Craig Borowski is a Market Researcher at Software Advice, the online center for help desk software, covering technology and changing trends in the CRM market, with a focus on customer service, marketing automation and the impact of technology on CRM strategy. After having published an interesting infographic based on his great report on the current use of live chat in customer care we asked him a few questions, to better understand where chat is heading and how important it can actually become for customer support.
How good is chat for customer care?
In many contexts, live chat is the best channel there is for customer care and service. It’s both immediate and requires very little effort. There aren’t really any other channels that can claim to be both those things. One of it’s potential shortcomings could be with very complex service issues, where there will be a lot of back and forth diagnosing the problem. In this situations, the benefits of channels like the telephone might be better.
Do you think that chat shortcomings might be addressed through a more appropriate agents’ training?
Absolutely. Agent training is one half of the equation; the other half involves all of the details that go into implementing live chat, such as which chat vendor is chosen and then how, when and to whom offers to chat appear on the website.
What are the essential training issues when preparing agents for chat?
The company should establish some basic guidelines and rules concerning how agents should interact on live chat. These could be a simple list of Dos and Don’ts or a body of canned responses agents can use for common questions and answers.
Alternatively, depending on the business need, a company might choose to use training to establish broad guidelines that would give agents more flexibility to go off script. It really depends on the company’s specific goals with live chat and what they’re using it to help website visitors accomplish.
We hear a lot of talk about the so called “death” of the telephone as a customer support channel. Is it for real?
It will never completely die, but compared to how popular it used to be, it’s now pretty clearly headed for life support. There are still some service interactions that people prefer to handle via a voice channel. For example, very complex technical discussions or discussions in which the customer isn’t sure what they need to ask. Of course, live chat works quite well for both of these situations.
But what about the customers? Do they always like chat? Are there specific customer segments that do not want to deal with it at all?
For the most part, customers that have used chat before have very high opinions of it and are more likely to use it again. When looking at specific customer segments, it’s most popular with younger age groups, but we’re continually surprised at how popular live chat is across the board.
Even the oldest age brackets have expressed preferences for live chat. So we haven’t seen any specific segments that don’t want to deal with live chat. However, if chat is implemented very obtrusively so that it gets in the way or interrupts website visitors who don’t need it, then it becomes a problem.
Which types of business would you call a chat-based customer care a real must?
Any business that counts on its website to drive some revenue should seriously consider live chat. It can be a huge help answering the questions people have that are preventing them from clicking the ‘Buy’ button. Any company that has a website that might create questions for customers— about what to purchase, where to find certain information, anything like that— can use chat to answer those questions before a customer gets frustrated and leaves.
Are there specific situation where you’d strongly advise AGAINST chat?
Yes, live chat should not be implemented until a company has a very clear plan for how it will help customers use their website. A successful live chat implementation should have two overall goals: to enable customers to use a website more effectively (e.g., by finding answers to their questions, understanding products etc.) and to enable the company to get the most out of each visit (in terms of more sales, increased usage of online self-service channels etc.).
So if live chat won’t be adding value to both the customer’s user experience and the company’s online strategy, then it should be reconsidered. However, in most cases, live chat can add value for both the company and the customer, it’s just a matter of finding the best way to meet both goals.
Which would be your suggestions for a company that wants to get started with live chat?
The first step is just to have a complete and accurate understanding of how customers are currently using the website. Identify the most popular pages, understand where the problems and bottlenecks are. After that, it becomes pretty easy to see where and how to implement chat to help customers move smoothly past any sticking points.
From a more technical point, which type of features are most necessary for a good chat implementation?
There is an increasing variety of features being offered by live chat vendors. While most will find that even basic live chat platforms can meet their needs, there are some businesses that will find better, faster results by using some additional features.
For example, companies that use live chat in a customer service context will probably want a live chat system that integrates with their support ticket system and, ideally, allow for omni-channel support. An e-commerce company might find that their customers really appreciate live chat that includes co-browsing. Co-browsing provides customers a very personalized online shopping experience and, in many cases, provides the company with increased sales.
Talking about branding now… do you think that chat can also become an effective engagement tool, to help companies and brands find a more personal voice?
Definitely! Live chat is an excellent channel for engaging more customers and reaching a wider variety of customers. It really is the perfect engagement tool. Unlike many other channels, live chat interactions can provide very valuable context. For example, when a customer initiates a chat, the chat agent can see what that customer was viewing when they engaged, what other products or pages they’d viewed and a variety of other valuable pieces of context.
Imagine this scenario: A customer initiates a chat session and the chat agent sees that the customer has been going back and forth between two pages, looking at two pairs of shoes. The agent understands, before the customer types anything, that he or she is probably trying to decide which shoes to purchase. The agent can use this knowledge to tailor the questions and answers they provide, personalizing the shopper’s experience and engaging them more closely, requiring no additional effort from the customer.
Who is Craig?
He graduated from Colby College in 1997, moving then to Taipei, Taiwan to begin a career in journalism, publishing and translation. He has held positions as the Sr. Editor and columnist of a bilingual edition of TIME magazine, author of a dozen books and a Chinese-to-English translator for clients including the Taipei Times, The China Post, Acer Inc. and the Office of the Mayor of Taipei. Craig joined Software Advice in 2013 after serving two years as CMO at the U.S. branch of a German consumer products manufacturer.