Live from NCOF: Chatting About Live Chat

Orlando, FL—The numbers make a compelling case: Since implementing live chat on its Website, Shop NBC has seen its average online order value jump 38% and its cancellation and return rate decline 12.2%. What’s more, it earned back its investment in less than two months.

Now that texting has become as commonplace as making a phone call, live chat—in which a Website visitor and a customer service rep or sales agent from that site converse online in real-time via a type of instant messaging—is an accepted customer contact medium. In a session here at the National Conference for Operations and Fulfillment titled “Talk Isn’t Cheap!” Jeff Fettes, COO of 24-7 Intouch, and John Bryson, director, strategic program management for LivePerson, discussed the whys and wherefores of implementing a live-chat program.

There’s a perception, Bryson and Fettes said, that communication with customers via e-mail is more cost-effective than live chat. They contended, though, that because it often takes multiple e-mail exchanges between customer and company before an issue is resolved, e-mail can end up being more costly. At the same time, the lack of first-contact resolution (FCR) can leave customers less than satisfied with their experience. Live chat allows for a much higher rate of FCR, helping to improve the customer experience. And whereas an agent can respond to only one e-mail at a time, he can participate in several live chats simultaneously.

To get the greatest ROI for live chat, Bryson suggested the following steps when setting up a program:

· Select a platform that monitors Website traffic in real-time.

· Use that platform to target visitors based on their behavior. You don’t necessarily want to make live chat available to all site visitors. You probably want to direct customers with high-frequency, low-complexity queries (“Where is my order?”) to a less-costly self-service option. By using rules-based technology, you can “push” the live-chat option to, say, visitors who are spending more than a certain amount of time on a certain type of page.

· Send triggered messaging based on your preset rules regarding visitor behavior. You may want to go beyond simply offering a live-chat button on some site pages to initiating a chat. Taking a proactive rather than reactive approach can increase sales conversion rates, among other metrics.

· And speaking of metrics, be sure to identify key performance indicators—increasing sales, improving customer satisfaction, reducing cancelations—and to measure results. Also bear in mind that some metrics will differ from those used in the traditional call center. For instance, while call centers generally reward agents for keeping their average handle time low, in chat, a longer average handle time often translates to higher sales.

Fettes offered several other tips:

· Build a library of “canned answers”: scripted responses to frequently asked questions. This will help save agents from having to retype common responses.

· Keep in mind that your contact center agents with the strongest verbal skills may not be the same ones who have the strongest written skills.

· Train your agents in the ways of communicating without vocal intonations. Customers sometimes misinterpret e-mails and other written communications as being curt or rude simply because they lack the vocal cues that indicate when the sender is simply being efficient or even light-hearted.

· Work areas dedicated to live chat are often unnervingly quiet to those used to the constant chatter of a call center. You may therefore have to work harder to engage and stimulate your staff. Try playing music and even encouraging employees to talk with their co-workers.

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