The goal of any good chat implementation is to drive conversions and increase your customers’ satisfaction. It is essentially the Web’s version of a brick-and-mortar salesperson. We can all recall a poor or intrusive in-store experience with a sales clerk that resulted in annoyance rather than satisfaction, which is why it is so important to optimize all of the advantages made possible by live chat. There is little question about the ROI of live chat when it is implemented properly. According to Forrester Research, the average chat costs businesses $5, versus $6 to $12 for a customer service phone call. Additionally, 63 percent of consumers who have used live chat have found the experience satisfying, according to a June 2010 report by Forrester analyst Diane Clarkson. So, keeping in mind that live chat is worth doing and especially worth doing well, here are six key steps to optimizing your implementation and delivering the best possible online experience for your customers and prospects:
1. Customize the experience
Your website is completely unique, and your live chat implementation should be, too. Since this is a customer-facing technology, be sure the experience reinforces your brand personality and doesn’t create the impression
of a readymade tool intent on advertising itself. From the look and placement of the chat button to the colors and shape of the chat window itself, you should exert your brand’s influence whenever possible.
Some chat solutions allow other personalization options — like the inclusion of agent photographs. This is an excellent strategy, but only if the photos are real. Customers are smart and stock photography can drive them
away. In fact, the best tactic is to use photos of the actual agents, a nice personal touch that your customers will like — even if it requires the few extra seconds spent answering the question, “Is that really you in the photo?”
Finally, carefully consider the choices offered by proactive invitations. The look of the invitation should be tailored to fit with the aesthetic of your website — but not so tailored that it disappears.
2. Ensure staff readiness
Live chat agents have a unique set of skills, so staffing and training isn’t the same as staffing for phone operators. To maxi- m i z e the ROI of live chat, it is wise to hire and train agents who can communicate swiftly and effectively (with correct grammar and punctuation) in writing.
The technology also enables agents to manage multiple chat requests at the same time — an oppor- tunity
that the phone does not afford. That can be both a blessing and a challenge. Agents can help many more customers in a given day, but it is at a fast pace and requires multitasking abilities. Have your agents practice this multitasking before they have to learn on the job.
Understanding “tone” needs to be a focus in chat training. If you’ve ever had an email exchange turn into an inadvertent argument, then you know it’s important to train your agents on the nuances of written communication. This is not to say that stark formality is required, rather that you understand and mirror
your customers. For example, if you operate a sports memorabilia website, then you probably won’t be taken seriously by your website visitors if you don’t use the language and abbreviations inherent in the way that fans talk about their teams.
Lastly, make certain that your agents have solid expertise in the products and services they represent. An example is the jewelry retailer whose live chat agents are gemologists, or the cosmetics website that uses make-up artists to answer questions about products and technique. While you may not need to go quite that far for your business, it is important that your agents have the product knowledge they need to succeed.
3. Use canned messages effectively
Bold Software’s recent survey of website businesses that use chat identified “evaluating canned messages” as the most important thing to do in order to prepare for the 2010 holiday shopping rush. Canned messages are a must for a well-run chat implementation. They make chat operators instantly efficient and also ensure consistent messaging for frequently asked questions.
There are, however, a few notes of caution. First, don’t hit the website visitor with so many canned messages that the interaction doesn’t feel personal and personalized. And second, editing canned messages based on context and the specific situation is always a wise consideration.
4. Get proactive
Research shows that the majority of online shoppers are receptive to being invited into a chat engagement. While many businesses believe it can annoy website visitors, multiple years of survey data tells us that proactive chat
— when done well — drives superior website performance.
One company recently increased its proactive live chat acceptance rate from about 4 percent to more than 30 percent. It targeted customers on shopping cart pages, changed the timing of the invitation and edited the chat
invitation text from “Do you want to chat?” to “Hi, I’m Mary. Do you have any questions?”
Here are a few more tips for optimizing proactive chat:
• Consider adding proactive chat to highvalue pages because, demographically, customers that spend more tend to be more receptive to proactive invitations.
• Embedding offers (e.g., free shipping) in your proactive chat invitation is a successful way to engage visitors who’ve never chatted before.
• When to invite visitors is critical. Visitors invited after being on site for two to three minutes have a 79-percent chance of accepting invitations. Therefore, retailers should think not in terms of time on page alone, but also consider total page views, timeonsite, numberofpreviouslyviewed pages, number of previous site visits and
I can’t emphasize the importance of this one enough. There are many website owners out there who implement chat and then essentially walk away from it. Early in the implementation, make sure that you run reports, read chat transcripts, adjust canned messages, tweak proactive invitations and provide feedback to your staff on how they are doing.
Next, set up regularly delivered reports that help you keep your finger on the pulse of your implementation. Finally, periodically revisit your assumptions by doing a deep-dive analysis to see what you need to change.
A few key benchmarks you should pay close attention to include overall conversion rate and average order value. Based on what we know about chat, you should find that the presence of live chat will increase your website’s conversion rate by about 20 percent, and that the average order value (AOV) for chatters should be at least 35 percent higher.
Live chat is easy to set up — but it’s not a “set it and forget it” technology.
6. Ask for help
If you read this article and still find yourself with more questions than answers, you might consider calling in the experts from consulting firms, peer organizations or the software vendors themselves. They can quickly and effectively pull all of your data, crunch it and make best-practices recommendations based on their analysis and depth of experience.
Without much effort, live chat can provide a quick return on investment, but it can generate a long-term change in your business if you take the time to optimize it. As live chat increases in use, the companies that treat it seriously will be the ones to build competitive advantages, so don’t wait to get started.