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Rob LoCascio, CEO, LivePerson: Tips for buying chat and messaging tools

22nd Feb 2017
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In the latest in our series of articles in which technology leaders give their take on the purchasing process, Rob LoCascio, founder and CEO of Liveperson, shares his tips for those looking to buy live chat and messaging solutions.

Rob is recognised as a founding father of web chat, having pioneered the technology in the late 90s. His interest was piqued in ’97 when, perusing Dell’s website, he had to pick up his telephone (and in the process, hang up his internet connection) in order to be able to speak to a Dell advisor about a product query. Questioning why no digital solution to the problem existed, the concept of web and live chat was born.

Nowadays, chat tools are a ubiquitous part of many websites, and as CEO of LivePerson, Rob is driving the next wave of engagement technologies, including messaging apps like WhatsApp and chatbots. However, with myriad tools to choose across a growing number of channels, the buying process has become complex.              

MYC. What should practitioners be considering before they go out to market for a chat and messaging solution?

RL: Practitioners should focus on messaging solutions rather than just chat. Chat alone is, to some degree, a pre-smartphone concept. Now, in the age of the smartphone, consumer expectations have changed. Consumers want to speak on their own terms and on the platform they’re already using, like SMS, Facebook Messenger, etc. You need to cater for those demands.

So, my first piece of advice is that, if you go with just a standard chat tool and nothing else these days, you may be ignoring 60% of the people who show up at your website. Do your research on how people communicate with brands – there’s a real opportunity here to create an ongoing connection by being in your customer’s pocket.

The second part is that messaging, unlike chat, is not just for a live interaction – the rise of AI and chatbots gives you a whole new scope for how to deliver your communications. All the things we’re hearing about bots is driving us towards hybrid, human/automation systems. At LivePerson we call it Tango – as it’s the art of dancing between a human and an automated bot. In the platform you can apply a bot, and it's like an agent. It's actually a live engagement, and it looks like an agent. It has a name. What is presented to the consumer is, for all intents and purposes, a live agent – and indeed, the agent is right there watching the conversation in real-time. It's like the bot is running on the side, and all of a sudden the bot fails, and human takes on the conversation.

This is an important distinction, because the rise of the chatbot gives rise to the ‘always-on’ messaging tool. It’s an ongoing connection with the consumer – it can be proactive, offering advice, promotions, suggestions, etc. to a consumer on their messaging platform of choice, with live agents on hand for when queries become too complex.   

MYC. What questions should a business ask themselves when requirement gathering for chat and messaging tools?

RL. It’s a case of breaking down your whole contact centre and customer support function in order to establish what you need. My recommendations would be to ask the following:  

  • Which channels will you support? Mobile, in-app, Facebook, SMS?
  • Do you have a plan for chatbots?
  • How will you start offloading volume to bots, which are on all the time and cost effective?
  • Where will you deploy your bots? Is your immediate goal to drive sales? If you’re focused on service, think about how you can incorporate AI into the app, SMS, and even brick-and-mortar experience.
  • What will your bot look like? Do you want your bot to be nearly indistinguishable from a human or do you want a more comic approach?
  • What happens when a bot’s not enough? Always bear in mind that even the most sophisticated AI has its shortcomings.  

Consumers want to speak on their own terms and on the platform they’re already using.You need to cater for those demands

We conducted a survey recently that found 54% of consumers’ top concerns with bots is not having their questions understood, and 50% worry the experience will be frustrating. Some situations call for a live person on the other end — to handle complex inquiries or lend a sympathetic ear. Intelligent AI can pinpoint the moment an interaction needs to be escalated to a live representative. For example, some technologies can seamlessly transition a customer interaction with a bot to a meaningful connection with a human without ever having to repeat themselves.

MYC. When it comes to making an investment in messaging and chat solutions, what advice do you have for practitioners in terms of making the business case and getting buy-in?

RL. Everything hinges on the size of the contact centre and the scale of engagement you’re getting. Let’s take large, 500-1,000-seat contact centre as standard – if you’re aiming for buy-in for messaging tools you’ve got to understand how the routing process is going to change as a result of this new service you’re about to offer.

But this is a case of looking at the benefits: with voice, your routing is essentially blindfolded. A customer is routed depending on who’s available. In first-iteration chat tools, you’re routing to the person who has the capacity to deliver a chat. But with messaging we can route in a completely different way – taking a consumer on a journey with someone they’re actually building a relationship with over time. This is the holy grail of customer care!

Voice is the most dysfunctional thing on earth. I live in call centres, and we now know the truth. When people message, because there's no time element, messages can go on for up to 86 minutes, on average, whereas a phone call uses between six and eight minutes, on average. You’d think that would put the benefits in the hands of voice, as the interactions are shorter. But you look at customer satisfaction levels of messaging over voice and it’s much higher.

An agent can handle about 14 closed interactions an hour with messaging, whereas with voice, they can handle about 6 to 10, because agents can multi-task with messaging whereas that’s not the case with voice.

Messaging gives your consumers the power to dictate the conversation over a period of time, and that suits current expectations. You have to weigh up the fact that perhaps there's a larger volume to deal with per agent, but that counteracts the issue with the length of time that resolutions take to come to fruition. If you're trying to build a business case it would be around the resolution rate as opposed to anything else.

I believe we can take out 40% to 50% of costs out of a traditional voice contact centre based on the data that we have now around chatbots and messaging. That’s a powerful statistic and one we’re working on at LivePerson to prove.

Voice is the most dysfunctional thing on earth.

MYC. Once practitioners are at the solution selection stage, what advice can you share to help buyers find the most appropriate vendor for their needs?

RL: I think there's a couple key points. One is obviously that the vendor has to be able to provide technology that allows for this level of interaction and complexity. There has to be a lot of intelligence in the platform. Your vendor needs to be able to offer multiple ways of interacting across multiple messaging formats.

This is critical because one of the key elements we see with messaging is that new platforms for interaction come and go far quicker than with other forms of contact centre channel – and also it’s solely a digital experience, so the requirements for scale and infrastructure are far higher. For that reason alone I’d recommend only working with a vendor that offers hosted or cloud-based solutions rather than on-premise, because you need to work with a vendor that is able to offer flexibility and scalability.  

The other point to look at is how a vendor offers an integration – you need to work with a partner who has expertise not just in the technology but the process change and the rerouting of workflow involved with introducing these types of tool.

If you look at some of the really cheap, chat options, sometimes they come across as appealing because you can throw the live chat straight on  your website and you’re up and running. But you might not see the intelligence and efficiency coming into play because they haven’t offered the expertise to go with it.

If somebody's really serious, they need to understand how is the business going to help you be successful. 20 clients, 100 clients. They've got to be serious because the day you take that shot, if it sucks, someone's going to Twitter. Your brand is going to get bruised if you mess around with this.

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By Sahib1989
15th Jan 2018 09:15

These are some great tips. I agree that non-voice customer support has gone beyond just website chat. These days customers demand that brands be present on social media and even online messaging apps to provide them support on the channel of their choosing.

Providing chat support serviceson all these channels require chat tools that are a little out of the box.

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