Live Chat’s Not Just for Sales Anymore: Q&A With Conversive CEO Robert Williams

For many e-tailers, online chat is a closer. Packaged and offered up to site visitors as a service, it provides an opportunity to close a sale when an uncertain customer wavers. Retailers were early adopters of this technology precisely because of the distinct return on investment, Conversive CEO Robert Williams told CRM Buyer.

There are signs that the use of chat technology may be expanding to service operations that aren’t directly related to closing a sale. Companies with highly complex Web sites are deploying it to help visitors navigate for content, Williams noted.

Health insurance companies — whose clients are already signed, sealed and delivered — are one example. Financial services companies are another. They are still motivated by ROI, of course, but the focus is on cost savings rather than sales.

“Bringing down cost per interaction in technical support will be a big driver in particular,” said Williams. In short, online chat is growing beyond its online retail roots.

CRM Buyer: So are you saying that chat in the retail space has peaked?

Robert Williams:

No. Chat initially was — and still is — attractive to retail sites because of clear advantages it provides in closing a sale and thus driving revenues. That hasn’t changed, but we are seeing a lot of demand from both external support and internal support operations for chat now. Increasingly, this demand is user-driven.

CRM Buyer: What do you mean by “internal” and “external” support? No clients are involved?


Something like that, although I guess it depends on the definition of “client.” But what I mean is that we are clearly moving away from the sales-centric model, where chat was deployed primarily to close a deal.

Now we see more large corporations deploying chat internally to provide remote assistance and to keep their employees in the loop with new tech changes. It is — like it is for a retail site — cheaper than maintaining phone-based help desk. Also, users themselves want chat, particularly as Gen Y moves into the workplace.

CRM Buyer: Are there any particular sectors that are embracing chat for internal support?


If I had to pick one I would say financial services. A lot of financial transactions are taking place between companies in a chat environment.

CRM Buyer: For instance?


One of our clients is Liquidnet, an institutional marketplace for equities. It is the largest trading mechanism outside of the stock exchange. These deals are done via chat, and these transactions are enormous too. People in the financial industry are very familiar with chat in general and trust it. In fact, most of our clients now are financial services — I would say about 40 percent. Another 25 percent are retail, and the rest would fall in the category of “other.”

CRM Buyer: Are the majority of your clients using chat now for reasons other than sales or marketing?


No, that is still a primary driver. I would say roughly 50 percent use it for marketing; 30 percent for external support; and 20 percent internal support.

CRM Buyer: How else are companies changing the way they use chat?


I think we are on the cusp of seeing a big shift in the way companies use it for marketing. In general, the model for online marketing and online advertising is rapidly changing from a CPM (cost per thousand)-based model to a results-oriented model. As they try to drive results, what happens after people click through an ad — and are you able to convert them — become important questions. The numbers we have seen in marketing applications shows that chat has phenomenal capabilities to convert people, compared to static HTML ads.

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