Member and Partner FAQs on Web Chat

I had a partner inquiry about Web chat today, and thought that my reply may be useful to others interested in the adoption of Web chat by consumers and technology companies.  So here is an edited version for your perusal.

Which industries use chat? 

Based on survey data, Web Chat is not the first channel people of any age group think of when considering support options. That, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t popular. I think chat usage is more situational: when you are already online and struggling to find an answer to a question, or have questions on a product when considering a purchase, the immediacy of chat is very appealing. 

The mass majority of chat usage is in a sales situation, not support. Or, as I pointed out in some research I published at Forrester, the customer lifecycle in the consumer eCommerce world is not “Marketing>Sales>Service,” it is “Marketing>Service>Sales,” with service providing assistance to close the deal. Any industry with large eCommerce implementations were early adopters in chat. The big chat users are:

  • Travel: Airlines were early to adopt chat and I’ve attended workshops with three large US carriers to discuss use of chat.
  • Telco: Mobile carriers all offer chat and report major customer adoption
  • Retail: ‘save the sale’ chat, or proactive chat, is very common, from Amazon prompting you for chat when you have $300 in your cart, to any online electronics store or major retailer
  • Financial Services: Another early adopter, which leverages chat to try and keep online banking and brokerage customers online and not have them go to branch locations where costs are higher

High tech has not been a big chat adopter, though this is slowly changing. For example, I did a webcast last year with Symantec in which they showcased their chat success, including higher customer satisfaction rates for chat than phone.

What do chat interactions cost? 

Chat costs are illusive. One of the largest US Banks claims chat costs more than phone because when customers call them, they give the agent their undivided attention. When they chat, however, customers are on phone calls or browsing elsewhere on the web, and there can be 2-3 minute lags while the agent waits for the customer to respond to a question posed via chat. Though an agent can handle 4-5 chats simultaneously, if each individual chat interaction takes twice as long as the same question handled via phone, chat costs are at least as much as phone and likely more.

Other companies, of course, say chat costs much less, often because chat is one of the easiest interaction channels to send offshore because you don’t have to worry about accent neutralization. So factoring in offshoring, chat may be lower, but be cautious in rolling out a Web chat option hoping to cut costs.  Rather, I recommend that members survey their customers and find out how interested they are in chat.  If there is enough interest, then companies should view Web chat as a customer-driven channel, and do it in the interest of offering the support channels most requested by customers–not as a cost cutting measure.

Predicting Chat Volume 

I can’t give a formula to help predict chat volume, though I can say that most companies report response is bigger than expected. When it comes to predicting volume, keep in mind that this is the easiest channel with which to control volume. When there is a lull in the call center you can prompt more customers with an option for proactive chat, and place a chat option on more screens for more customers. When inbound volume is high, you can stop proactive chat prompts and limit on which screens you offer a chat option, or limit which customers have the chat option. For example, as resources become scarce, you may only offer chat to premiere customers, or those with even higher valued shopping carts.

When launching chat, start with a small pilot, only offering the chat option on a very few Web pages, to a very few customers.  That will give you some idea about adoption and volume, and allow you to get all the kinks out the technology and features before opening up the channel to more customers.

Chat Quality

Concerns about chat quality are at the top of the list when I speak with large consumer centers.  Especially those new to chat always seem surprised to find that the skills required for chat (quick thinking and typing) are quite different that traditional phone support (quick thinking and talking) or email support (typing but not necessarily quick), and your ‘star’ agents may not be your top performers in chat–younger agents who grew up as part of the IM generation may be perfectly suited for chat.  However, keep in mind that business chat is very different than personal chat.  Agents need to type full words and full sentences–make sure agents aren’t using LOL, 😉 and other abbreviations and shortcuts.

If you use the Web collaboration product of a full eService suite, such as KANA, you will find that there are controls to streamline chat, such as libraries of common questions and statements that can be pasted into the chat window with a single click, cutting interaction time. 

I would also recommend that companies extend their quality monitoring programs to include every support channel, including chat.  I have talked to companies with mature 100% call recording strategies to monitor quality of phone calls, but nothing in place to measure chat quality other than periodic manual reviews of chat transcripts.  Don’t make this mistake–if you are using a quality monitoring system like Verint/Witness, they can record screencams of the full chat interaction and automatically detect when chat interactions go outside quality boundaries, such as improper language/grammar or slow response.

Just my 2 cents on chat.  If you are using Web chat in your support operation, I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, Technology

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