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The power of live chat online

There is a phenomenon currently happening in the customer service community and it is generating a massive uptick in the adoption of technology to enable live chat as a customer service best practice.

While at first you might be thinking, “chat is nothing new,” significant shifts in behaviour from both retailers and consumers are creating the perfect storm for online chat to make a significant impact on delivering a great customer experience that drives profits and keeps customers loyal.

Why chat, why now?
In a time crunched world, consumers are looking for answers to their questions and looking for them fast.  The rise of the Internet has only amplified this impatience for real time information at the click of a mouse.  But at the same time consumers are also getting more comfortable online and using new techniques to gather real time information.  And it’s not just the new generation of users who grew up online; live chat is becoming the preferred method of interaction across demographics.  Why?  Live chat provides an immediate response right where the consumers are, no picking up the phone, no waiting for an email.  In addition, live chat provides the two way interaction that ensures a consumer’s question has been answered properly and to the full degree.  This type of speed and accuracy is driving customers back to live chat time and time again.

On the flip side, retailers are learning how to harness the power of live chat more effectively to deliver better online customer service and increase sales.  Not only are retailers able to use live chat to handle customer service inquiries but it is also a powerful vehicle to move consumers closer to purchase.  By delivering customised service at the point of purchase, live chat discourages abandonment and can potentially increase sales and revenue.

Implementing Effective Live Chat

How can you evaluate and implement an effective live chat solution?  To avoid the pitfalls, make note of the four main requirements for implementing an effective live chat feature:

  • Placement: When live chat was first introduced, retailers were putting it indiscriminately all over their websites.  The same way shoppers don’t want a pushy sales clerk following them around a store when shopping, online shoppers don’t want chat sessions popping up everywhere.  However, when you are in the store and you have a question, you want that sales clerk available and ready to help.  The same goes with chat.  Companies need to be more selective about how and where and when they are placing live chat on their websites.
  • Integration: The days of chat being a standalone communications silo are gone.  Customers expect a unified experience across all touch points, from email, to chat, to a phone call into the contact centre.  If an incident is escalated from a chat session to a phone agent who doesn’t have the background info, it will frustrate customers and deter them from completing their purchase. For this reason, integrating live chat with web self-service, email and the contact centre is a must.
  • Agents: Not every agent is cut out to be a live chat agent. Handling multiple conversations at the same time in proper English, while being friendly and upbeat is a difficult skill to master. Testing is key when selecting and training live chat agents to be sure they are effectively using the channel to deliver great customer experiences.
  • Tools: Give agents the tools to make the technical side of live chat easy, allowing them to focus on being a friendly and helpful ‘face’ to the customer rather than mired in technical details.  Tools that empower agents in this way include quick and easy access to information, and standard greetings and closings that are one click.

In recent years, contact centres have faced mounting pressures to move from being a cost centre that answers questions and handles complaints, to a more dynamic part of the organisation – supporting the customer and generating revenue.  Live chat helps companies meet this challenge while adjusting to changes in consumer expectations for online service experiences.

A recent Harris Interactive survey in the US revealed that 51 percent of consumers want the option of a live web chat session while shopping online. Since live chat has the ability to make significant positive impact on the customer experience and since 87 percent of consumers reported stopping doing business with a company in 2008 after a negative experience, live chat is an investment worth some serious consideration.

Brett Waters is Vice President Asia Pacific – South, RightNow Technologies.  He has 18 years’ experience in the IT industry and is an online chat enthusiast.  For more information, call 02 8198 1300 or visit www.rightnow.com/au/