Websites serve as the primary storefront for many business owners. Even when brick-and-mortar locations exist, potential customers may visit a company's website first. And many of those customers will have questions that can be answered via live chat.
"Today's consumers want instant, on-demand assistance, whether asking a question or making a purchase, and live chat meets that growing demand," says Mark Powell, vice president of call center sales and operations at DentalPlans.com, an online dental and health savings marketplace that uses live chat.
"Live chat enhances the consumer experience," Powell says.
An Increasingly Preferred Mode of Communication
For those customers shopping online, live chat is becoming the preferred method of receiving assistance, believes Harry Thakkar, partner at Avatria, a firm specializing in digital commerce strategies and systems.
"In a world of instant access to services like movies, transportation and food delivery, customers now expect to be able to immediately get in touch on a website when they have a question," says Thakkar. "Customers are no longer content to submit their questions via email or wait their turns to speak with company representatives on the phone."
The desire for instant access via chat will likely increase exponentially as the e-commerce industry continues to expand in the coming years. And live chat is making inroads in many different industries.
"In addition to the use of live chat for e-commerce, other businesses are also embracing this technology to improve the customer experience online," says Thakkar. "Any site that offers a service is able to see improvements in customer engagement and satisfaction by implementing live chat. The benefits apply to retailers and service providers."
Benefits of Live Chat...
Live chat provides a variety of benefits to your company's e-commerce experience and your business as a whole.
Enhances customer service
"The ability of online customers to instantly get their questions answered greatly improves their user experience," says Thakkar.
The more quickly customers are serviced, the more satisfied they tend to be.
Encourages sales and higher conversion rates
"Live chat can be used as an effective tool to encourage sales and overcome objections to completing purchases," says Thakkar.
If a customer is on the shopping cart page for an extended period of time, a proactive chat message that asks if the person has questions or provides a discount code can help lead to a purchase instead of a lost sale.
—Harry Thakkar, partner, Avatria
"Making live chat available throughout the checkout process can help get customers across the finish line by alleviating any concerns they may have about their purchases," Thakkar continues. "Automatically displaying the live chat window during checkout can help reduce shopping cart abandonment and lead to upselling and cross-selling."
"Sites that implement live chat often find that it becomes their primary channel for communication with the customer, allowing them to focus their budget on chat and reduce the amount of support they need to provide via phone and email," says Thakkar. "Chatbots help to reduce costs even more, as customers get basic questions answered without having to speak to live agents."
Provides valuable insight into consumer desires
"If you're looking for immediate insight from consumers, online chat can help with that," says Powell. "Consumers are more likely to complete surveys and share both positive and negative interactions with your business when this is done through online chat."
... and Its Downsides
Live chat takes commitment. Once you implement live chat, it's vital that you allocate resources and time to maintaining this customer service tool. Failing to maintain live chat consistently can be more detrimental to your brand than not offering this function.
For business owners already tight on time and funds, adding this tool could strain your company's infrastructure. You may need to increase employee hours and payroll. If you're not ready for these additional demands on your time and funds, live chat could result in a failed venture.
That said, if you're ready to include live chat on your website, here are some tips for getting started.
1. Choose a live chat software and platform carefully.
"There are a wide variety of live chat software options out there," says Powell.
He suggests taking your time to conduct research and evaluate how each platform aligns with your business needs.
When choosing live chat software, look for a system that can understand what page a customer is viewing on your site and respond by displaying appropriate messaging, advises Thakkar.
"If a customer is on the shopping cart page for an extended period of time, a proactive chat message that asks if the person has questions or provides a discount code can help lead to a purchase instead of a lost sale," he says.
Also ensure that the live chat platform and software you choose has the ability to grow as your site grows, advises Thakkar.
"While a free or low-cost solution may be tempting," he says, "it will be painful to switch live chat providers six months after implementation if that solution is no longer sufficient for your needs."
Some of the features Thakkar suggests include the ability for chat agents to complete transactions via payment integration and the ability to initiate video chats.
2. Incorporate chat into your site's design.
Customize your live chat software so that it matches your website's colors, look and feel, suggests Thakkar.
"Live chat is a part of your site and is less likely to be used if it is difficult to find or negatively impacts the customer's user experience," he says.
3. Clearly communicate live chat availability.
Live chat can be a detriment if the customer tries asking a question and no one answers.
Ensure that average wait times are clearly displayed when all agents are busy answering other questions and clearly indicate the hours when live chat is available.
4. Use chatbots.
To improve efficiency and save on labor costs, consider using chatbots to initially assist customers. Chatbots are well-equipped to engage customers and field initial, basic questions. Then your chat employees can step in when required.
"As AI technologies continue to mature, chatbots will be able to take on more sophisticated tasks related to personalized service, customer specific promotions and lead qualification," says Thakkar.
5. Train employees specifically for live chat.
It's critical to create the appropriate hiring profile for your chat team, according to Powell.
"When we launched our live-chat feature, we realized early on that just because an employee is great on the phone, doesn't mean that person is the right fit for live online chat," he says. "There has to be a delicate balance between connecting with the customer virtually and being able to convey that through effective, written communication."
At DentalPlans.com, the company records and archives all chat transcripts. The data from the transcripts provides teaching and training materials for the chat team, Powell says.
6. Review feedback and insights from completed chats.
"Live chat should not be treated as a 'set it and forget it' type of feature on your site," says Thakkar.
"The live chat software you implement should come with reporting capabilities that allow you to evaluate agent performance, gauge customer satisfaction and better understand when your chat feature is being used," he continues. "Analyze this information so you can use it to improve your chat implementation."
Read more articles on customer engagement.
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