Today's tech savvy consumers use multiple channels for product research, including email, Web, social and SMS. When looking for instant responses, they are increasingly turning to live chat as a preferred channel to get their questions answered.
Data indicates that consumers choosing to engage in live chat tend to be college educated and between the ages of 31 and 50 years old. These consumers are seven times more likely to initiate a live chat session than pick up the phone, and 70 percent of live chat users are more likely to trust sites that are live-chat friendly.
If this demographic profile fits your target audience, live chat needs to be a serious consideration for your sales, customer support and marketing channels. Here are six important lessons about running a successful live chat operation.
- Leverage live chat as a valuable lead tool to assist sales. It is crucial to establish trust early in the purchase cycle, which means creating a positive first impression via the chat. Use live chat to engage in dialogue and assist with problem solving. Don't hit consumers over the head by trying to sell to them during a chat session—they'll typically just have some simple questions about your products or are trying to troubleshoot a problem. Live chat should be a mechanism to initiate trust and foster goodwill with the customer long after your storefront is closed for the day.
- Use behavioral targeting to guide your dialogue with the consumer. Instead of generically asking customers what you can help them with, use the tracking tools on your website to proactively offer help with the specific product for which they searched. A context-sensitive approach tells your customers that (1) you are paying attention to them, (2) that they are not just a number in the system, and (3) that you already have some knowledge of their concerns allowing you to immediately zero in on their needs. Use discretion when using click-tracking information—there's a fine line between taking a personal approach and being seen as invasive.
- Establish a benchmark to respond to live chat requests. It's called live chat for a reason. Remember, this is not the same as calling a phone center; on-line customers do not expect to be "on hold" for very long at all. If you can't respond within six seconds or less, the live chat channel may hurt your brand rather than help it.
- Know the popular chat topics and train your agents well. In the auto industry, the most popular chat topics are around availability, pricing, rebates, specials, trades, service for autos, financing and credit concerns. Make sure your agents are well trained on the top topics and have scripted responses available for the most frequently asked questions so that your response messages to consumers are delivered quickly, accurately and consistently.
- Make your chat information actionable for sales. When a chat session finishes, make sure to send the transcript to your sales teams immediately. For example, we deliver all the information from the chat session directly into the dealer's CRM system within five minutes of the chat session ending. We strongly recommend that the dealer follows up with chat leads in 30 minutes or less. Chat leads are usually considered "hot leads" (consumers who are far along the purchase cycle). Set up a similar system to load your chat transcripts into your CRM system and create alerts for salespeople to follow up.
- Be vigilant about proper grammar and punctuation. While this may seem like an obvious point, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to forget that chat is a business-to-consumer sales conversation, not an informal text chat with a friend. Remember that your agents are still representing your company; typos, bad grammar, and slang all say that you are sloppy and careless. Make sure your agents don't let the basic rules of grammar and punctuation fall by the wayside when it comes to communicating with your customers.
Following these six guidelines will give you a head start when it comes to managing a successful live chat platform for your business. As consumers increasing go online for research and support, live chat is becoming an option they expect from their favorite brands, and it's one where fast response times and well-informed agents are a must. It is an important medium with which to make a positive first impression on your sales prospects, laying the cornerstone for increased sales and long-term customer loyalty.
Ben Herkenhoff is customer interaction center manager and Dan Smith is vice president of product at Minneapolis, MN-based digital marketing SaaS company Outsell. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.