Most consumers live and shop in an instantaneous, virtual world. While browsing a site, users expect the products they want to be in stock; they want a multitude of return options; and when they have questions, they want them answered as quickly as the click of a mouse.
Live chat has never been more popular, especially when 65% of respondents to Bold Chat’s 2012 Live Chat Effectiveness Research Report said they have used it in 2012. That number has steadily increased since the first survey was conducted in 2009, when 50.4% said they used the interactive customer service tool.
And little wonder: When it’s done correctly, live chat is efficient, which is exactly why 1 in 5 shoppers surveyed said they would rather go viral than use any other communication method when shopping online. But it’s not just the consumers who are benefitting from live chat. Jeremy Sokolic, senior vice president of marketing at LivePerson, says live chat increases sales, prevents shopping cart abandonment, reduces customer service costs, and boosts customer satisfaction rates.
Nonetheless, it appears a good percentage of ecommerce sites have yet to create a live chat tool on their sites. According to the Multichannel Merchant 2012 Outlook Survey, while 39.5% of merchants and retailers said they use live chat on their sites, 42% don’t, but 18.5% are considering it.
Treat is as a sales tool
So just how, exactly, do you master the live chat craft? According to Ross Haskell, director of BoldChat Marketing, you need to look at live chat as an effective customer service and sales channel. “I wouldn’t only use it for support,” he says. “The line of support and sales is fuzzy.”
Think of live chat as a virtual sales clerk, Haskell says, someone who is ready to assist your clients in any way they want—with a product, shipping or sizing, or with a coupon question.
Test your live chat locations
And don’t just slap a live chat button on your site and expect people to flock to it. “You really want to put it everywhere, you want it to be in a consistent place, easily found by users,” Haskell said.
Daryl Logullo, Internet marketing manager with Southern Fulfillment Services, LLC, piloted a live chat program with the Hale Groves brand last year and has seen nothing but benefits from the tool. Hale Groves, according to Logullo, used inhouse resources to create a team solely for email and live chat communication and tested a live chat button wherever possible. “We tried a floating icon and tested it out on almost all aspects of the site with varying icons and color schemes at various times of the day,” Logullo says.
The response? “People started using it pretty quickly, and we saw an increase in our conversion rate, without question.”
The need for live chat at Hale Groves, which is a fresh fruit gift company based in Florida, was to get right with the times. “I felt there was a need for it—I mean, it’s 2012, not 1912. This [decision] was all about the consumer, and you need to be meeting the consumer any way they want to interact with you,” he says.
In fact, the program has been so successful that Southern Fulfillment has decided to pilot a chat program on two of its other four brands: Pittman & Davis and Eilenberger Bakery.
Another tip from Haskell: Test your live chat service often and run analysis every way possible. “Don’t just set it and forget it,” he says. Test for everything—run analytics on chat logs, chat time, response rate and waiting time.
Erin Smith, director of managed global services at Petco Animal Supplies, said during the LivePerson Aspire conference in June that running customer analytics has been a huge help in improving service. Petco has been able to compile customer data, research online feedbacks and products, and reverse cart abandonment rates, login issues and technical issues.
“Your contact center is a source of business intelligence,” Smith said, adding that it’s important to let an analytic tool do most of the work for you, since it might well pick up additional data you didn’t even know existed. “Don’t be so caught up in telling the tool what you want to find that you don’t see what the tool is able to find for you,” she said.
Ashley Bailey, ecommerce director at WhiteFlash.com, an international diamond and fine jewelry company, says running constant analytics has not only helped create real-time changes to chat features, but has also helped identify site issues. Keeping track of the live chat program, she says, “makes it a lot faster to not only find an item for our customers, but also to make the sale.”
Since installing live chat onto the site, Bailey says, Whiteflash.com has seen a 27% conversion increase at checkout compared to last year.
Chris Vodola, director of customer service at BlueFly.com, says his company keeps a score card of all chat logs, runs constant analytics on the program, and has weekly meetings with chat updates. “It is so important to stay on top of those things because as your site changes, you need to be able to adapt.”
Leave to autobots at home
One of the cardinal rules for live chat, according to Haskell, is that the human experience is most important. In other words, leave the autobots to your competitors. “Make sure you have real people answer the chat,” Haskell says. Even though it might seem more desirable and cheaper to have an autobot handling live chat, customers will see right through it. “They don’t work, and it doesn’t take long for the person to suspect that they’ve been had,” he notes.
Merchants should look at live chat as a means to create a personal experience. “The goal of live chat is to transcend the business relationship, to connect with customers on a personal level,” said LivePerson CEO Robert LoCascio at the Aspire conference. Live chat representatives must first meet the goal of the consumer—connect with them in real time and give them what they want, how they want it. It’s that personal connection that makes live chat so appealing for both the company and the consumer.