6 Tips on Live Chat for Non-Retail Marketers
It's perhaps difficult to think of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a touchy-feely entity. It's even harder to imagine that about companies beyond the U.S. border that are seeking FDA compliance. So after holding more than 87,000 live chats within three years to help businesses (half of them foreign) come into compliance with FDA regulations, Registrar Corp. of Hampton, Va., can say that the online conversations it's had with prospects really helped make the FDA approval process more personal.
Registrar Vice President David Lennarz says that since the company began using Wichita, Kan.-based Bold Software's BoldChat tool for live chat in spring 2006, the marketing channel's advantages over e-mail and phone communications have become clear. From then until October 2009—when Registrar tallied that 87,000 figure, reportedly more than double the industry average—the company continued to evolve its best practices for converting prospects to customers. Bold Software reports that Registrar engaged 2.3 percent of all visitors in chat during July 2010 vs. a benchmark of 1.4 percent. Registrar's repeat visitors were 79 percent more likely to engage in chat vs. Bold Software's average customer's repeat visitors, who were 64 percent more likely to interact. About 20 percent of the chatters convert.
Sharing live chat best practices are Lennarz; Matt Tharp, Bold Software's director of client services; and Michael Kansky, chief technology officer of Huntingdon Valley, Pa.-based live chat software provider LiveHelpNow.
• Allow anonymity. It's only natural for direct marketers to want to collect as much customer data as they can, whenever and wherever they can. But on live chat, that ambition can backfire.
Kansky says to first work to establish trust. Then the live chat operator should, he says, either get or give a phone number and ultimately convert consumers offline.
Allowing anonymity has helped Lifestyle Lift, a Troy, Mich.-based national plastic surgery network that's a LiveHelpNow customer, realize 80 percent of its business from live chat, Kansky says.
Lennarz relates his experience with why prospects prefer live chat to initial phone or e-mail contact: "With live chat you get people who come who, for whatever reason, have chosen to … remain anonymous. And they can remain anonymous for as long as they choose. There's less at stake … for them on a live chat than there is through a phone call, where they may have to say to someone, 'No, I don't want to tell you what we do.' vs. the chat, where they can just sort of ask questions and give you bits of information that they want to give you. It's less of a confrontational way for a prospect to decide how much they're interested in your services."
• Think of it as a customer relations management tool. While some may think live chat support is passé—perhaps assuming it is only still relevant to software companies that provide ongoing technical support—Tharp says this method of CRM is again en vogue.
"You can only communicate so much information [on the static Web] before people inevitably either run away from your website, screaming about all the text, or go to the next website," he says. "They want information quickly."
Tharp cites a large nonprofit organization that supports people with illnesses and houses a great deal of information on its website. The organization uses live chat to guide site visitors to specific pages, provide links to information and offer advice within the chat.
Another point Tharp makes: If companies don't provide good customer support, Web-of-mouth will surely let consumers know right away.
• Consider live chat a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Tharp says while many retailers make live chat an effective conversion channel, that may not work as well for non-retailers. For non-retailers, live chat mainly provides a channel for an effective call to action by answering questions, engaging with prospects and eventually getting information from them.
• Be a person. Kansky says if someone initiates a live chat with a lawyer and is considering divorce, for instance, that lawyer must sound human. He suggests this tone, "'I'm sorry, Michael, to hear what you're going through and I will definitely and certainly be able to help you. Can you tell me a little more about your issue?'"
• Check spelling, grammar and formatting. Kansky also says, "If the response is spell checked and everything is grammatically correct, then it gives [prospects] more confidence that the operator or agent on the other end actually respects them."
• Listen. Kansky suggests that if a prospect wants to post six messages in a row, the operator should let that prospect talk. "Don't interrupt," Kansky says. "Just let them post as many messages as they need to describe their issue. That's what we found to be effective."
Kansky says only after the prospect is finished detailing the story, the chat operator should say: "'I will definitely be able to help you. Here are the examples of my work, here are the links to testimonials, here's what I did for other people. And I definitely know and have experience in this type of issue. How can I talk to you? Call me on this number or give me your phone number so I can call you.' And it doesn't matter whether you receive the number from the customer or you give your number to the customer. If this [live chat] conversation goes into a phone conversation, you have your customer."