Online retailers that field customer service questions strictly through phone or email may be missing out on a quick, cost-effective way to engage customers: live chat. According to LivePerson, a company that provides online real-time customer engagement solutions including chat, using live chat for customer service reduces issue handling costs by 25% and converts 20% more visits into sales.
“With email, you could end up in four or five back and forth emails, which is time-consuming and increases your costs to resolution,” says Josh Tenby, who runs LivePerson’s North America Small Business Team. “With phones, you can only talk to one person at a time, so the cost per resolution is higher [than chat]. In chat, it’s very easy to jump from one chat to another without having a negative impact on the customer experience.” In fact, Tenby says that in many companies, chat agents handle three to four clients at a time.
STELLAService data from the past six months shows that phone and live chat response times were comparable across all retail verticals. The average response time to a live chat was about 1 minute, 10 seconds, compared to 1 minute, 30 seconds for phone and 13 hours for email.
Which channel was best for getting answers? Looking at resolution rates for the major retail categories for the past six months shows that issues were resolved 92% of the time on average over the phone, compared to an average of 88% for live chat and just 63% for email.
Live chat certainly seems like a good option for consumers and is increasingly compelling for retailers.
Live chat technology has progressed far beyond basic conversation. Nowadays, retailers can take advantages of features like file-sharing, desktop-sharing, video chat, pre-chat surveys, and customer segmentation. Pre-chat surveys help direct customers to the correct agent and allow agents to address issues more quickly, while customer segmentation can identify high-value customers based on geography or other information.
“If you’re running an ecommerce store out of New York and don’t deliver to the West Coast, you don’t want to engage anyone in California,” Tenby says. “High value clients are the ones who are based in New York, so you wouldn’t make the chat feature available to people coming from the West Coast.” In that scenario, the chat button simply wouldn’t be visible to those customers outside of the delivery area.
A customer abandoning a shopping cart with a value over a certain amount might also trigger an invitation to chat. “We’re channeling the brick and mortar store experience,” Tenby says. “The same way that you walk into a store, someone will come over and engage you based on certain actions.”
Some companies also use Google Analytics to determine when customers are dropping off the site and send a chat invitation after the customer has been on the site for a certain amount of time or clicks through a certain number of product pages.
Using the built-in proactive chat functionality of the LivePerson platform, companies can build and optimize invitation rules based on the number of visitor clicks, time spent on a particular page and other data to increase sales conversions over time. “Proactive chat is the direction that people are going in,” Tenby says.
CustomInk, a Virginia-based company that sells custom t-shirts online, is among the retailers using LivePerson’s chat features. Kate Rowinski, director of sales and service, says chat represents about 10 percent of the company’s total contacts. Many of the questions CustomInk gets are about t-shirt designs, so CustomInk’s chat agents help customers design their t-shirts in real time and send links to their designs in progress.
“Having the instant gratification of real-time help at your fingertips is a really important thing,” Rowinski says. “Customers tell us it’s very handy to have someone available on the spot to answer all their questions.”
Before adding live chat, Rowinski suggests that retailers answer as many questions as they can through a help center or FAQ page on their website. “Evaluate your site,” she says. “Have you offered everything you can?”
Hiring the right people to handle chat is also important. Rowinski says CustomInk hires chat agents who are comfortable with multitasking and familiar with emoticons and internet abbreviations. “We don’t speak the language to the customer but we need to understand it when they speak to us,” she says.
Many of the same etiquette rules used in call centers also apply to chat: use the customer’s first name, don’t leave the customer hanging, and make sure you’ve addressed all of their questions before signing off.