Let's have a chat about chat

Nearly fifty years since the first Chat Software appeared on our screens, I thought it about time to dig a bit deeper into why this critical communication channel is so successful. Here I share my latest research to try and understand why the technology has not moved on, even with a compound growth rate of 10-20%.

Whether you call it 'click to chat', 'web chat', 'live chat' or 'online chat' its still the same thing under the hood - an extra communication channel for business to communicate with customers predominantly as an alternative to phone or email or dare I say writing a letter and posting it in a letter box, aka snail mail. It is ubiquitous across industries: consumer, ecommerce, B2B, finance, legal...

There is an expectation in the contact centre industry of a major reduction in phone calls over the next five years, with many predicting full automation; but why is it so popular? Is it because it claims to offer the quickest response times in under a minute? Or because customers find it the simplest and easiest to use with the highest satisfcation rate?

But listen, I'm not here to sell you on live chat and the increases in conversion rates, average order values along with subsequent decrease in basket abandonment rates. With ROI around 200-300% and agents handling 10,000 calls per annum - surely nobody can question its effectiveness? Can they?


Commodity Confusion

By my reckoning there are over two hundred and fifty different chat software products available today, and that is unlikely to decrease. As soon as one is acquired for integration into CRM, another one appears claiming to be faster, slimmer and cheaper than the last; offering standard features of real time messaging, rule based display, skill routing, shortcut messages, visitor visibility, co-browsing, agent software and rich analytics.

But that's where I really believe it's going off track. You see, the analytics or KPIs focus on what I call low value operational metrics. They focus on looking across the chats from a 'meta data' perspective. I discovered over forty different analytic measurements available in the field. Where I think we really need to be looking is at the content and the outcome of chat. Chat is a very one-dimensional communication channel and you need to avoid the 'lost senses' issue - so training in the right language, not making assumptions, being optimistic and over dampening positive/negative messages are critical training factors. More importantly though, are we using agents for the most productive tasks?

Augmenting Agent Productivity

Chat software has evolved since the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, and may products will include some form of capability to make agents lives easier. The most prevalent being canned responses, stock phrases or boilerplacte responses for agents to select as they save time, act as a knowledge back and can provide ready-made scripted solutions to common customer problems and reinforce the brand.

However, when used in the wrong context they can quite easily derail chats and damage relationships - often aren't clear, concise or correct - and don't match the agents actual language.

Other productivity tools such as agent concurrency are advertised as the nirvana in improving agent performance, but in reality an effective agent should only be working on no more than two calls in parallel.

In some instances we have seen automated pre-handling of chats - such as pre-collection of identify information (or as I like to call it the chat prevention department) or for booking an acceptable time to talk to a human - like an automated diary management system. The latter doesn't add any real benefit to the visitor journey - just delaying and frustrating the poor visitor that probably just wants to really buy something or sort something out. And yes - you would be surprised - over 40% of chats relate to new sales, so you better get it right!



If you look at how chat software fits into the customer journey, it is just a another communication channel like a telephone line - connecting a visitor to an agent, the latter having access to knowledge and information that the visitor either cannot access or is not yet sufficiently competent to discover on their own. In effect we have a chain of communication human-to-human-to-machine (H2H2M) - it is still constrained by resource - and it gets us no closer to providing pragmatic answers to questions such as:

  • Where do out of hours callers go?
  • How do I handle overseas customers?
  • What about seasonal peaks?
  • How can I focus on qualified leads?
  • Which channel do I focus on?

Help with Chat

After all these years of development of chat software, there really is light at the end of the tunnel - a strategy that can deliver more throughput, greater effectiveness, higher value and productive chats...giving your sales agents the time to focus on the highest value leads that will deliver maximum opportunity for the growth of your business. Let's chat about ultimately removing people from the mundane chat activities. Contact naomi@amo.ai to setup a chat today.