Enhanced Websites Use Text Chat

By Jim Iyoob and Cindy Edwards

Would you run a retail store with no salesclerks? Most certainly not. Likewise, having a website that depends solely on self-service is equally foolish. Text chat is proving to be a cost-effective and increasingly preferred solution to augment self-service.

Each year, companies spend billions to maintain an Internet presence. In addition, the marketing costs incurred to drive traffic to those websites increase the overall costs exponentially. It seems illogical then, that after successfully generating interest from prospects in a product or service and guiding these prospects to an expensive and well-designed website, these same companies allow potential customers to leave without completing a revenue producing action. Even more surprising is the lack of knowledge companies have as to why prospects leave the website.

Interactive functions that allow for live Web communication provide companies with tools to reach out to their website visitors, answer questions, guide these prospective customers through the order system, and provide a heightened level of customer service. Many companies are discovering the benefits of adding interactive chat to their websites to better engage their visitors.

Service and Sales: Customer satisfaction surveys show that the customer experience is improved by providing online chat representatives to answer questions, provide additional information, and resolve customer issues. In addition to improving the customer experience, deflecting inbound phone calls to a more cost effective service channel has reduced some companies’ phone call volume by more than 20 percent. Rather than speaking with one customer at a time by phone, an experienced chat representative can service up to six online customers at one time. Redefining inbound customer service can make a substantial savings to the bottom line. For those companies who include the cost of customer service in the price of a product or service, this reduction in overall service costs can be passed directly to the consumer in the form of lower prices.

While service issues are the initial driver in implementing chat for many companies, conversion metrics can be so successful that using chat as a selling tool is becoming a cost-effective avenue to generate additional revenue. One Internet service provider is experiencing a 10 percent conversion rate with chat visitors versus a 2 percent conversion rate with self-service. Another company is seeing a nearly 100 percent increase in close rates on their website sales, as well as an increase in average order size by 11 percent. As startling as these statistics are, the reduction in the average sales cycle by 48 percent illustrates what providing interactive chat can do to improve first call resolution and close sales quickly.

Static versus Proactive: Currently, there are two primary options available to companies when considering adding chat to their website:

Reactive or Static Chat: This is usually the simple addition of a link to a third party tool which allows a website visitor to initiate a chat with a trained online chat representative. Static chat opens the communication between the company and their potential customer, providing an online interactive conversation. Chat buttons can be placed on key marketing and customer service pages on the website.

Proactive Chat: Through the creation of business rules, proactive invitations can be sent to a visitor to chat based on his or her browsing behavior, including keyword searches, geographic location, and abandonment actions. The invitation can be specific to the behavior. For instance, a university that uses proactive chat tags a page explaining one of their popular degree plans. Visitors who spend in excess of thirty seconds on that page receive a chat invitation, which includes starting salary statistics of graduates with this particular degree. By targeting “hot” leads, companies see much higher conversion rates and maximize the costs of the chat representatives.

Determining whether static chat or proactive chat is best for a company’s website can best be assessed through a return on investment (ROI) analysis. Chat will add incremental costs to the company. Even though the start-up costs of static chat are less, an ROI analysis may show that the investment of static chat produces a smaller return than the larger investment to support proactive chat.

While the benefits of interactive chat seem obvious, incurring the additional costs seems to counter the mission of the Internet: empowering consumers with the information they need to make independent decisions. However, an objective evaluation of the benefits, costs, and risks will guide a company to make the right decision.

Online Chat Representatives: One cannot overstate the importance of the frontline representative who is effectively interacting with the company’s customers and prospects. Proper agent selection through testing and an extensive interview process, thorough training in all aspects of the company, its products, and customer interaction skills, and developing floor leadership responsible for coaching and motivating are critical to the success of any customer contact program.

The typical chat customer is educated and product savvy. They choose chat as their preferred means of interacting, and they expect to chat with a knowledgeable resource. Improper spelling and grammar can cause an unpleasant customer experience as quickly as inaccurate information. It is, therefore, imperative that chat representatives are chosen carefully and tested for spelling and grammar, as well as typing skills.

Chat is rapidly becoming a “channel of choice” for its impact on customer satisfaction and sales. Adding interactive chat to a company’s website will maximize the value of the Internet presence and reduce dependency on more expensive service and sales channels.

Contact Cindy Edwards, global sales executive for Etech, at 936-559-2258or cindy.edwards@etechinc.com. Etech is a provider of customer contact and business process outsourcing solutions. Etech employs 1,700 team members, occupying five customer interaction centers in Texas and India, with corporate facilities in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

[From Connection Magazine May 2008]