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Culture War Roundup for the week of November 28, 2022

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Since when did robotic politeness and verbose incompetence become the norm for customer service live chat?

This has been bothering me for the past few years across numerous companies, but thought I'd vent here after suffering the latest incident.

Brief background: bought something from the Google Store. More than two weeks afterward, it's still in transit. Tracking estimates every day is the new delivery day, except it doesn't deliver, and the estimate just pushes forward by a day. I open up Google live chat support. It opens a form to enter the order number and description of the problem. I enter both like below:


I ordered this on Nov 18. It's still in shipping more than two weeks later. Every day over the last week, the delivery estimate moved forward by one day. The most recent update is from Saturday, November 26. How much longer do I need to wait?

----------------Here's the transcript----------------

You’re connected with agent Sarah.

12:03 PM


Hi vpn, welcome to Google Support! My name is Sarah. In case you need to refer to this chat interaction in the future, the Chat ID for this interaction is x-xxxxxxx. How can I help you today?

You've been pretty quiet. Are you still there?

Sarah · 12:04 PM


I ordered this on Nov 18. It's still in shipping more than two weeks later. Every day over the last week, the delivery estimate moved forward by one day. The most recent update is from Saturday, November 26. How much longer do I need to wait?



Thank you for responding.

I see that you are contacting us about the order status.

Please be assured, I will definitely check the information for you immediately and help you with the best possible resolution.

Let me check the details for you here.

As there is no update on your order I will go ahead and check the details with my specialist team.

For the needed time to resolve your user support issue, you agree to allow Google customer support access to your Google product and account data. This data may include product information, Serial Number, countries or regions in which your product was purchased, account history, and limited historical usage data. Google uses this data to improve your customer service experience, to troubleshoot issues with this product, see promotion history, and for fraud prevention. Google handles this data as described in Google’s privacy policy.

May I have your consent?

Sarah · 12:09 PM



12:09 PM


Thank you for the consent.

Kindly allow me 3-5 minutes while I check this with my specialist and get back to you with a resolution on this.

Thank you for your valuable time.

I am still checking the details with my specialist team.

Do you mind waiting for another 3-5 minutes more while I check this with my team?

Sarah · 12:19 PM


Please just get back to me when you have an answer

12:19 PM


Thank you for your patience and time.

Upon checking the details with my specialist team I would like to let you know that they are suggested waiting until the end of the day of 5th.

Sarah · 12:27 PM


As I mentioned, the estimated date changes every day in the last week. By tomorrow, it'll change again to the 6th.

My question is how many more days do I need to wait for this to keep happening? What if this doesn't arrive by the 5th? What then?

12:28 PM


Rest assured you will receive the by end of tomorrow.

Sarah · 12:28 PM


And if not?

12:28 PM


I certainly understand your point.

If you do not receive the order, I will send you a follow up email after the chat so that you can reply back to my email.

So that I can help you further.

Sarah · 12:29 PM

----------------I ended the chat session here----------------

Some commentary:

  1. The first fail was the agent apparently did not have access to the web form where I described my problem. Now I was able to just copy and paste it over, but what's the point of having a web form if the data just disappears into the ether?

  2. Second fail was when the agent remarked that my volume was too low within 30 seconds of the chat being started. Is this some kind of script? If so, who OKed that? If not, who asks that? Note the timestamp: her feedback was sent within the same minute as her initial request for me to copy and paste. But it was more like a 20 second gap.

  3. What this transcript doesn't show is that each paragraph with a line break above was sent separately as a message that took time in between. Maybe it's meant to be a sophisticated script that mimics actual human typing, but the effect is that the rep sent a lot of messages that contained basically no information whatsoever. Rather than pacifying a customer, it frustrates them instead.

  4. The requested approvals are completely unnecessary. What's the point of asking if a customer grants permission to look at their order details? What kind of customer service can be performed without that permission? And what's with requesting for permission to wait for longer? The question makes no sense--what's their response if the customer types "no, I don't give you permission to take another 3-5 minutes"? All the unnecessary pings are distracting as I was multitasking while waiting for a response.

  5. The "Rest assured you will receive the by end of tomorrow." is simply bull. How could she possibly promise this? I'm happy to report back if somehow she did some Google magic and the package is released from holding from shipping jail for delivery tomorrow. This just screams incompetence.

