Setting a New Standard for Customer Care Initiatives with Live Chat

Companies operating on the 'Net today typically struggle with two major problems: getting consumers to their websites, and converting those visitors into loyal, paying customers upon arrival.

There is no shortage of methods to get new users in the digital door, but there seems to be little in the way of actionable advice on the tactics or technology solutions that help 'Net professionals engage users to a degree where they are comfortable, and more than willing to pull out their real-world wallets.

If your enterprise is looking to enhance its users' website experiences and shorten the road to digital profitability, live chat software may be the answer you're looking for. Fortunately, for technology buyers, making the case for implementing these solutions won't be too difficult.

Consumers are quite familiar with live chat software (just under two-thirds of U.S. shoppers have used live chat - a 15 percent rise from 2009). What's more, those that use the Web-based functionality - be it on a retail or service site - are more likely to buy and less likely to abandon their sessions. It's also a whole heckuva lot cheaper than running a call center.


The Value Proposition of Live Chat

Live chat is one of those strategic capabilities that can differentiate a business from the competition in customers' virtual eyes. When the solutions are implemented thoughtfully, of course, they will allow brands to connect with customers in a positive, meaningful and effective way. Digital enterprises must understand a few things before implementation however, including how a live chat solution could improve the customer experience (e.g. shorter phone call wait times) and if that solution can provide an experience better than what consumers have come to expect, as well as the level of resources required to own and operate the software.


The "total cost of ownership" question is undoubtedly important to understand for small enterprises as it's not just the technology that needs to be purchased, but also the time required for training as well as staffing employees to manage the solution and actually do the chatting with visitors/customers. Even after implementation, any number of problems can cause the total cost of ownership to skyrocket and make the investment a loss. Poor responses from support agents and platform failures will not just cause a lost upsell, but perhaps a lost client as well. Ensuring that your enterprise selects/ acquires a best-of-breed solution should satisfy any concerns that the technology is sound. But will the training be thorough?


Training Support Teams for Success

Live chat agents will need to be trained to use the system and its features, trained to provide accurate, personalized answers in a conversational flow, and finally, trained on how to upsell and cross-sell (uncovering the needs of the customers). These support agents represent the brand online, so they must be able to facilitate sales and resolve issues for the customers they encounter. There's no better way to facilitate this than through the quality of writing. Strength in this area is vital to conveying an accurate message and upholding the quality of the brand. Don't make customers guess what it is that you're saying - be brief, stay on point, ensure grammar and spelling are perfect, watch the tone and always use the customer's name when possible.


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IN FOCUS: Check out Website Magazine's Big List of Live Chat Solutions


Software Quality is Paramount

Successful live chat initiatives are in great part dependent on the quality of the interactions, but also with the experience consumers have with the software itself. Take advantage of features that set customer expectations, such as showing queue position and wait times before a chat session starts. Ensure there is a typing notification when the agent is preparing a response. In a sales queue, the chat platform can make customers feel secure if it automatically encrypts sensitive information. Another feature that can enhance the online interaction is co-browsing; in other words, where an agent and customer can look at Web pages together.

Many additional tactics can help any enterprise that is considering implementing a live chat solution do so with positive results, including:

- Never keep customers waiting more than 60 seconds; if queue times are too long, adjust system settings (if available) to hide the live chat features from website visitors.

- Empower live chat agents to invite other members of your organization, from sales representatives to technical staff, in order to help get customers' questions answered quickly and correctly.

- Always ask customers for their opinion of the live chat experience after their sessions. The results will be useful in analyzing areas that might need improvement.

- Leverage any available feature in the software solution that could potentially improve the live chat experience, from real-time monitoring of users to file transfer of content (presentations, catalogs, etc.) to co-browsing.


Tracking ROI

Measuring the impact of live chat implementation is also important to this initiative - or any digital initiative really - and there are many metrics that can be tracked. For high-volume enterprises, tracking the number of chats per hour might be useful or the average handle time (AHT). Those metrics can seem out of place in smaller enterprises, however, as they don't really reveal the performance of the agents and the live chat experience that is being presented to consumers. More meaningful metrics might include lift in sales or revenue per agent, the increase in conversion rate or the margin per chat. Even the difference in average order value (AOV) for those that engaged with a live chat representative versus those that did not is useful.


Who's Ready to Chat?

The Internet has changed the way consumers discover and experience people, products and services, and no enterprise can afford to ignore the tools that influence the experience and drive engagement. Live chat, when implemented thoughtfully, and when employees are trained the same way, presents a powerful way to improve the customer experience - and the bottom line of your digital enterprise.


DON'T MISS: Life as a Live Chat Operator
When customer service takes the digital form, it adds an additional layer of complexity. Not only do you have to deal with the demands and wildly different temperaments of prospects (many of whom are already customers), but it's often necessary to do so with a virtual smile on your face. Website Magazine interviewed several live chat operators to understand what it is like to be a live chat operator on the 'Net today.


About the Author: Pete Prestipino is the Editor-in-Chief of Website Magazine.