A big advantage that brick and mortar stores have over ecommerce sites boils down to a simple phrase, "May I help you?" When a customer looks confused in a brick and mortar store, a clerk can stop to offer personal assistance. When an online shopper is confused, the retailer may not even notice. However, there is an answer that some electronic retailers have embraced: live online customer support. The promise of ecommerce chat is that it is the antidote to the depersonalization of the Internet. At last, a shopper who needs assistance can get some help with the click of a button.
According to Forrester Research, about one in five online shoppers are using online chat as they shop. Of those, 50 percent are clicking a button to request help directly. Another 22 percent respond positively to an invitation in a pop-up window while browsing. The rest of those using chat have both accepted invitations and clicked to request help. Moreover, many people who are not asking for help say they need it. The demand for live online support is high. In fact, 44 percent of web consumers report that having questions answered by a live person, while in the middle of an online purchase, is one of the most important features a website can offer.
The danger for e-retailers is the dreaded abandoned shopping cart. Of the 4,653 shoppers surveyed, 57 percent say they are very likely to abandon an order if they cannot find quick answers to questions.
Websites can offer shoppers a chance to chat with a customer support person, which is called "proactive chat," by analyzing browsing and looking for patterns. About a quarter of shoppers actually like it when offered a chance to chat while browsing. However, many customers do not welcome a chat invitation pop-up, so the invitation has to be presented in the right way. For example, according to Forrester, avoid repeat invitations, do not make the pop-up look like an ad, make it easy to decline, and make the invitation specific. "Can I help you?" is not as effective as, "Can I help you select a laptop?"
However, most shoppers are unhappy about what happens after they receive help from a living person online. "Overall, satisfaction with chat experiences is low," says Adele Sage, writing in a Forrester report titled, "How Satisfied Are U.S. Consumers With Online Chat?" Only 55 percent of shoppers reported being satisfied with their chat experiences. Moreover, 23 percent report that they did not receive the information they wanted.
According to Sage, "The consumers who said that they didn't get the information they needed via chat were more dissatisfied than those who did."
Daniel Lebor is the director of business operations for video chat software supplier, Chat&. He said that poor ratings for online retail chat experiences are to be expected. "I don't find that surprising," he tells Web Wholesaler. "A lot of the time, especially with text based chat, you're talking with a customer service rep who is talking with 15 people simultaneously. That creates a communication gap." The person who is hurt the most by poor service is the consumer. "As a customer, it is terrible.
You are sitting there staring at a dialog box. Someone is trying to find the information you need while they are also juggling two or three other conversations, and two to three conversations for text based chat is very low. I think that most of the people I have talked to in the industry are more usually juggling five or more," says Lebor. "It tends to lead to confusion. Customers get frustrated. If I'm sitting on a site waiting for 15 minutes for someone to get back to me for an answer, because they are talking with three other people, I'm not going to return." However, the problem is not just the way texting support staffers juggle many customers at once, he adds. "It's frustrating to a lot of people when sales support staffs are scripted, and only use canned answers, as opposed to initiating a genuine dialogue," Lebor says. "Being able to connect to a person should add a human element that is missing in online sales."
Forrester has a number of concrete recommendations for companies offering chat support. "Find out what customers want from chat experiences," says Sage. She suggests identifying users, their goals, and ways to help them achieve those goals. She emphasizes staffing and training workers to improve their skill at chatting online. "Unlike phone agents, chat agents must have strong writing and multitasking skills," says Sage.
"A good chat agent can handle between two and three simultaneous conversations with clients, but to do so, the agent must have the skills and training to communicate clearly by text, not voice." She points out that staffers who work on phone support may not perform very well with chat support. "Don't assume that any contact center representative can handle chats. The best phone agents are not necessarily the best chat agents," she says. Forrester Research also emphasizes evaluation. Measuring performance and customer satisfaction is important, not only to tell if you are accomplishing goals, but also as a source of ideas for improvement.
Lebor, whose company makes chat software that lets consumers see eye to eye with customer service reps, has another vision for a better customer support experience. "I personally think the future of online support is in video chat, that is, a face to face dialogue," he says. "I don't think text chat is going to die off, but video chat allows much more efficient interaction. There are studies out there that video support alone increases conversions 30 percent." Lebor also thinks that video chat combined with "co-browsing," in which chat can continue while both parties look at the same webpage, will offer an even more effective solution. "That's where I think the future of support and online sales is going," he says. "Training is needed, but it is the connection that makes it a human interaction."
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