Chatting For Profits

Written by Evan Schuman
February 15th, 2008

One of the most impressive improvements in E-Commerce in recent years involves chat. Whether it’s passive chat’s ability to communicate exactly where the shopper is and where they have been or active chat’s sense of when a customer is about to abandon a cart or is otherwise is need of help, the recent improvements have been powerful.

But it’s been difficult to quantify the ROI of such chat functions, mostly because it’s impossible to know reliably what the customer would have likely done had a chat session not happened.

Forrester Research this week this tried to quantify the slippery ROI arguments for interactive chat and made an eloquent case for chat investment. No one is likely going to challenge that, in general, chat makes sense, but Forrester’s putting some specific numbers to it was interesting.

Forrester created a hypothetical company and argued that 75 percent of "expected chat interactions" happened where the customer would otherwise have been given no help whatsoever, often because the customer simply didn’t seek it.

"The customer would not likely have made a telephone call or sent
an E-mail to the company," the Forrester report said. "The other 25 percent of the chats represent a change in channels — from phone to chat."

Will a customer perceive it as a downgrade from the call center or an upgrade from an online Frequently Asked Questions?

Forrester’s analysis is on the ideal track, but chat has some customer service problems that could easily derail the progress. With reps handling multiple simultaneous chat sessions, the pressure for them to be slow to respond to each one and to rely too heavily on pre-written scripted answers to typical questions.

Our suggestions for leveraging the value of chat while minimizing customer resentment:

  • Chat to Voice Trigger. Ever had an E-mail exchange with someone and it was going along smoothly and then suddenly, a roadblock gets hit. Each participant is talking past each other and meaningful communication has stopped.

    If you pick up the phone and then talk with that other person, the roadblock is often obliterated with the greater informational richness—and nuance–possible with vocal inflections.

    The same thing needs to happen with Chat. Both sides of the conversation need to have a one-button ability to promote the session from chat to voice, with the full transcript of the chat automatically routed to the person taking the call.

    Retailers generally understand that chat works wonderfully for a lot of situations, but not all of them. Once a customer and a customer service chat representative get stuck in that mode, it’s critical for both sides to have that call shifted. It lets the chat associate chat with people for whom it is most effective more quickly and it deals with the customer before frustration sends her into the POS of your direct rival.

  • Non-responsive Trigger, With Cash Incentives. Those cut-and-paste answers can be extremely helpful if the customer is asking that question.

    But it also lends itself to abuse by a lazy chat representative who’d rather not be bothered to actually read what the customer is saying and think about it. Fortunately, this nasty habit can be halted very easily.

    Announce a chat program—with a clearly marked button—that consumers are allowed to click if the conversation has turned non-responsive. The transcript is immediately routed to supervisory or headquarters personnel, who will review the full transcript to see if the chat rep was actually trying to answer the questions.

    To incentivize consumer cooperation, you offer a $25 site gift certificate if the transcript review—which can be appealed—shows that the employee was non-responsive. This will immediately accomplish several good things: Customers will be highly motivated to use chat. Customers will see your chain as embracing customer service, but no one would offer this if they expected to have to pay out a lot.

    The retailer would also initially identify a lot of bad chat reps—who can be retrained—and would also see a sharp decline in customer complaints as reps triple their efforts to read questions carefully.

    How to pay for it? For every $25 gift certificate that the chain has to issue, the offending chat rep has $30 deducted from his/her paycheck. Strong incentives for customers to find this bad behavior and for the associates to not do this bad behavior.

    Rules could even be imposed for customers who falsely accuse employees of non-responsive behavior too often.

    Like any great technology, chat needs to be embraced, but it also needs to be fine-tuned.

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