Posted August 11, 2016
People have fallen in love with chat support for two main reasons: Speed and convenience. The question is, are brands doing everything in their power to maximize the value chat can provide to customers — and to themselves?
Chat is one of the highest rated support channels, with 92 percent of chat conversations receiving positive customer ratings according to a recent Zendesk report. Chat is also a great customer service channel to outsource to an experienced vendor, since non-voice support removes accent challenges, and the advent of reliable translation software can even remove the need for English-speaking agents entirely.
But an increase in popularity can result in significant challenges, like larger chat volumes, longer wait queues and agents who are managing multiple chat conversations at once. Also, chat is often a valuable piece of multi-channel support strategy that requires close integration with other channels to be effective.
In order to cope with these challenges, service teams need to move beyond the simple question-answer, break-fix scenarios that chat has been primarily used for in the past. At the same time, managers need to think about the role they want chat to play in the overall customer experience, and determine ways to optimize its contribution to the value chain of service.
From organizing a knowledge base to utilizing chat bots, here are six things that experts say can help companies make the most of their outsourced chat support.
1. Place chat within the context of the customer experience
Chat, like every other channel, doesn’t exist in a bubble. Corey Kotlarz, president of Outsource Consultants, has worked with companies across the board to optimize chat support. He points out why it’s important to take a holistic view of the customer journey, and use chat to contribute to the entire process.
“The most effective customer service using live chat is designed to reduce effort at all stages of the customer journey,” Kotlarz says. “You want to ensure chat is integrated with other parts of the business, to access customer information and resolve customer queries.”
Pam Plyler, customer experience lead at Northridge Group, echoes that sentiment. When engaging in chat support, she says “customers expect consistency of experience, seamless interactions, and proactive sharing of information.”
2. Foster cooperation between chat service and sales
Chat can be one of the most effective support channels to increase lifetime customer value. Phil Verghis, CEO of service consultancy firm Klever, managed to do just that with one client in particular.
“There was a big discrepancy between chat and phone service in terms of customer satisfaction,” Verghis recalls. “What we actually found was that chat was the highest channel for satisfaction.”
He managed to translate that high level of chat-service satisfaction directly into increased online purchases. “Customers put more in their basket and had statistically significant up-sell over [their life cycle] — all from that first chat interaction,” Verghis says.
The critical factor is to empower chat agents with the sales and service history of each customer they’re helping. Agents can then attempt to up-sell or cross-sell relevant items themselves, or seamlessly loop in a sales team member to continue the chat after service completion.
3. Actively maintain a knowledge base
One of the great things about digital support channels like chat is that they’re effective at gathering data. Service teams can then build, maintain and grow a knowledge base of solutions for future access.
“A huge opportunity is capturing chat information in a way that’s reusable,” says Verghis. “What you really need is a simple, easy way for people to make that information available to others, and every time someone touches it they add knowledge.”
Laura Grimes, CEO of the Harrington Consulting Group, also stresses the importance of consistently making knowledge-base management a priority.
“Your chat knowledge base needs to be up to date, and it needs to be maintained in a very real-time fashion. This is so companies can make decisions about how they want to handle certain interactions, and that agents have the right knowledge to address each one. Make sure information is consistent across all channels so if they contact you over the phone, they get the same answer as if they go to chat,” Grimes says.
4. Develop agents to fit the culture
Grimes says companies need to consider how the agents assigned to their account fit in with the product, the support platform and the customers they’re hired to assist.
“Disney might have very different expectations out of their chat agents compared to Apple,” Grimes says. “Both have strong reputations, and are good at supporting their customers, but they have two different approaches to doing it. So, we need to make sure that we’ve got the right agent profile in place in order to support each approach.”
Once agents become acclimated, they can actually service more customers than they typically would with other channels. “If you have a good support center rep who’s dealing in chat, they can handle two (if not three) conversations at a time,” says Shep Hyken, a customer service expert and the New York Times bestselling author of The Cult of the Customer.
One of the benefits of chat is that it eliminates the issue of understanding accents over the phone. However, Hyken warns not to overlook developing agents’ overall communication skills.
5. Recognize the role of chat bots
Putting your chat support in robots’ hands may be worth consideration, Hyken continues. “The systems are getting so good, you can’t tell the difference between the bot and human. When there’s a problem and the customer seems to still be confused, the bot recognizes that and seamlessly flips it to a human for second level of support,” he says.
More than streamlining the service process, chat bots are working in concert with text-analytic software to play a crucial role in the future of predictive service.
“The beautiful thing about analytics in a chat conversation, is that whoever is managing the chat from the company side can recognize a certain kind of a question. Then, based on the text analytics data, predict the next problem it may lead to,” Hyken says.
6. Integrate chat with marketing
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the relationship between chat support and marketing, but there are major benefits to tightly integrating the two. For example, if agents have access to a customer’s historical marketing data when they contact customer support, agents will be properly equipped to quickly turn a break-fix into a targeted marketing effort.
“Instead of spending on marketing alone, spend some time and money on training the support team,” Verghis advises. “Give agents better tools and integration with marketing campaigns, so that they know the context behind each customer. Chat done well, particularly when integrated across marketing, can make a profound difference.”
For companies that are just starting out on their implementation of chat support, or those that are looking to build and improve on their success, Plyler of Northridge Group offers some sage advice: “Have a strategy that will enable you to leverage chat data into your overall service strategy. You can then evaluate and optimize customer experience across all channels.”
What most experts agree upon is that companies should take a relentless focus on the multi-channel customer experience, and apply it to the way they do chat support. Combine that with a bit creativity, and great things can happen.