  6. Related to the above, I recognize the rep has little no way of forcing something stuck in transit to go faster. But far superior service would have been stating their actual policy on delayed shipping: how about something like, if you don't receive it within 21 days after the order is placed, we will send you a free replacement or refund. Which would you prefer?

  7. Worst of all, there was no option to send feedback in the chat app of the experience. Maybe this explains the awful quality--no one higher up has any idea how bad the customer service actually is. They look at the transcripts every now and then and think, we've got great service! Look at how attentive and solicitous we are!

  8. Lastly, I have no proof, but I do wonder what is the probability that "Sarah" is a pseudonym to make the agent seem more amenable to a Western customer. It's just that I've met plenty of American Sarahs in my life, and not a single one of them would be caught dead talking/typing like the robot here.

As mentioned, I've unfortunately been subject to this sort of live chat experience across multiple large companies in the past couple of years. I wonder if it's the result of offshore call/chat center cultural differences. Are there some Asian countries where frustrated customers feel gratified when customer service use many word when few do trick? And they like it when they are asked pointless questions that do not advance toward a resolution just so they feel more in control somehow?

If not, then this script feels written by some psychology major who managed to climb the corporate ranks per the Peter Principle decide the best customer experience is to apply "nudges" that somehow make them happier. The result is the polar opposite, at least for anyone with half a brain, in my humble opinion.

And it is fairly dystopian. I imagine this type of deeply frustrating by superficially polite customer service has been portrayed in scifi movies or shows. If any of you reading this is senior enough at a company to influence policy on this front, I urge you to avoid following Google's stellar example here.

So, I've actually done this sort of chat support before. It was a long time ago, probably right at the beginning where it was even a thing. We're talking 2005 or so. So here's my take on the whole thing.

First of all, yeah. This is probably someone in India. "Kindly" is the big giveaway here.

But here's my guess about how these things are run. First, "Sarah" is probably doing between 4-8 chats at the same time. Truth is, when I did this, there were times I ran up to 12 at the same time. Maybe it was bad for me to do this because it set expectations, but I also let people know that you needed someone really good at this to do this.

Probably more controversially, I doubt that there's any sort of standardized script. It would be MUCH cleaner. There's almost certainly a standardized workflow, but no actual help in doing the work. My guess is that the client (this is undoubtedly an outsource company after all) is demanding original interactions in order for it to feel more "authentic" and natural. So you have a situation where maybe there's an unofficial text file passed around the office, that people cut and paste into the chat. The intent is that everything is freshly typed in by the agent....not realistic at all given the metrics and demands...but that doesn't matter. So this is kind of the work-around to survive.

A lot of the stuttering and everything is again, designed to meet metrics, so the supervisors can meet THEIR metrics, and the higher-ups can meet THEIR metrics so the center as a whole can meet their contracted goals and get sweet sweet bonuses. But that latter part doesn't matter nearly as much as everything beneath it. The stuttering refreshes a delay/time to respond counter that's actively measured.

More than anything, the point is that the problem above everything else is one of the combination of Corporatism and the Iron Law of Institutions. (I'd personally consider these the same thing, or at least there's substantial overlap here). Who gives a fuck if the customer experience is gawd awful. All the managers are getting paid for it on both sides. You just have to create the illusion of success, which is much easier than actually creating success.

Edit: Some background on what I did. I was on a team who did the original testing for the chat support functionality of a major US ISP when it first rolled out. Because of this, for the most part it was e-mail issues, although we got the odd intermittent connection issue. Yes, I had a text file with solutions for common problems/requests that I just copied pasted into the chat. But because I was good at diagnosing the issues, I'd say it was correct the vast majority of the time. If I had to type something in manually it's not like it irritated me and I just scoffed the client off...those issues were interesting to me and I was more than willing to give good instructions. I'd just take those instructions and add them to my text file in case the problem came back. I didn't do it because I was lazy or I didn't want to help the customers...there was just no point reinventing the wheel for every person who wanted to know how to set up their e-mail in Outlook, or at the time, were dealing with spoofed/virus e-mails. (This was actually the big contact driver for my department)