Go Live to Boost Your Bottom Line
If your customer service department spends much of its time on customer inquiries and questions, as opposed to order-taking, it may be time to add an online help desk, especially if the inquiries are routine, or easily answered. Fortunately, adding an online chat feature is easier than you might think, says Arlen Robinson, chief operating officer of Omnistar Live, a 6-year-old Web solutions company based in Baltimore. Omnistar Live supplies software, training and personnel to companies interested in adding online live chat to their Web sites.
Before you start shopping, “the first thing to evaluate is what you’re hoping to accomplish,” Robinson says. “If you need both requested and proactive chat, you need a tool flexible enough to give you both. Statistics show that it enhances sales if you can initiate proactive chat.”
Proactive chat, he explains, is inviting the site visitor to chat, by way of a floating banner or icon scroll, with a live representative who can explain your product or service and answer questions.
“You pull the customer in, get their questions answered, then initiate the follow up by e-mail or telephone,” he says. “You don’t have to have a person online 24 hours a day, either. You can use the software to show an offline chat icon if a staff person isn’t available, then send the customer forms, surveys or whatever you need to follow up.” Requested chat is just that: complying with the customer’s request for live assistance. You can even program the software to provide standardized or “canned” answers to frequently asked questions if your help desk isn’t manned 24 hours a day.
And the cost? Not painful. In fact, according to Robinson, an online chat service can lower your support costs by 50 percent over a fully staffed toll-free call center when implementing a Web-based solution. And with those savings, eventually the software pays for itself.
Where many companies make their mistake in implementing live online chat, according to Robinson, is that they don’t look for a live chat solution that fits their needs, and end up with a solution that is much less than it needs, or much more than it can afford. It may also fail to adequately synchronize live chat with their regular customer service staff. You don’t have to buy the entire package at once, he says. Many live chat providers will sell the software and support services separately, allowing you to buy only what you need.
When shopping for an online chat solution, Robinson suggests a two-pronged approach: First, do your preliminary homework. Once you’ve made a short list of companies offering live chat services and software, check out the Web sites of their clients. Is the live chat feature a helpful time saver? Can it be adapted to fit your product or service? Second, when you call the chat provider, ask lots of questions. How does the company handle updates, and are updates and upgrades included in the price? How are issues handled when problems arise? What are the troubleshooting procedures, and what is the normal turnaround time for breakdowns? Asking the right questions up front can save you time, money and frustration later. A live chat option that is both smooth and seamless can turn Web-surfing prospects into repeat customers.