Many online merchants have been slow to adopt live chat technology, but Web shoppers are warming to it. About 20% of shoppers prefer live chat, according to a recent survey conducted by Bold Software and consultancy The E-tailing Group.
More than 1,000 online shoppers participated in the survey in February. These are just a few of the key findings.
The demographic that prefers live chat is a highly desirable one. Live chat advocates are typically between the ages of 31 and 50, has an above average income, more likely college educated, and spends more money online per year than other groups of shoppers.
Best practices generally fall into three categories with the “human factor” of chat at the top. Chatters, which refer to customers who’ve had a live chat engagement with a retailer, confirmed what many merchants believe: The people taking the chats, particularly their knowledge and speed, are the key factors with a successful chat. The other two categories are “important features” and “less important features” – the former category refers to visitors citing the ability for a browser to be directed by an agent.
Shoppers in the U.K. are not as enthusiastic their U.S. counterparts when it comes to live chat. U.K. respondents to the survey agree with U.S shoppers on what makes a live chat session successful, but they are not as keen on it. While 20% of U.S. respondents prefer to contact online merchants via live chat, just 10% of U.K. shoppers do.
Then again, more U.K. respondents to the survey preferred to contact online merchants via email (77% vs. 58% of U.S. respondents), and fewer (13% vs. 22% of U.S. shoppers) like to communicate by telephone.
Fans of live chat believe it’s the fastest method of communication. According to the survey question asking why customers prefer live chat, 77% said because they get their questions answered immediately, followed by 52% who said it’s the most efficient communication method, and 43% because it allows them to multitask.
Live chat answers perfectly the needs of today’s time-starved shoppers, Lauren Freedman, president of consultancy The E-tailing Group, says. “Online customers continue to want to be in control and live chat fuels the fire. It is an efficiency model that customers will continue to embrace.”
Freedman says online shoppers like questions immediately answered that leads to customer efficiency. “While some consumers cautiously tiptoe to test the latest in technologies, once they are comfortable and have seen chat’s inherent efficiency model, they never look back moving from fair-weather fan to fanatic,” she adds.
Proactive chat—the automated or manual issuance of invitation images, forms, or other messages by a website to engage a visitor in a live chat interaction—was well received despite mixed execution. According to the survey, 62% of respondents said they are receptive to an invitation for a proactive chat, but 20% say they’ve left a site because of poor invitation practices.
“This is interesting to me as it means there are so many opportunities for the merchant to drive revenue here,” Freedman says.
“It’s paying attention to the details and the human touch,” she notes. “Those retailers who take time to educate internally and deliver service above and beyond no matter the channel will continue to see strong results.”