Chat in the Contact Center - an Expert Panel Weighs in – Part 2/3
Recently, our expert panel of Contact Center Consultants had a discussion on the role of chat in the Call Center. This discussion examines chat in the Contact Center, highlights the many advantages of Live Chat, presents some caveats and looks to the future of this technology in the Call Center and Contact Center.
Our team of experts had many insights on the topic of live chat, and so, we are rolling out our insights in a 3-part series. Chat in the Contact Center – Part 1
focused on where chat should be deployed, demographics, chat in relation to industry, security and FCR. Today, part 2, focuses on the following:
- Proactive Chat vs. Reactive Chat
- How Artificial Intelligence (AI) Will Impact Live Chat
- Cost of Live Chat as a Channel
- Challenges with Chat
- Live Chat and the Customer Experience (CX)
Discussion participants: Colin Taylor, John Cockerill, Garry Schultz, David Bradshaw, JD Fairweather, Bruce Lebowitz, Turaj Seyrafiaan, Peter Elliot and Paul Knapp
Proactive Chat vs. Reactive Chat
Bruce: To oversimplify, let’s differentiate between the two flavors of chat:
1) Proactive: information about a customer associated with a set of rules. Chat is offered to certain people at specific times.
2) Reactive: Omnipresent chat button that consumers can use to engage at any time.
Proactive chat allows you to utilize customer intelligence, data and business rules to decide who and when to serve up the chat conversation – it allows for targeted messaging. Ultimately, this can increase sales, loyalty, retention and satisfaction when used correctly.
Best practice chat companies are using customer data. For instance, a loyal bank customer with a checking account and mortgage, looking on the financial institution’s website for home equity loans, could easily be served a chat button with a customized offer based specifically on the customer information already in the database.
Colin: Or you may recognize a customer has a problem when they jump back and forth from the checkout page and the shipping and handling FAQs. Proactive chat may be able to identify the questions, resolve the confusion and secure the order.
Bruce: Typically, companies should take a more proactive approach when using live chat. That being said, there is a time and place for reactive, depending on your customer strategy. For example, if you’re looking at customer service issues and want to move people from voice to chat.
There is a strategy around chat, a company needs to look at the customers, their experience, channel expenses etc. and develop a holistic strategy. A company can use proactive and reactive chat in different places, based on the different types of consumers and with different outcomes in mind. They should have an integrated strategy for chat and voice including how they work together.
JD: If a potential customer comes onto the site, you may use a pop-up window for sales – perhaps offering more product information. I wonder how effective that is. My opinion is that it is very invasive to the customer experience (CX). Some consumers may even perceive the pop up as spam. Anything that you do to bring forth more sales, as long as it considers the root of the customer purchase, will increase sales. There is a theory that because you increase live chats, you increase the close ratio. I wonder if there is a better way of doing possible similar to how Amazon employs recommendations
to show aligned or related products to those the consumer has been looking at.
How AI Will Impact Live Chat
JD: With Artificial Intelligence (AI), especially the way it is discussed now, everyone wants to mimic behavior one would have with a live representative. How does live chat look right now, but with an artificial bot instead of the live agent, behind the scenes? I’ve been digging through the theory and believe that this is the wrong way of looking at things. We shouldn’t try to mimic behaviors of live reps, but instead, mimic behaviors of a digital experience – where you’re looking for facts and specifics – very little emotion in the interactions between you and another person. There is a high probability this era will happen.
Instead of saying things like “I’m sorry for your experience” use “That is very unfortunate”. Things that are facts are easily measured. If you do this well, Live Chat will be the first to get the bulk of the change as far as the digital transformation. This is a great opportunity; with a digital bot in the background, pulling multiple conversations at once, companies would be able to respond in bulk format to those customers.
One of the big issues with live chat is that when you have those spikes in your contact volume (technical issues with your product or situations with services) live chat is not a very effective tool because it does not allow you to send a bulk response, every interaction is 1:1.
Colin: AI Chat today, often called chatbots or virtual agents, are not very sophisticated and certainly they are not ready for the scalable bulk response’ world JD is speaking about. Chatbots can leverage your FAQ’s to provide responses to consumers, but a good degree of configuration is often required. For example, you may need to format all of your FAQ’s into questions and answers. When the chatbot scans the keywords in a posted question, it then searches for these keywords in the FAQ database. The chatbot finds the question and answer couplet in the database with the highest match rate and then asks the customer if they are asking about one issue then the AI inserts the verbatim questions from the FAQ dataset. If the answer is “Yes”, then it can provide the answer couplet for this question. If the answer is “No”, then bot goes to the next highest rated questions and asks if this is the question. Where this works well, it is like magic, where it doesn’t, it is like a painful game of charades.
JD: So when live chat employs AI, essentially you would be conversing with a bot. My view is that businesses need to be cautious. Customers easily spot if they are chatting with a bot and are likely to be discouraged with this lack of human interaction. We are still in the situation with AI, where some people are okay with it, but there is a significant body of customers that are still looking for that human interaction. While AI can be utilized to improve efficiency, poorly implemented AI is likely to decrease customer satisfaction. Consumers are smart. Some will even try to manipulate the bot and use it as a challenge and a game – take, for example, Microsoft’s racist chatbot
At the end of the day, though customers are seeking service. If it is 2:00 in the morning and they are looking for an answer to a question in which the bot is able to provide that answer, the experience can be much more satisfying than if they had to wait until the next morning to interact with a live agent.
