Chat Ready for Takeoff; Some Companies Aren’t
Chat meets many companies’ needs for customer interactions at a lower cost and with better engagement results, but many companies are still struggling to provide the chat features and functionality desired by their customers, according to a new report by Forrester Research.
Consumers are already comfortable with chat for a variety of interactions, from self-service to purchases, according to the data, which found that as many of half of consumers bought something through chat channels last year. The ability to shop via chat has been buoyed by the addition of conversational artificial intelligence to answer shopping-related questions such as delivery times and product clarifications, according to Forrester.
There’s also competitive pressure for companies to offer state-of-the-art chat solutions, according to the report. Forty-five percent of executives say their firms currently offer chat on their static websites, while 35 percent are doing so on mobile websites or apps.
If designed and used correctly, chat can improve the customer experience, according to Julie Ask, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst. She points out that many companies accelerated their adoption of chat during the COVID-19 pandemic, and those that did so benefited from reduced costs and inbound call volume.
However, many companies still face a series of issues they need to solve to provide the full benefits of chat to their customers:
- The offered solutions don’t provide the functionality or the convenience that customers want.
- Chat is inconsistent across devices.
- The chat function is difficult to locate, or consumers might stumble into a chat while searching for an address in a maps application or browsing Instagram postings.
- There’s a lack of asynchronous capability.
Asynchronous communication is convenient for customers and beneficial for companies. Yet brands fail to offer the capability, or if they do offer it, many fail to inform customers that they can start an interaction at one time and then continue it later on the same device or on a different one. This is an area where it is extremely important to properly set customer expectations, according to Ask.
Ask adds that though companies say they want to do more with chat, most aren’t ready to do so. Today’s chat solutions need to meet evolving customer expectations. Customers want to be able to use chat to check store hours, locations, or waiting times (for prescriptions, etc.), but many of today’s chat offerings can’t provide that functionality.
WAYS TO IMPROVE CHAT
Ask recommends the following for companies to improve their chat offerings:
- Use effective design.The most important elements in the design are the types of questions the chatbot should be able to answer; the chatbot’s “personality,” and how the dialogue will flow.
- Determine the right interface. Depending on the company and its customer base, some consumers might not be comfortable using text messaging to make purchases, even if they use direct messaging for personal purposes.
- Understand the full customer experience, including customers’ needs and how to serve those needs within the context of the brand promise.Companies should prioritize “moments” expected to drive the greatest customer and business benefits in current and future journeys, Ask says.
- Develop chat as part of an omnichannel customer engagement suite.Though development teams can work independently or companies can buy solutions from third parties, companies need to keep in mind the unified customer view while developing routing rules, agent queries, automation processes, decisions on canned responses, and integration with other systems.
- Develop consistent experiences across the full customer life cycle.Experiences need to be similar across digital touchpoints. A shared infrastructure across digital touchpoints helps ensure standardized automation.