Chat Is the Channel of Choice, For Now
For companies, it “should be viewed as one option of many” to offer customers for engagement, Niemiec argues. “Different customers have different communication preferences, and live chat should be considered as part of a communications suite rather than a stand-alone form of customer support.”
Ryan Stewart, vice president of Canadian operations and global contact center at Market Force Information, a provider of customer experience management technology, notes that although chat has been around since the early 2000s, its resurgence today is being driven by “the high adoption of mobile technology and a keen focus on consumer convenience.”
Chat is also popular “due to its high service response time, quick access to insights, and lack of traditional conversational mechanics that can impede time to secure an answer,” he notes. Another advantage over other channels is that chat also allows for information such as web links, images, and documents to be easily transmitted in real time.
Indeed, Stewart asserts that speed is a key element of chat. “If consumers are looking for a quick answer and not interested in a conversation, they are likely to engage a chat icon on a company’s website. They will ask their question, get their answer, and disconnect. Current etiquette in chat conversation is not viewed in a manner similar to that of phone dialogue. Chatters won’t think twice to disconnect after they have their answer, where a traditional phone user will follow the obligatory requirements of etiquette and thank the agent for the answer provided and wish them a good day,” he says.
An enticing feature for companies, experts agree, is that chat is more cost-effective than other channels, largely because agents can handle multiple inquiries simultaneously.
Stewart, for one, points out that as contact volumes increase across organizations, so too does the cost to provide support as a percent of annual revenue. That makes lower-cost options, such as chat, far more attractive, he says.
Another advantage highlighted by Niemiec is customers’ ability to use chat in any situation, including ones where they are unable to make phone calls.
Of all the channels, email today “is likely the least preferred form of support across the board,” due to a reputation for slow response times that are “aggravated by the common need for back and forth between the customer and the agent,” Niemiec points out.
That is a view shared by Anand Janefalkar, founder and CEO of contact center software provider UJET. Consumers, he says, have figured out that email is generally slower than phone or chat support. “Because it’s asynchronous, email is not an ideal channel for complex or urgent support issues.”
At the same time, phone support continues to be very popular with consumers, though the top frustration with that channel continues to be the length of time it takes to get a resolution.
Nevertheless, phone support will always have a place in the customer service arena, especially when it comes to sensitive subject matters. “Consumers are more likely to wish to speak to an individual via phone if it relates to compensation or financial matters. If there is a belief that speaking via voice may allow consumers to convince the company representative to make a decision in their favor, this is also more likely to occur via a voice conversation. Phone conversation is considered a more personal connection,” Stewart says.
CHAT’S PLACE GOING FORWARD
While the technology is hot today, chat’s role as a customer support tool in the future is still largely undecided. Janefalkar predicts that the demand for live chat “will continue to be strong” and that hybrid models that incorporate artificial intelligence or chatbots in tandem with agent-assisted chat will emerge. “Consumers will be able to move through channels seamlessly to get the best resolution. For example, brands may provide an FAQ based on the customer’s inquiry, but if that doesn’t answer the customer’s question, they can quickly click on chat with a live agent or place a phone call,” he elaborates.