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The More You Know; Live Chat Solutions

Posted on 5.10.2009

Selecting a live chat vendor for an e-commerce enterprise is a challenging undertaking. Instead of focusing on the endless list of vendors (both enterprise and open source), let's look instead at the features demanded by customers which over time have been deemed essential to enterprise ready solutions. 

Live chat refers to the real time internet-based  interaction between a website visitor and an "agent” of the company. There are a variety of possible implementations - from simple text based chat to progressive co-browsing and application sharing. Often, simple chat interaction is all customers require, but should the interaction escalate to a level where additional information needs to be shared or requires additional follow-up many live chat suppliers offer features which enhance this additional level of customer interaction.

Establishing a Definitive Baseline
As with many sophisticated technology products, vendors often have long lists of features (and usually no two vendors use the same terminology). As a result, it is difficult (and often unfulfilling) to perform basic, side by side comparisons. However when examining feature requirements for live chat products; a list of required functionality does emerge which is provided below. As customer interaction is perhaps the last (if not only) opportunity to increase prospect conversion, choosing wisely matters. 

Essential Live Chat Features: 

  • Live chat clients are how consumers interface with a company. As such, it is imperative that customization is available, including but not limited to, custom skins and logo placement (and of course without branding of the live chat provider). 
  • Live chat agent consoles are how website agents interface with consumers. Ease of use and access to the full feature set provided by the chat service/product should be the focus with few if any distractions.
  • Visitor monitoring provides the ability to identify and view the path customers take as they navigate a website. This is important information as a quick review provided by the agent can send the consumers in the right direction. 
  • Click-to-Call is a relatively new phenomena in live chat. The ability to enable a live phone conversation from the live chat agent console is enticing to consumers although it provides an entirely deeper level of commitment on behalf of those Web enterprises using live chat. 
  • Co-browsing provides the ability for both customer and agent to view the same screens at the same time. Agents can even “push” destination sites to the customer. This hands-on approach also takes a greater time commitment but the results of increased sales is enough to convince Web professionals of the value. 
  • The presence of reporting and detailed analytics makes live chat a key ingredient in the on-site marketing arsenal. Both pre-designed reports (or report elements) and the ability to create customized reports should be available in the live chat solution merchants choose. Conversion tracking is another aspect of repoting and analytics and provides the ability to measure results of a chat interaction and the extent the live chat interaction contributed to customer attraction/satisfaction and ultimate conversion..
  • Canned messages, or pre-written messages, can be used during a chat session to enhance agent productivity and is a default feature of most live chat solutions. Merchants using canned messages should take the time to customize all default messaging in their live chat systems.
  • Agent/department routing is perhaps the most important feature of current, enterprise-level live chat solutions. Routing provides ability to direct chat sessions to specific areas of expertise, which means specialists can address very targeted questions as opposed to sending them to generalists or into knowledge bases.
  • Email management, the ability to use and manage e-mail as a complimentary follow-up tool to the chat interaction should be a default feature of every live chat implementation. In addition to the chat log, contents in the follow up emails .
  • Knowledge bases serve as a repository of topics and terms that can be used on a website to enable visitors to self-serve by searching for the answers to their questions without the need for agent interaction.
  • Engagement engines is a very sophisticated feature of only a handful of live chat vendors. Providing the ability to track behaviors of website visitors and intelligently act upon that knowledge to initiate specific actions will result in more targeted messages to website visitors.

What we've found in looking at the features of the most popular vendors (LivePerson, WhosOn, etc.) is that all offer some version of the functionality listed above. While some will not offer specific areas of functionality (click to call, knowledge bases, etc), it is essential to review each vendor for differences in capabilities. 

In addition to the features provided above, before selecting any vendor, look for signs that the solution is flexible to the degree that it will meet both your current and future needs. Should modifications require many complex changes, look further. The scalability of the solution is also important. Those products which don't place limitations on the number of users or transactions will most benefit your enterprise. When it comes to availability, selecting a vendor (and receiving verification of that) which is hihgly reliable is of paramount importance. Anything less than the uptime reliability of your web hosting provider will cause problems. For many, pricing will be the determining factor. Most vendors feature straightforward costs, but there are those offer premium pricing and include fees for a variety of reasons. Knowing what those fees are upfront will help merchants determine an accurate ROI metric.

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