We all know the appeal of online shopping – being able to order the latest gadgets and fashions with a few clicks of the mouse while sitting around in your pajamas.
Online shopping is big. In fact, Forrester Research forecasts online retail sales in the U.S. to grow to $370 billion by 2017.
With all that shopping, retailers need to be ready – and this includes ramping up their contact centers to handle the increased volume for both sales and customer support. And while more consumers increasingly prefer to shop online, many also prefer to receive support online too. This is where channels like social media and online chat become important differentiators for brands in delivering top-notch customer experiences.
Keys to launching effective online chat programs
Online chat offers a powerful engagement platform that is real-time, secure, personal and very cost-effective — attractive attributes as companies look to engage more customers online while reducing their call volumes into the contact center. However, the key is to launch chat effectively to avoid potential customer frustration and brand damage.
As a provider of contact center outsourcing solutions, TELUS International has helped numerous Fortune 500 companies launch and improve their chat customer service and sales programs. We’ve learned a number of best practices along the way and will share our top tips in a series of blog posts dedicated to optimizing chat for customer service and sales, starting with best practice number one: agent training.
Best Practice #1: Chat Agent Training
The first best practice is having highly skilled agents who can ensure low customer effort (the amount of work, time, and understanding a customer must spend to get his/her question answered or problem solved). This all starts with agent training and realizing that a good phone agent in not necessarily a good chat agent. Instead, it’s essential to train agents specifically for chat.
What makes best-in-class chat agents
From our own online chat benchmarking study, best-in-class chat agents are able to respond quickly (within 30 seconds) and move beyond standardized procedures and scripting to personalize the consumer’s experience. They understand how to construct a conversation flow in the chat environment with multiple back and forth exchanges, answering questions directly, putting the most important information up front and avoiding the use of promotional copy.
The best chat agents are empowered to offer incentives (such as free or expedited shipping) to keep customers from deflecting. This not only helps close the sale, but also contributes to increased customer satisfaction.
These chat agents also understand how to balance the use of canned versus free-form responses. A good rule of thumb is the 80/20 rule where 80 percent of the most-asked questions have pre-crafted hot-key responses that are grammatically correct and reflect the company brand. Agent skill and training make up the other 20 percent, providing the personalized, human interaction that is so critical to the overall customer experience.
Why some chat agents score lower
In contrast, lower scoring agents in the benchmark study tended to provide delayed responses, with the quality of the answers not reflective of the time taken to gather the information. These agents also failed to respond directly to questions, gave vague answers, answered questions with questions, pushed hyperlinks too often (even ones that did not work), and used unnecessary canned and/or promotional copy.
As a result, the conversation flow tended to become awkward, with limited agent patience as they tried to rush customers off the chat session or push them to another channel, typically the 800 number.
Best-in-class chat training
Chat training curriculum should cover:
- How to ensure accurate answers (access to knowledge bases)
- How to up-sell/cross-sell and uncover needs
- How to personalize as appropriate
- When to use canned vs. free-form responses
- How to use chat system features to benefit customer experience
- How to write for chat; construct a conversation flow
- How to best represent the brand online
For more information, grab our Chat Best Practices study: