.

    I phoned 310-Bell and was cut off after they tried to transfer me somewhere else.

    Then I was cut off with Brooke online.

    Now you’re trying to brush me off. This is the last straw. I have had it with Bell and will be looking for a different ISP and email provider.

    Luther: I understand your concern. I apologize for the inconvenience caused. However, I have provided you the exact contact details for you now.

    I kindly request you to contact the correct department, so that representatives will assist you further with your request. As this is chat support department, we do not have access to contact them directly.

    you: BELL SUCKS!!

    info: We will send the transcript to your email address at the end of your chat.

    Luther: Thank you for your patience and understanding.

    you: I have no patience for an incompetent company, whose service level is pathetic.

    Luther: I understand your concern. I would really love to assist you. However, I’m afraid to inform you that you are chatting with a different department, where we do not have complete access to your account details.

    However, I’m happy that I have helped you with the exact contact details where you can get complete assistance regarding your issue.

    you: Can I chat with a supervisor, please?

    Luther: Sure. Please stay online.

    info: Thanks for waiting. We are now transferring you to Ronald.

    info: Chat representative Ronald has joined the session and is ready to help.

    Ronald: Hello! Welcome to Bell Internet Services, I will be continuing with you from here.

    you: Hello Ronald, are you a supervisor?

    Ronald: Yes.

    you: Good. I’d like to elevate my complaint about this complete utter lack of service by BELL.

    This is the second time in a matter of months that my email accounts have been locked up by BELL for no reason. I have to spend untold hours of my time tryibg to sort out the issue with multiple service representatives. THIS IS COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE.

    I would like BELL to resolve my issue immediately. Otherwise, you will have lost a customer.

    Ronald: I understand your concern, but this is an ongoing issue for most of the customers. I would like to convey that you are not the only person affected on this issue.

    Also, as the e-mail client has been merged with Microsoft, we need to escalate the case to a different department, so please give us few more hours to get this fixed.

    you: Thank you. I would appreciate an e-mail or a phone call to my home number once the issue has been resolved and my e-mail passwords have been reset.

    Ronald: Sure, I will do the follow up and get back to you once done.

    you: Many thanks.

    you: Good day.

    Ronald: You are welcome, take care, bye!

    Ronald: Please visit the web site to manage your account online. Have a great day!

  3. Here’s a live chat I had with Rogers about a prolem with bill payment. It took 30 minutes to establish that I was dealing with the wrong department.

    8:39 PM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

    8:53 PM Support session established with Lyne.

    8:54 PM Pauline: I have been trying to pay my bill for some time now. I can only do it online because of my travel and other circumstances. Every time I try, something goes wrong. Tonight I twice entered all my credit information and have never received a payment confirmation.

    8:55 PM Lyne: I can see you are currently using Chrome. Unfortunately, not all areas of our website are compatible with it. To resolve your issue, I would suggest using an alternate browser such as Internet Explorer 8 or Firefox.

    8:56 PM Pauline: Very odd, since I have been using Chrome for three years and have always been able to pay my bill online without a problem until recently.

    8:57 PM Lyne: Can you try something else?

    8:59 PM Pauline: Yes I can, but as I said, I have been using Chrome without a problem up to now. Seems to me that there must have been a change on your end. I tried to pay my bill several times before leaving in December, with similar problems. But this is a new problem.

    My preference is to continue doing it the way I have been doing it for the last three years. Can you please investigate why it has suddenly become a problem?

    And also note to the file that I have been attempting to pay my bill in good faith for some time. I got a reminder letter today which is inappropriate.

    9:01 PM Lyne: No, I cannot investigate, I am sorry. I can take your payment, though.

    9:02 PM Pauline: Is this a secure connection for providing credit card information? Does not appear to be from the URL.

    9:02 PM Lyne: I will send you a secured link

    9:02 PM Lyne: In order to access your account, I will require some information from you. Please click on the following secure link to enter your personal information. You will notice I requested a four digit PIN. If you do not have one associated to your account, please leave this field blank.

    9:05 PM Pauline: Have sent the necessary info.

    9:06 PM Lyne: Thanks. One moment please, while I pull up your account. This will take between 1 to 3 minutes.

    9:07 PM Pauline: I wish to pay $501.70.

    9:09 PM Lyne: It’s a business account. I’m sorry; I see this is a Business Account. Unfortunately, I am unable to access this type of account. However, for further assistance, you can contact our business department at 1-866-727-2141 between the hours of 8AM-8PM Monday to Friday and 9AM-5PM Saturday and Sunday.

    9:09 PM Pauline: It covers two home phone lines and two wireless accounts. I operate a business from home. No idea how Rogers classifies it.

