Web chat finds growing adoption for tech support
In a previous post on the appropriateness of email for tech support, several folks added comments suggesting a post on Web chat, so here it is! I think Web chat is already hugely successful in the consumer world, and I frequently use it to communicate with my wireless carrier and various eCommerce retailers. But what about tech support? When I first joined the SSPA 2.5 years ago, chat was hardly a hot topic with our members, and I was told repeatedly that “chat doesn’t work” for tech support. Since then, I’m slowly seeing adoption growing, with a few great success stories.
The biggest eye opener for me was a webcast I did quite a while back, in which Symantec gave their case study on a huge success with chat support. I am also working on a case study with Linksys, which mentions the work they have done to turn their chat channel from moderately successful into a highly adopted and highly rated channel. Dell also has a huge chat operation. So adoption is growing.
But not very fast. When we rewrote the SSPA Benchmark Questionnaire last year, I was successful in getting Web chat added in a few places. One of those was incidents by channel. According to the current benchmark data, 1% of consumer incidents, 0% of SMB incidents, and .1% of enterprise incidents originate via chat. So while some companies are finding chat as a great way to interact with customers, others have yet to jump into the chat pool.
From my perspective, here are the advantages of Web chat:
- Easy transition from unassisted to assisted.When a customer is already on your Web self-service site, trying to find an answer in your knowledgebase or forum, offering a chat option is an easy way to allow them to transition from unassisted to assisted support, while keeping them in their channel of choice: the web.
- Ability to easily control volume. The ‘click to chat’ control can be easily enabled/disabled for specific customers (like giving premium customers the chat option), or by agent capacity (too many calls/chats in queue, turn off the chat option).
- Offshores easily. In the Symantec case study, they were able to send chat interactions offshore very successfully since there were no issues with ‘accent neutralization’ common with phone calls. I often recommend offshoring chat and email, and keeping phone calls onshore.
- Leverages new collaboration capabilities. Chat is just one tool in a Web collaboration platform. Remote Support vendors (Axeda, Cisco WebEx, CitrixOnline, LogMeIn, NTRglobal) allow you to start with chat, then fire up a remote control session if necessary. eService collab platforms (Kana, LivePerson, Talisma) have lots of cool features like screen sharing, page push, joint form fill, etc.
Again, from my perspective, here are the disadvantages of Web chat.
- Cost. When I was at Forrester, I talked to a support manager at one of the largest US banks, who said chat cost more than phone. Why? When they talked to a customer, they had the customer’s undivided attention. But when they chatted with a customer, the customer was often in a meeting, on a call, or just not paying attention, so the lag between responses grew longer and longer. The same problem took more than 3 times longer to resolve by chat than phone. So even if an agent can do 3 chat sessions at one time, the agent cost was higher for each chat interaction on average.
- Applicability for tech support. I agree with some SSPA members that certain technical problems are hard to solve via chat. How can the customer explain the weird noise a device is making if they can’t talk to you?
I came up with 4 advantages and 2 disadvantages, does that mean the good outweighs the bad? In my mind, it at least make chat worth testing. Of all the channels, it is the easiest to manage a small, controlled test. Just make the ‘click to chat’ option visibile to a small number of customers.
If you do want to give chat a try, I offer a few suggestions.
- Empower agents to pick up the phone. If chat isn’t working for a particular problem, the agent needs to pick up the phone and call the customer. A co-worker told me a horrible story about becoming frustrated trying to resolve an issue via chat, and when he said, “Will you just call me?” the agent replied, “We are chat-only agents. We don’t even have phones on our desk.”
- Don’t go crazy with multiple sessions. Having talked to most of the US airlines and a few large retail companies about this, the average number of simultaneous chat sessions is 4. Never 5. And start agents out with 1, adding an additional session only when they can handle it. If the customer detects a lag in response time from the agent they will abandon the session.
- Train, train, train. Linksys greatly improved chat success and satisfaction by increasing agent training. Chat communication skills are not the same as phone skills. You need to be fast, accurate and succinct. I’d suggest putting your youngest agents on chat–they are likely chat experts. Just make sure they cut the cute shortcuts/acronyms. LOL and various emoticons do not belong in business chat. IMHO. 😉
Judging from past comments, a lot of you have strong opinions on this subject. Are you using chat? How is it working? If you aren’t using chat, why not? If you have any nightmares or best practices to share, please add a comment or drop me an email. And as always, thanks for reading!