Customer Service


The Trouble With Live Chat

Fast, easy and accurate — ask any consumer to describe good customer service and that is the likely response you’ll receive.

Traditionally, people have reached out to call centers, confident that a well-trained customer service representative would have the knowledge to fill in the blanks. But moving away from the computer and picking up the phone is an annoyance. And long hold times have come to be a given.

Online channels are the new top choice for people looking to find information, conduct business, make purchases, complete membership registrations, plan trips and more.

We live in an age of instant gratification, and customers are impatient. If they don’t find what they’re looking for on a company’s website, they bolt (just check your own site’s ‘time-on-site’ and bounce rates to see the ugly truth). This is especially true for online commerce, which consistently shows a 57% abandonment rate if customers can’t find the answer they’re looking for.

So, how can companies keep customers on their sites and allow them to have meaningful, valuable interactions? The answer is surprisingly simple: Provide them with the information they really need in a timely manner. In fact, quick query resolution is the top reason consumers will rate a customer experience as excellent, according to research from Avaya.

Consumers Want to Be Self-Reliant

Online chat can help. Online chat’s lack of channel shift is a major step forward in terms of convenience, and live-chat agents certainly provide an easier path to knowledge than most website search boxes are capable of offering — but it’s not flawless. When reps are managing multiple conversations at a time, delays are inevitable, and that’s frustrating for users who expect instantaneous, 1-to-1 service.

To make matters worse, most live-chat reps are so inundated with the same types of questions that they end up investing more time familiarizing themselves with scripted answers than on developing specialized knowledge of the organization they serve. No wonder just 25 percent of customers surveyed say online chat meets their expectations.

In a perfect world, the solution would be to increase the size of your live-chat staff. As most organizations have found, though, there’s no end to user appetite for the service. It’s a victim of its own success: People with questions that they consider too trivial to justify a phone call have no such hesitation when it comes to live-chat. Queue times hover around 6 minutes, and an average live-chat engagement takes more than 18 minutes to complete.

And “complete” doesn’t always mean “successfully complete.” Recent studies show that even after patiently waiting and engaging for nearly 20 minutes, users with more difficult questions are often told to pick up the phone to get their question answered. This is true for interactions with companies of all sizes, including large corporations.

These points are not to imply that investment in live-chat is bad. It’s definitely a step in the right direction, but there is plenty of room for improvement. With the massive adoption live-chat is seeing, the opportunity is ripe to increase its ability to provide the fast, accurate answers that customers want, right at their point of need.

Live-Chat Meets Its Match

Recent advances in virtual agent technology are making an amazing degree of enhancements to live-chat possible.

When implemented as the first point of contact for your Web customer service system, virtual agents can easily answer all of your commonly asked tier-1 and tier-2 questions. They’re capable of serving millions of users simultaneously, and always meet increased demand with ease. They provide information immediately, work 24/7 and never get sick. Training is accomplished by simply updating their knowledge base. They’re even able to serve customers in multiple languages. Virtual agents have been proven to increase site engagement. And, most importantly, they serve up information in the most natural way possible: by engaging the user in a conversation.

For more difficult questions, an advanced virtual agent is able to determine immediately if it doesn’t know the answer and seamlessly escalate the user to live-chat, even providing a conversation history to quickly bring the live-chat operator up to speed.

Never Miss an Opportunity Again

Perhaps most importantly, virtual agents reduce live-chat reps’ queues. Suddenly, users with specialized questions no longer have to wait to chat. And, since reps are no longer burdened with answering the same questions repeatedly, they can spend more time with the customers who require higher touch service, greatly reducing the need to send users to call centers for answers and giving them time to capitalize on revenue-generating opportunities.

The cost of implementing a virtual agent to complement live-chat centers is minimal when compared to attempts to improve service by increasing staffing. Once implemented, the cost is just a fraction of live-chat, which averages US$5 per contact.

You have what your customers are looking for, and both you and the customer want to make finding “it” easier. Virtual agents do just that, enabling both you and your customers to make the most efficient use of time, turning potential into actual, and matching demand with resources.

Fred Brown is CEO of Next IT.

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