Providing good customer service has evolved, as more people prefer new digital channels for how they engage with companies. For example, Forrester found that about 40 per cent of US adults preferred self-service through online channels compared to using the phone. Chat therefore has an essential role to play in helping companies provide better service. However, chat is changing.
Previously, online chat services supported a limited amount of automation alongside the interaction with users. Chat made it easier for agents to handle more conversations at one time compared to a phone session, while users could get an answer quickly for simple problems. However, the challenge is that many of the tools built to support chat were designed for single, simple conversations that were completed in one go.
What we expect of chat today is very different. For example, we all use messaging services that can be part of social networks or used as standalone mobile apps. The experience in these applications is consistent across any and all devices we may use, and they make it easier to carry on conversations when we are available. This asynchronous approach in tools like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp contrasts with traditional chat tools used in e-commerce. Whereas chat in social networks can easily handle conversations consistently over multiple devices, over different network connections, at different times, traditional chat tools have to be connected and avoid timing out.
For customers that are used to conversing when it suits them, this approach to self-service doesn’t meet their expectations. So how should companies adapt their approaches to chat to keep up?
1. Make use of AI and automation as well as real agents
At the start of a chat session, you can use self-service elements to get all the necessary background information on a customer’s request. This should also be linked into Frequently Asked Question lists and responses. Using automation and machine learning, your chat response system should be able to handle common responses quickly without needing any interaction, directing people to those resources.
If a customer has a real problem that the automated system can’t handle, then the chat session can be handed over to an agent. However, this chat conversation should provide all the background so that the customer doesn’t feel like they are answering the same question multiple times. Conversations that have all their context included have a higher probability of faster resolution compared to those that don’t.
Similarly, these interactions can flag up more ways in which any chatbot can be updated with more useful FAQ material, such as Knowledge Base articles and Forum posts.
2. Get smarter around how you handle agent assignment when things are asynchronous
We are all busy people, so we may run more than one task at a time. How you handle interruptions to the chat experience becomes more important with your overall customer experience strategy.
When a customer stops responding in a chat session, the normal approach is for an agent to carry on with other conversations. This session may then get interrupted when a window is closed or when the session times out. What happens when the customer comes back to their chat window? Can the session be reconnected at all, and can the customer automatically be routed back to the same agent? Or is the connection to an agent assigned randomly and getting back to the same person is luck of the draw?
As customers, we are used to picking up exactly where we left off in our chat conversations, so we expect our chat sessions with vendors to do the same thing. It is therefore important to mimic this in your own service design.
3. Keep the whole experience connected, even if the customer is not
At the same time, it’s important to manage internal resources as efficiently as possible. Looking at internal skill sets, it is better to route chat sessions to the person with the right skills and availability at the start. If possible, any interrupted conversations should be resumed when the customer comes back online and starts chatting again. After all, being relevant and timely is key to engaging customers, rather than just conversing.
However, if an agent suddenly gets an increase in chat volumes and can’t handle that conversation properly, then it should be automatically routed to the next available contact. This should be assigned based on pre-defined rules like skill levels and how best to achieve load balancing automatically. Most importantly, that previous chat history should be available to everyone on the team. Even if a new agent has to pick up the chat session, they should not need to start from scratch.
4. Integrate your helpdesk and CRM systems together with your chat tool
Not all chat programmes are created equal – some tools are built for e-commerce and for providing a bot to handle product queries, while others are designed for support and service. Some are standalone, while most should integrate with whatever helpdesk tool and CRM system you have in place.
Without this integration, it will affect workflow and lead to longer session times. More importantly, it will make it harder to automate responses based on context. In the customer acquisition journey, every touchpoint and engagement should be viewed as a potential deal maker or breaker. Post customer acquisition chat conversations can become help build and strengthen customer marketing strategies.
5. Add the right Customer Satisfaction Score gathering into your chat experience
Like any customer service channel, it is important to measure how you are performing. There is a clear correlation between slow response times and low customer satisfaction scores.
Gathering Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) ratings and scores should be a standard part of your chat strategy; however, it’s important to look at what you are measuring in more detail. While feedback requests should be standard for all customer support channels, it can be easily overlooked or bundled into an overall metric that does not provide enough detail.
For example, will you gather a simple “Are you satisfied?” response, or will you ask a question that is more specifically aimed at the chat experience? Do you look at chat as its own, self-contained channel or as part of a wider customer experience strategy? There is no right answer here – instead, you should think about what information you need for your overall customer experience strategy.
Whichever approach you take, make sure that customer feedback is embedded into your management and analytics for customer service. Without this insight, it is difficult to check that your approach is hitting the mark effectively over time.
My role at Freshworks as General Manager UKI is to manage the company's operations, including strategy building, developing our own high impact sales and support teams, and managing our performance.
Freshworks provides IT Service Management, Help Desk and Customer Relationship Management products. Currently, Freshworks helps over 150,000 companies worldwide deliver customer support and IT Service Management via email, phone, chat, web, social media and mobile apps.
Outside work, I take great pride in my kids and support Everton FC.