Chat as a Support Channel - What You Need to Know

#CX

Chat has become an increasingly popular form of contact in customer service. This makes sense as customers can get an immediate response to a question or have easy access to resolve an issue when one presents itself. It's instant and convenient. No need to fill out a pesky contact form, scramble for a support email only to wait hours or days for an answer or listening to that overplayed on-hold tune while waiting in line on the phone.

In fact, according to a recent report by BabelGlobal on 2017 trends, 25% of UK contact centers are looking to implement web chat in 2017. If you are considering implementing chat on your website, here are my key takeaways from having managed and worked with chat in customer service for the past four years.

My advice

There’s no reason for holding out on you, so I might as well get to the good stuff immediately. This is a summary of the most important points you’ll find in this article:

  • Only show chat on your website when you have agents available to answer (so make sure the technology you pick supports this).
  • Be consistent by having a dedicated agent on chat. This agent is probably handling other things in between chats but can jump to chat when necessary. Seeing your call queue turn red has a tendency to shift focus, but I recommend you stay the course.
  • If you’re daunted by having to take on the slightly higher amount of contacts that chat usually generates (see below), and you’re in e-commerce, at least implement a chat widget on your check-out pages.
  • If a chat is abandoned by the customer, contact them as soon as possible by email or phone.

I’ll go into more details on my preferred setup below and I’ve added a few operational tips at the bottom of the article.

Beware: Chat will increase amount of contacts

Let’s start off with a warning for those who are sensitive about number of contacts. Many contact center managers think that having a chat will move contacts from phone and email to their newly implemented chat. This is only marginally true. In my experience, you can only expect about 20% of your chat conversations to deflect phone calls and emails. This means that roughly 80% of your chat conversations will be additional contacts and you will have to take that into account when you do your workforce management. Note that these numbers are based solely on my experience.

Personally, I haven’t seen chat take up a large part of contacts, and the annual survey by Call Centre Helper seems to support this. If you’re an average business, chat will take up around 3% of your total contacts.

I should add that what this means is that you’ve previously had customers who weren’t getting their questions answered and issues resolved. Adding chat affords you the opportunity to help more of your customers.

The effect of chat support on your business

It is difficult to measure a direct effect of having a chat. But the convenience of it can’t be denied: It is a bit like when you're in a supermarket and you can't find flour. If you find yourself with no one to ask where it is, you might not buy flour that day. Therefore, one of the most important places to implement chat on your website is on the check-out page. Nothing is worse for a company than a customer unsuccessfully trying to complete an order. If they don't have anybody to ask, chances are that they will not complete the order and take their business elsewhere.

Watermark Consulting has provided some interesting numbers on the overall effect of providing a good customer experience vs not doing so. It’s a comparison between the top 10 publicly listed companies vs. the bottom 10 in Forrester’s Customer Experience Index. The trend has been the same every year so far: Those with good customer experience by far outperforms those without.

Customer Experience leaders outperform other graph

Adding chat to your repertoire will improve the overall customer experience, for some customers critically so. So when deciding whether to go for it or not, think about those check-outs and those extra few percent of customers who actually need your help but won’t stop to contact you via phone or email. If you’re into improving the customer experience in general, note that this logic can be applied to any instant-messaging platform, especially in social media.

Running multiple conversations simultaneously

From a contact center's perspective, chat has a great advantage over phone and email since an agent can easily manage multiple chat conversations simultaneously and still deliver excellent service. This reduces Cost Per Contact significantly.

But how many conversations can each agent manage at once? I’ve heard this argued endlessly, and the current consensus seems to be ‘somewhere at or below five’. Exactly how many will depend heavily on the type and complexity of contacts you usually get. Easy and quick transaction-like ones? You can probably go for a high number. Complaint-style, complex contacts that emphasize the need to get it right the first time? Probably not that many. I suggest finding out simply by testing. But once you’ve arrived at a maximum, implement it and make sure you have a plan for dealing with waiting time and/or non-availability on the chat.

How to provide the best chat customer experience

It’s a great signal to send to existing and potential customers, that are you there for them when they need it. In order to achieve a positive impact on the customer experience in the long-term, what’s the best solution? Here’s my take on the best practice for delivering live chat support.

Be available and answer quickly

First, the most important thing when it comes to chat is to only offer it when you are available to answer quickly. When I say quickly, I mean almost instantly for the first welcome greeting. Secondly, you should be consistently available as much as possible. Some of your regular customers will get used to being able to chat with you and will take notice if the chat is not there.

To expand a bit on this: If a customer starts a chat and have to wait for a long time for an agent to answer something that started positively can quickly turn into a really bad experience. One way to solve this is to only offer chat when an agent is available to answer. Another way is to set a limit for how long you allow a customer to wait for an agent before being informed that their conversation can't be answered at the moment. Just turning the customer away isn’t an option, so this should lead to offering a call-back or a contact form (probably along with an apology).

Let’s have a closer look at the experience from the customer’s point-of-view. Lately, I’ve made it a bit of a hobby to look at chat options when I browse the web. One of my finds was a huge electronics online retailer that has a chat widget on their website around the clock. It says "Can we help you? Chat here!". But when you click the widget outside opening hours you get this message:

"Welcome to [company name's] chat!
Our chat is open
Monday - Friday: 09:00-17:00
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed:
Closed"

This is not a very customer-centric way of delivering service to customers. Firstly, customers are offered a contact form that is not actually available. Secondly, customers are not offered any alternative way to contact the company.

If you want to provide the best experience, you basically need to make yourself as available as possible. Apart from making yourself available via other channels when a chat isn’t available, it also means getting back to the customer if if he or she abandons a chat. The least you can do is make sure customers know that you’re there to help.

Handle the conversation with the benefits that chat offer

This is aimed more at the agent or trainer, but that doesn’t make it any less important. These are some of my learnings of how to provide the best customer service when faced with a customer on chat:

  • Take the time that chat offers to look up the customer’s history with your company and get information on what they did before contacting you. This allows you to preempt any objections and better fulfill the customer’s need. Many chat applications store the customer's page history on the website, which enables agents to see which pages customers have visited. Don’t send the customers back to a support article they’ve already spent five minutes reading.
  • If you need time to answer a question, let the customer know. Don’t just leave people hanging without letting them know why.
  • Since customers are used to waiting a little while in chat, take that time to make sure you provide the right answer.
  • Also, remember to proofread a little; quickly skimming what you’re about to send will go a long way towards avoiding misunderstandings and spelling mistakes.
  • End the chat by making sure you’ve resolved the customer’s issue and ask if there’s something else you can do for him or her. You’d be surprised how often that can come out as an upselling opportunity!

That’s it for this article. Now get chatting, and if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to get in touch!

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contact center management
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Tue Søttrup

Tue Søttrup has been delivering excellent customer service for more than 20 years, the past 12 years as a manager for several contact centers. Tue is currently VP of Product & Customer Success at Dixa where he's carefully nurturing a small bonsai tree that he calls GenZen.