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Debunking Web Chat Myths
Plus five tips to leverage chat for your business
Posted Nov 2, 2011
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You might be surprised to learn that Web chat has become the second most preferred customer service channel. What's more, Baby Boomers now like Web chat almost as much as their kids do.

New research from Convergys on the customer experience is revealing new insights about chat. "Convergys's 2011 U.S. Customer Scorecard Research" shows that 31 percent of consumers from all age groups view chat as one of their top two service channels, along with phone support. Email and online self-service trail chat in customer preference.

With more and more consumers turning to the Web for a variety of business needs, as well as heightened competition for sales, companies are also embracing chat as a new approach to enhance their online experience. According to a Forrester Research, Inc., report on selecting online customer service channels, one in four U.S. retailers currently offer chat, and another 26 percent say that chat is planned.

What's noteworthy is that 28 percent of Baby Boomers in the Convergys research study said that chat is one of their two favorite channels, just 6 percent below the younger segments' preference for it, at 34 percent. But this makes sense. In recent months, media focus and the maturation and adoption of chat best practices by companies launching or enhancing their solutions have accelerated dramatically in all markets. As a result, even our parents are hearing about the service and having a good experience when they try it.

Chat fills the service gap between live phone support and a company's Web-based self-service help sections, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and site searches. Chat requires less effort than self-service, is more responsive than email, and provides the "human touch" that consumers enjoy with phone support.

Yet, three misconceptions about chat could still slow adoption by companies. Here's the truth behind those myths.

Misconception #1: Chat generates lower satisfaction

In fact: Forrester reports that 63 percent of customers who have used chat found it satisfying, a higher percentage than reported for other self-serve channels. In addition, in a TELUS International white paper, 63 percent of customers said they were more likely to return to a Web site after experiencing Web chat.

Misconception #2: Chat still has low usage.

In fact: Usage is steadily increasing. According to Convergys's annual "U.S. Customer Scorecard Research," in 2009, 20 percent of customers tried Web chat. In 2011, the company's research found that one in three consumers reported having used it in the previous six months.

Misconception #3: Chat takes longer than a call.

In fact: It's true that some chats can take as long as, or longer than, a call. However, contacts can be streamlined with effective use of analytics, links to an online knowledge base, cobrowse, and agent cross-training on related products and issues. One company realized a 30 percent reduction in chat length and improved customer satisfaction with these methods. Cost savings can also be significant, especially when multitasking and conducting the work offshore are part of the picture.

And the quality of Web service will only continue to grow in importance as more and more business takes place on the Internet. When Forrester asked a group of customer experience professionals to state their main service objective for 2011, 76 percent said theirs was "improving the online customer experience."

Make the Most of Chat

Clearly, providing chat is becoming key to meeting more and more customers' expectations. Combined with the financial benefits it offers, chat warrants inclusion or expansion in a company's multichannel strategy.

Here are several elements necessary to ensure a positive chat and growing usage:

Helpful location. Offer chat on key product and customer service pages that typically require help, as indicated by sales and Web site traffic data.

Enjoyable guidance. Make sure agents are trained and knowledgeable so chats are personable and brand-appropriate, with information that is accurate, pertinent, and succinct. Provide answers that are consistent with other channels, such as the Web site, by using a common knowledge base.

Responsive service. Aim to respond within 30 seconds. Anticipate customer needs and equip agents with customizable templates, links to online knowledge base answers, and the authority and escalation help to resolve problems effectively.

Proactive tips. Combine analytics and account histories to identify important customers and proactively offer help, particularly when online behavior suggests the need for assistance. Use modeling to identify relevant purchases and scripting.

Performance feedback. Consider asking three to five brief questions at the end of each contact to learn how to improve your service.

Should you decide to offer chat, it's recommended that you start small, perhaps with a pilot. Then plan to expand hours of service, operations, and the number of covered products and services slowly with greater understanding of all the considerations and increased effectiveness. Some companies elect to outsource the work, so they can focus on other priorities and channels, or to leverage the expertise of a chat provider.

Regardless of your approach, there is growing evidence that chat is here to stay. And a growing number of customers, including grandmas and other Boomers, are happy to see its arrival.

Julie Maier is a senior manager in customer management marketing at Convergys Corporation, a global leader focused on turning contact centers into profit centers and improving the customer service experience for the retail, healthcare, financial services, communications, technology, and government markets.

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