    9:10 PM Lyne: Business. Sorry, I cannot help.

    9:10 PM Pauline: That does not suit me. I refuse to spend the wait times necessary to deal with Rogers agents on the phone. My experience is that it will cost hours of my time and I am neither willing nor able to invest such time.

    9:11 PM Pauline: Please forward this exchange to the appropriate supervisor, then. I have been trying to pay this bill since mid-December online and have no desire to invest more time in solving Rogers’ technical issues. Nor the time.

    9:11 PM Lyne: As stated in the previous text, you can contact them by chat tomorrow morning. Is there anything else I can assist you with at this time?

    9:12 PM Pauline: Are you forwarding this exchange to an appropriate supervisor?

    9:12 PM Lyne: No, as I am not business, I can’t.

    9:12 PM Lyne: Thank you for choosing Rogers Live Chat. Please feel free to bookmark for future reference. We are available between the hours of 7AM to midnight Monday to Friday, and 8AM to midnight Saturday and Sunday EST. For your reference your session id is: 171188324

    9:12 PM Lyne has ended the session.

  4. This comment does not refer to a telecom supplier, but to one of the “Big Five” Canadian banks.

    After learning that RBC would be taking over the Shoppers Drug Mart Mastercard account (I believe it was previously owned by MBNA), I decided to cancel the card that was sent to me by RBC.

    I was disconnected on my first attempt to speak to a customer service rep. Then, I redialled and was on hold for almost one hour.

    I managed to read the entire morning paper and did the crossword puzzle while listening to the same awful tune, interspersed with advertising messages at one minute intervals.

    It finally dawned on me that I could take the cordless phone and move to my computer, where I quickly found the bank’s website. Within less than a minute, I was chatting with one of their reps, who asked if she could call me to sort things out.

    She must have been fairly high up on the “food chain,” as she was able to access my account and respond to my concerns immediately.

    It was such a positive experience that, were I to encounter a problem with a company in the future, I would definitely start with the website and live chat function before reaching for the phone.

  5. Hi Ellen,

    Bit off topic but for those who wish to avoid roaming charges, the easiest way is to get a local SIM card.

    I did this for my vacation in Orlando. It cost me 15 minutes time and about $75.

    I’ve also ordered SIM cards with internet via Amazon and simply get it shipped to my hotel. Did this in Germany and cost me less than 2€, top it up at any Vodaphone shop.

    Yes, you get a different phone number, but heck, it’s way better than a massive phone bill.

  6. I went to and saw a promotion for Bell Internet. It was for $10 Unlimited Internet Usage option, available on ALL INTERNET PLANS.

    While I was on the site, the live chat option came up and I asked the rep how I could take advantage of this offer. He was unable to help me.

    “I am very sorry, there is nothing I can do about this,” he said, insisting that the offer was only for home internet, which is what I have with the turbo hub.

    So if this option is not available for customers who get their internet via the turbo hub — because Bell does not provide home internet at my address — why does it say available on all internet plans?

    This is false and misleading advertising!

    Here is a transcript of the conversation:

    Chat representative Jennifer has joined the session and is ready to help. To start, please provide your name and home phone number.

    Jennifer: Hello and welcome to Bell’s chat service, this is Jennifer. How may I provide you with excellent service today?

    You: Just saw the promo for unlimited Bell internet for $10 per month. How can I avail of this? I am on the turbo hub.

    Jennifer: I’m sorry, but you have reached the Bell Home Phone department. In order to get the information you wish, I need to connect you to our Bell internet department, where one of our representatives will be glad to assist you. Kindly hold on and I will be connecting you to the internet department.

    Please wait. We are transferring you to the specialist best suited to help you.

    Chat representative Jayden has joined the session and is ready to help. To start, please provide your name and home phone number.

    Jayden: Hello! Welcome to Bell Internet Services, I will be continuing with you from here.

    Jayden: I really love to help you, since I’m a front line agent and I have access only for Bell Internet technical help desk. Not to worry, I’ll transfer this chat to the concern department. Please stay online, while I do that.

    Please wait. We are transferring you to the specialist best suited to help you.

    You are chatting with Samuel.
    Your Name:
    Your number:
    Your question:

    Samuel: Hello and welcome to Bell Mobility’s chat service.

    Samuel: Please be aware that we are currently experiencing technical difficulties, therefore I will only be able to assist with general information at this time.

    you: What is technical about my question? I see a promotion on the Bell site about unlimited internet and I get my internet through the turbo hub, so how can I take advantage of this offer? $10 per month for unlimited internet.

