Live chat has proven its case as a critical tool to uplift online sales. The statistics are compelling. Increase the number of buyers by 2.8x. Those that order buy 60% more.
Because of the potential gains in customer engagement leading to sales, live chat is the fastest growing contact channel. It is also the most popular by customer sentiment (measured by surveys) and by usage - now over half of all contacts.
But the statistics also reveal a darker side. Badly used, live chat will cause a decline in sales as customer satisfaction plummets and they vote with their virtual feet.
Rookie Errors to Avoid
1. Time is of the essence
Examine the motivations to buy online and joint front of the line are convenience and speed. Delay is not your friend. At the very least acknowledge a request to chat, but preferably answer.
Eight seconds is considered the cut-off time after which your service is considered unnacceptable. But don't be fooled - answering in eight seconds doesn't make you good, you are just not bad!
2. Multi task
Commercial pressure instils a constant drive for productivity improvement. The idea that an agent may be left idle for an indeterminent length of time awaiting a response from a customer is unacceptable. However, the mirror experience is also important. How long does the customer wait for a response?
Current thinking is that chat is best delivered if the concurrent sessions handled by an agent are limited to two.
3. Multi channel
Phone, email, chat, even face to face. It is tempting to believe that agents can handle multiple conversations in different media at the same time. Why not answer a phone call mid-chat, and then return to complete in a few minutes? Responding to emails can fill the gaps?
The reality is that agents that try to move between these communication methods become disoriented. The reason for this is that each channel offers the agent different information and its style requires different tones in response. By phone the customer gives extra information - tone of voice (and so state of mind) is clear; live chat tends to be less formal and the fast volley nature makes for shortly constructed sentences. Email is more formal and to avoid long delays, responses need to be fuller as there is no opportunity to ask questions.
In short - don't ask agents to work in more than one channel at a time.
4. Train on the job
There is agent assistance and then there is training. Agent assistance is a process of offering useful information to an agent during the course of a conversation to aid the faster resolution of an issue. This may be in the form of general reference material, product or customer information, or best practice prompts. Systems can be sophisticated - to the point that as with our own AMO software, the system could handle the entire conversation directly. However, the agent is in control of the conversation.
Whilst training on the other hand is quite different. If the assistance reaches the point where the system is telling the agent how to proceed and is being blindly followed, then all the agent does is introduce delay and cost. You would be surprised how common this scenario is within outsourced contact centres. The sophisticated assistance software is retarded by the requirement to work through an agent. Full automation is preferable.
5. Throw "digital natives" at it
It is a misconception that an individual that can type with their thumbs will automatically be able to make informed and effective responses to any issue through the chat medium.
Assessing the familiarity with chat of the customer is more important than the agent. Indeed the undue language that is often introduced can be detrimental.
Beware the temptation to consider a full knowledge of the urban dictionary and the full gamut of emoticons is a pre-requisite for effective live chat. It is not helpful.
It is certainly true that managing a conversation in the live chat medium is a specific skill. However, it is required in addition to sufficient knowledge to diagnose the customer need and offer effective responses.
Outsourcing is tempting because it can add resources quickly, avoids the need to train your own employees, and can be pitched as bringing expertise. In reality it is more like asking your customers to take a bus than offering them a chauffeur driven limousine. Your customers will be fighting for attention along with everyone else.
Examine your motivations
There is really only one good reason to implement live chat. If your motivation is to cut costs, appear up to date, cover over weaknesses in content or process; or just give yourself an upsales opportunity: think again!
The only valid motivation to offer live chat is because customers, or at least a subset of your customers, demand it. Once you have adopted the mindset that live chat is introduced for customers, and not for your own reasons, then you have a strong framework for success. You will likely arrive at the following keys to success.
Keys to success
The objective is to capture 100% of the user's attention from first engagement through to resolution.
Your target is to deliver a conversation pace and flow that is akin to a phone call. This covers both initial response times as well as volley reply and overall resolution time. It must be delivered equally at peak demand times as any other.
The second element of resourcing is to accept that digital channels do not have opening hours. By their nature they are 24x7. Your live chat resources must be too.
Define best practice and use it
We all learn from our mistakes. We have all seen other people do things with great skill. Process effectiveness and value can be built over time by defining and refining best practice. That means knowing how you intend to deal with a situation, capturing what you did and then reviewing.
Monitor, review, train
Live chat software is often rich in hard statistics. Response times, volley numbers, resolution times etc etc. These give a useful guide on matching resources to demand, and comparative measures of speed.
There are two other critical areas to consider, those being attribution and effectiveness.
What was the actual outcome of the live chat and to what/who should the result be attributed. Attribution is a hot topic in digital trade generally with a plethora of providers wishing to take a small share of the transactions which they handle.
The critical first step is to ensure that the outcome following each conversation is known e.g. did the customer place an order. It is therefore required to connect the browser session and the chat session.
Attribution in isolation is, as with operational KPI, useful to a point. You may know that the customer bought. To understand fully it is necessary to assess whether the customer ordered because of the conversation or despite of the conversation, and whether the sale was maximised.
To achieve this level of understanding it is necessary to analyse the words within the conversation as well as the numeric KPI. At scale, this requires some sophisticated diagnostics and modeling to determine objective, sentiment, effectiveness and result from the words used.
Pulling it all together
Chat implemented to meet customer demand and delivered well has been shown to achieve significant uplifts in sales and customer loyalty. Achieving great results means deploying the right resources to the right place and time, doing the right things ie having enough available people following best practice processes.
Expertise in capturing and understanding the 'current state' i.e. the content and impact of chats is a critical part of the refinement of best practice and agent training. Solidly developed and understood processes ultimately pave the way for automation which can take availability of resource and its effectiveness to a new level.