While we WhatsApp, WeChat and Snapchat away to each other, chat is also gradually gaining traction as a contact centre channel.
With many customers starting their journey online, it is often easier to chat than find a phone number, a phone and a spare twenty minutes to sit on hold. It’s also a great companion channel to social media – especially when it is desirable to take customers off a public channel and into a more private conversation, where they can speak openly and discuss personal issues one-on-one.
Chat’s star is gradually rising in the omnichannel popularity chart. In the BT Youbiquity Finance research, 40% of customers in the UK said that they would be more confident buying financial services products if there was a chat function available to contact their bank or insurance company.
We did a study of a selection of companies that had deployed chat and found that it was considered to be an equivalent, and often superior, method of working compared to calls for both the advisor and the customer.
Here’s what we found:
1. Chat can create a highly positive experience for customers
Many customers find it easier and faster to deal with issues over chat: “chat is absolutely something I like to do…it just feels like it makes sense because it saves all the waiting on phones and there’s no horrible hold music”, reported one customer. This has a positive impact on customer experience - with 82% of customers in the study rating their chat customer experience positively.
Issues that did occur were around premature conversation cut offs – where the session with the advisor dropped for one reason or another – and also delays in reply, which often makes it obvious to the customer that they are not the only ones being dealt with by the advisor.
Chat also offers the possibility of deploying chatbots. Chatbots can take on a triage function with customers as part of the chat conversational interface. They can initiate conversations and attempt to figure out what the customer wants before routing the chat to the most appropriate human advisor if they fail to answer the customer’s question. They are effectively becoming “IVR for chat” – but, like any IVR dialogue, they need to be designed well if they are going to improve the customer experience.
2. It is extremely easy to use for both customers and advisors
Chat was considered to be highly usable by both customers and advisors. “Very easy to use, so straight forward, very user friendly”, said one customer we interviewed.
- Chat was considered to be highly intuitive, quick and easy to pick up (a “no-brainer” according to one advisor).
- Efficiency is high. Advisors often make time efficiency gains through copying and pasting from chat conversations directly into notes fields on jobs/cases/wrap notes resulting in a reduction in re-keying. “Overall chat is really good. I get more done than with calls because it is a lot quicker”, one advisor told us.
- Copied and pasted canned responses can also be used to improve efficiency in the chat session – but these tended to be used selectively by advisors to avoid chats becoming too depersonalised and robotic (which could also is a risk if chatbots do become more widely deployed).
- Error rate is potentially reduced because advisors can easily return to an original question/ request from the customer to ensure they have understood the problem, or to clarify exact customer requirements. This is increasingly useful for more complex issues.
3. It can increase productive use of advisors’ time.
One of the benefits of chat is that, assuming there is volume of chats coming in, advisors can be multitasking on a number of parallel sessions. This makes it cheaper to handle than both phone calls and email.
It’s a great companion channel to social media – especially when it is desirable to take customers off a public channel and into a more private conversation
There are limits in the numbers of sessions advisors can handle – 10 may be a step too far, 3 more par for the course. However, as complexity goes up, the capacity for higher numbers of parallel chat sessions goes down. You wouldn’t want to dispense the wrong advice to a customer because you lost track of which conversation you were having.
4. Employee satisfaction tends to be higher with chat than with phone.
“I absolutely love it”, one disturbingly fanatical chat advisor admitted.
One of the most exciting findings which became evident very early in the study was that chat has the potential to enable a more collaborative way of working within customer service operations.
For a start, advisors can talk amongst themselves in real-time while carrying out chats with customers. This dynamic is in stark contrast to traditional contact centre environments where it is difficult for phone-based advisors to seek help, support and answers without putting the customer on hold - the result being that advisors are often emotionally (if not physically) ‘isolated’ when on calls. “I find it a lot less stressful from a personal level because I know the rest of the team are there straightaway to back me up, rather than waiting for conversations to finish”, reported one advisor.
5. Removal of common voice issues.
Language and accent issues, noisy environments, laryngitis and mishearing are all issues that are entirely absent in chats. Of course the advisor does need to be able to spell and type, but a number of common issues with phone communication are eliminated or reduced in chat.
However, ‘tone of voice’ still can still come across on chat. Customers and advisors pick-up on tone and a few customers complain about hurried or ‘abruptly’ ended chats and perceived rudeness. This means that advisors need to be trained around the appropriate, branded tone of voice that they should adopt in chats with customers.
6. There are excellent cost benefits.
The sites we studied reported a 15% increase in efficiency, compared with phone contact.
This gives chat a triple whammy bonus compared to its rival channels – both customers and advisors like it, and it’s similarly beneficial to the business as a whole.
With multiple ways of making contact with a company and with customers becoming more and more demanding as a result, we are starting to see chat developing into a formal customer service solution. With its capacity for clear, efficient and instantaneous customer contact, it isn’t difficult to see why chat is currently where it’s at.