Last week I wrote about a MobileMe killer in the form of Google Sync for iPhone. I have 2 months left on my subscription to MobileMe and I thought I would try to cancel and see if they would prorate the remaining amount.  Last night I fired up a 24/7 Live Chat to speak with a MobileMe support person who helped me cancel my account. Unfortunately, after my account was cancelled I found out that I was unable to get a refund due to my subscription type. Since there was no longer a financial benefit to canceling, I decided to call it a night and attempt to “un-cancel” tomorrow.

The next day I did another live chat and provided the MobileMe support representative with the session ID from my previous chat. The rep was able to quickly reference the transcript and start solving my problem immediately. He generated a new registration key (which got me another FULL year subscription!!) and helped work out another problem I was having. He was extremely helpful and responsive. As a result of this very positive experience, I started thinking about the future of online chat support. I expect to see a lot more companies adding online chat as an alternate form of support.

Live chat support has become more prevalent over the past years. Prior to my MobileMe experience, I spent some time chatting online with Time Warner Cable about a connection speed problem. I find chat support to be very convenient because I can easily work on other things while I am being helped. For some reason spending an hour chatting with a support representative online is infinitely better than talking to them on the phone. I find it difficult to do other things while I’m on the phone, and I just can’t tolerate hold music. I also like that I can avoid tearing through all my cell minutes for one support call by using online chat.

Another huge benefit of online chat is that it eliminates a lot of the problems with overseas support centers. Everyone has had an experience with technical support where they just couldn’t understand the service rep’s accent. With live online chat, as long as the rep can type semi-coherent English, you’re all set. Another benefit of online chat is the ability to have text-based logging and transcripts of every incident. I’m sure you are familiar with the message that starts most support calls: “This call may be recorded for quality assurance”. Having a text version of the transcript is significantly better than a recorded version for obvious reasons. It saves tons of storage space and allows quick text searches of these transcripts. Additionally, it provides both the customer and the support representative a form of “proof” to help settle potential “he said, she said” incidents. It’s very clear how chat support can provide benefits over phone support for customers, but what about companies?

First off, it’s cheaper. They save money on their phone bills and support representatives are capable of helping more people at once. You can imagine a support representative helping up to five people at once using online chat, where before they could only help one person using the phone. Chat allows for support representatives to engage in a more informal discussion with the customer, something I really appreciate. Some companies have decided to move their free support to be entirely online chat. Apple’s MobileMe product does not have phone support and uses only live chat and a large Knowledge Base to assist users. Some customers may not be happy with the move to chat support but I firmly believe that it’s good for customers and companies alike.