Eliza with Sprint PCS “Help Chat”?

Recently, my mobile phone battery hasn’t been holding the charge for more than a couple of days or so. I used to be able to go for days without having to charge it. Now I have to worry about not being able to finish a call because I am already getting a low battery warning after charging the day before. So it was time to shop for a new phone.

I was checking out the Sprint PCS website for its phone catalog when I thought how nice it would be if I could have options beyond my current phone brand, Sanyo. Other than the now-decayed battery life, I like the phone. I just wanted to see if there was anything else I could consider. The problem was that I didn’t want to lose my contact information when I got a new phone. While I was pondering how I could get the answer to my question (forum locations, faqs), a live chat window from a Sprint rep appeared. It was a little disorienting but then I figured that it’s just a virtual version of the salesperson who tries to help in a brick & mortar store.

However, I have gotten one of those AIM bots that try to carry on a conversation like a real person, so I tend to be skeptical in a situation like the unsolicited “help chat”. There was a link to email the chat to myself so when the conversation was over, I sent the chat to my email. The following is the transcript. “You” is me. I left the agent’s name there since it’s just the first name.

Agent: Hi, my name is Jessica. I’m a Sprint Nextel products and services expert. May I help you pick the voice plan that is best for you?
Agent: Just let me know if you need any help, I’ll be right here..
You: actually, I was wondering if it’s possible to transfer contacts from my Sanyo phone to another company’s phone, like Motorola
Agent: I can help you with that . First, may I move this chat to the top of the window? It will be out of the way and I can stay with you in case you run into any problems or if you have any questions, okay?
You: ok
Agent: Are you currently a Sprint customer?
You: yes
Agent: You want to switch your phone contract to another company?
You: no, i want to stay with sprint
You: i’m planning to get a new phone in July
Agent: The website currently does not allow customers to upgrade/replace devices online to receive instant savings. I’d like to send a page to the bottom of your screen where you can check your general upgrade eligibility and then visit a store to purchase your new device. Is that okay?
You: i’m wondering if i could have more options to choose from if i could know that i could transfer my contact info in my current phone
You: i already checked my elegibility, and it’s in july
Agent: If you purchase a phone online it will be for full price. If you purchase a phone with a plan then you will be opening a brand new account. This is why you must call customer care or visit a local store to receive your eligible rebate, okay?
You: hm, are you a real person?
Agent: Yes, I’m a real person.
You: i’m not intending to buy online
Agent: Are you still with me?
You: yes
You: I was wondering if you could please answer (or find out the answer) to my question about transfering a contact database from one phone to another that is not the same brand
Agent: If you upgrade to a new phone your plan would not change.
Agent: The contract will renew but your options will stay the same.
Agent: You can add other features to your plan at anytime but just because you get a new phone your plan will not change.
You: I was asking about the plan, I was asking about the contact information in the phone. I don’t want to have to re-enter the phone numbers when I buy a new phone
You: I meant, I wasn’t asking about the plan.
Agent: You can visit a local store when you get your new phone and they can transfer your contact information onto your new phone, ok?
You: what if it’s for a different brand?
You: I know I can transfer from Sanyo to Sanyo
Agent: If it is a Sprint phone they can transfer the information. Just bring in your old phone and they will transfer the information.
You: ok, thank you. that’s what I wanted to know
Agent: You are welcome.
Agent: Is there anything else I can help you with today?
You: that is all. thank you. good night
Agent: Again, my name is Jessica. Thank you for visiting Sprint Nextel.com today. We appreciate your interest and look forward to meeting your wireless needs in the future. Have a great day.

Was it just me (with my prior AIM bot bias), or did it not seem like an AI at the beginning of the chat? I think Sprint does something with voice recognition when you call support. It asks some questions and tries to route the call based on voice replies. It would not be a stretch if they did something with written chat. Only at the end of my chat with Jessica did it seem like maybe a person was answering, or maybe an AI that got smarter as it figured out what I wanted. I’m not 100% certain it was a live person still. :D

Anyway, to the frugal folks wondering why I’m buying a new phone when I could get a replacement battery… what kind of gadget geek would I be if I didn’t take advantage of Sprint’s $150 upgrade plan? Unfortunately, that means that I have to wait until July to get the phone because that is when the 22 month eligibility period takes affect for me.

Argh, the torture. Once I decide I want to buy something, I don’t like to wait very long to get it. If I buy a phone now, though, I only get $75 toward a new phone with the upgrade plan. Maybe in two months or so, there will be new phones. That’s some consolation to a geek who wants the latest and greatest. :)

Update 07/07/07: I called a local Sprint store about whether they had a phone I wanted. During the call, I asked if it was possible to transfer contacts from my current phone to the new phone. They said that they didn’t have the software and it was likely to take a while. Regardless of what “Jessica” said about it being possible to transfer contacts, check with the store where the transfer will be performed to see if they have the software for the specific models desired for the transfers.

4 thoughts on “Eliza with Sprint PCS “Help Chat”?”

  1. My understanding is that some AI is typically used in these circumstances:
    - Auto-answering in some situations for some parts of a conversation.
    - More frequently, the rep can quickly macro from one of a great many answers
    - Additionally, humans typically monitor all conversations and can jump in at any time.

    This doesn’t eliminate humans, but allows companies to hire humans more for routing / macro’ing / handling escalated or uncommon situations.

    On one hand, I think this is really annoying. But on the other hand, I also sadly recognize that many of us are horribly lazy. We’re not willing to take 30 seconds to look up our own billing records online or type in our account number to hear our automated balance.

    It’s this laziness which, unfortunately, likely results in the suboptimal handling of more complicated requests. :(

  2. Being a gadget geek/power user, I do have a tendency to submit “more complicated requests.” It’s a difficult position to be in when I’m trying to get help from someone who knows less about the product or technology than would be helpful or effective. However, if my prior customer support experience is any indication, the pay is too low to indulge in buying gadgets. :( In fact, I took that job although it paid less than unemployment!

    I figured that the work experience would be more valuable than getting more cash for not working (besides searching for a job which is the condition of receiving unemployment pay). I think it worked out, and the job helped to strengthen my resume and job application. I only had to do it for half a year before I found a new job.

  3. Interesting hearing your experience with our chats. I work as Jessica on Sprint.com. Since I cannot divulge too many of how our business works, i’ll let you know a bit. The popup part is AI. However, we are given scripts to push to the customer based on frequently asked questions and requests.

    After reviewing this chat, it looks like a very crappy one. We are supposed to balance helping you order or upgrade online and answering your questions. This agent’s problem was that they did not answer your question of transferring contacts. He/she was too focused on selling you a phone or upgrade.

    Sorry for your experience, but you were right–there are macros we can choose from to send you. This chat just had way too many pushed :/

  4. Thank you so much for stopping by and providing some insight into what’s going on with Sprint’s “Help Chat”. It was enlightening. :)

    I am also glad to know that I wasn’t the only one who saw this as a bad user experience. I was questioning whether I was clear enough.

    I appreciate your support. I tend to get good customer service with Sprint PCS, and figured this bizarre chat was an anomaly. You just helped to confirm that it’s not something we should come to expect. Maybe I’ll see you in chat sometime!

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