    Samuel: this offer is unfortunately not compatible with mobility services. You need to register for a Home internet service to get this plan. I am sorry for the inconvenience.

    you: That would be possible if Bell could provide home internet service, but Bell cannot provide it at my address. So isn’t this false promotion? The turbo hub is advertised under Bell internet.

    Samuel: No, it is not, since Turbo Hub is part of the wireless mobility services and is only offered as an alternative to home internet services.

    you: Really??? Please check your Bell page that shows this under Bell internet,

    you: and scroll to the section that shows Bell Internet – Mobile, Portable or Rural

    Samuel: That is correct, it’s offered as a mobile alternative for home internet.

    you: well, here is what is on your home page: “Introducing the option of unlimited Internet usage, available on all Internet plans. Whether you’re a new or existing customer, you can download and upload as much as you want without having to worry about your usage again. It doesn’t get any better than this. Plus, with Bell Internet, you can enjoy a reliable and secure service with fast speeds and a Wi-Fi Home Network included at no charge.”

    you: It does not specify HOME INTERNET.

    Samuel: I am very sorry, there is nothing I can do about this.

    you: OK, so I just wasted my time. I will contact the executive office and hope to get some answers, Samuel!

    Samuel: If you want, I can give you the steps to make a complaint online, so someone can call you back about this and see what we can do.

  7. As frustrating as it may be, I recommend live call rather than chat. Especially if it’s related to billing.

    By telling the ‘service person’ you are planning to switch to an alternate supplier, more often you’ll get a better response.

    When I threatened to switch, suddenly I was directed to the loyalty department, where I learned about the ‘secret promotions’ that would make me, as the rep stated, ‘very happy.’

    I said I would have been happier if it had been proactively offered to me as a loyal Bell user.

    Oligopolies do not make for a competitive market…really.

    Oh well, it does explain why Bell has such a high stock dividend.

  8. I neglected to mention that online chat does have one strength vs phone calling: avoiding undecipherable accents.

    This is a major issue. And no, it is not a derogatory comment about people with accents – rather, it is a real issue that makes communications very difficult and creates misunderstandings.

    It has to be frustrating, as well, for the customer service person when s/he has to repeat himself over & over again.

    That’s one reason why you should always ask for an email confirmation of any phone calls.

  9. I relate to the problems with getting kicked off the Bell Internet service. Spent much time on the phone with Bell reps, first suggesting I do not use Outlook and then suggesting I was sending too many emails.

    Finally when I pressed for a better answer, I got a response that indicated there was a problem with Microsoft servers.

    Extremely frustrating and unproductive. The service was broken…still might be weeks later and there was no compensation offered for the inferior service or inconvenience.

    Not quite hitting the mark on customer service. Arrogance is also unattractive.

    All that and superimposing a Sympatico address on my emails out and I’m ready to leave. Trouble is, I’m not sure if I’ll find better elsewhere.

  10. This is timely. I’ve just finished a live chat session with Bell. This is the first time I’ve tried live chat and I found it very speedy and helpful in sorting out a land line problem I had (with my bill).

    I have been trying repeatedly this week to get hold of someone on the Bell phone line with absolutely no success – I waited 45 minutes at one point. Each time I kept getting a message stating that they were receiving a high volume of calls.

    I finally went to the Bell store at Masonville (in London, Ontario) and was told that they couldn’t do anything about it. The only way I could get things addressed was to call the Bell line and there was no person (at the store or an area manager) that I could speak to.

    When I mentioned how difficult I was finding it to get through on the call line, the young man told me that it took him 65 minutes to get through to his bank recently. There was a sense that being kept waiting on a phone line is the norm these days.

    He offered to ring the Bell phone line in the store. He too got the call waiting/high volume of calls message that I got when I rang from my home.

    Although he was polite to me, I was, quite frankly, appalled at his response. This is not an acceptable level of customer service from Bell, even though I appreciate that the local staff can do little to remedy it.

    I’m hoping the live chat conversation I had with a Bell employee has sorted everything out. If not, I will be moving my service somewhere else.

    The one disadvantage of the live chat is that I had to register online, which now means Bell will send me bills by email. I was having paper bills before.

    But when I registered online, there was a box indicating that paper bills would cost $2 a bill – an amount that I wasn’t willing to pay.

  11. I had a problem doing my income tax this year online via TurboTax. Connected with an online rep on chat to try and resolve the issue. After about 2 hours I gave up and eventually figured it out myself. It took a long time for the rep to come back to me each time leading me to believe they may having been chatting with another customer at the same time. Also there english was bad, lots of typing errors and sentences that were proper english. Last time I will use chat for anything.

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