Cost of Live Chat as a Channel
John: What is the willingness of companies to adopt live chat as a channel of communication? Some of this is driven by the perception that Live Chat is a lower cost channel – as we discussed, in some cases, this can be true. In other cases, the openness to chat is driven by the desire to meet the organization’s customers and demographics where they are gathering. One of the challenges is that a lot of companies are not properly set up for this.
Colin: There are numerous examples of organizations that set up chat to save money, but without the proper platform or configuration, in place, had to create dedicated work teams from the live voice agent pool to handle chat. This process created situations where the center unable to service the live voice calls to the standards desired, while chat agents waited for chat requests. Then inevitably, they move some of the agents back to live voice and get a rush of chats. This downward spiral can lead to missing service level in both groups, while at the same time, increasing the cost per contact.
Challenges with Chat
John: In addition to demographic and industry concerns, another challenge - it’s easy to deny “That’s not what I said” and go back to a company audio record. If the customer you are chatting to, has an exact transcript, both legal and management could have concerns that were not necessarily addressed during the sales cycle. This comes back to whether or not they are corporately ready for it. Do they have a process for building templated replies that can be modified as required? When do you get legal involved? Keep in mind that you want the conversation to be fairly free flowing – brief, easily readable and user-friendly. So maybe that doesn’t align too well with having legal involved.
Be cautious not to push chat engagers too many pages of heavy text; chances are if they’re engaging in chat they’re looking for quick, easy communication. Pushing too much content can cause the customer to postpone the conversation which essentially defeats the purpose of live chat. Give the customer the information they want, when they want it. Structure it by all means to ensure critical points are covered but only that.
Internally, a challenge can arise regarding agents. A lot of younger agents new and/or out of school know how to text between friends. So they quickly jump to short forms when employing chat: lol, lmao, tgif etc. From a corporate branding point of view, the challenge is establishing how you want to represent the brand – the tone and tenure of the language you want to speak. How does the operation train new agents to write? Writing is not necessarily their first skill – this takes time and practice. If you are not using some form of reasonable templates, agents can quickly change the tone or misspell words; both of which will degrade the value of the brand, ultimately looking unprofessional and amateur.
A perfect example of how spelling can make a big difference is a reference to Oxford comma
– this organization lost millions of dollars in a contract all because of a misplaced comma. Please recognize that chat is a fairly free-flowing medium, but by the same token, if you have regular spelling errors, improper use of brand names etc. – you will look unprofessional and somebody in marketing will have a cow when they read the transcripts. The challenge is the real balance between the chat experience, which appears free flowing and on topic, and the brand requirements of friendliness, courtesy, and professionalism. A more professional short form example is FOB (Freight on Board) – will you use the short form or long form? This goes back to developing a template – establish beforehand which abbreviations are acceptable. Some chat tools have embedded spelling that will change the short forms to long forms.
Live Chat and the Customer Experience (CX)
JD: On the understanding of how live chat fits into customers’ overall experience, when we talk about live chat, specifically the pushing of chat (which most companies pursue an priori approach push chat over other channels because of the believed cost effectiveness). Whether or not this gives a better experience over voice chat or even an interaction that is not live, is an open question. I don’t think that facts today support making chat the number one contact channel for a company. It really comes down to where the majority of your customer’s want (and do)first initially interact with your services. For example, if you have an online service and your customer interacts first online, it is online that they first go to. Therefore, the first thing when identifying whether live chat is the best option should be considering “Does your customer first interact with our services through an online forum or another online medium?”
The second, does this interaction require any assistance that can be aided by knowledge base articles or some form of digital transaction between the customer and the company. One of the big strengths of live chat, or any online interaction, is that you can send images, links and exchange photos. For example, a consumer could exchange photos for an outfit that was not the right color, torn or damaged. In the future, hopefully, we will see more of a live video chat where you can begin to bridge the whole chat experience closer with the live person or live phone interaction. If that is not as necessary, you need to scale back what you consider live. If there is not an immediate need to exchange information through that digital format, then ticketing has been around for a very long time and has still been very successful because it does not require that type of headcount demand that live chat does, and it also gives you the opportunity to respond in bulk. If you have a lot of issues that are coming in regarding a specific topic, you can send a bulk response to customers – this may be best suited for your situation. Again, when we talk about the push for live chat, it needs to be based on the customer, how they initially interact with your service and then what type of information needs to be exchanged during that interaction -based on demographics and industry vertical.
Colin: We can’t lose sight of the fact that in most centers, chat is just one of a number of channels. Research tells us that less than 5% of Contact Centers are employing omnichannel, this means that in the vast majority of centers chat is deployed in a multi-channel, environment not omni-channel. These centers need to balance the appropriateness of chat to their customer perspective, demographics and desires and serve up all of the available connection and interaction options to improve the customer experience, reduce friction of the interaction and reduce customer effort.
Placing a chat button on the website can make it easy to communicate with the company, but if the chat process is slow, difficult and confusing, due to an absence of effective templates, poor agent training, inferior tools or too many chats per agent, that ease of access which supports better customer effort scores, vanishes quite quickly. As with most things in life, the devil really is in the details and chat can work very well in one organization and fail miserably in another, simply due to poor planning and execution.
The Taylor Reach Group Bios
Colinn Taylor – CEO and Chief Chaos Officer
Colin, CEO and Chief Chaos Officer at TRG, is recognized as one of Canada’s leading Call/Contact Center experts. Ranked #5 in Customer Service Globaly with 27 awards for operational excellence. He has been working in the industry for 35+ years and has led The Taylor Reach Group’s success, as CEO and Chief Chaos Officer, since 2003.
John Cockerill – President
John has been contributing to the success of the company with his extensive knowledge on sales, marketing and service operations within the Contact Center including strategic planning and day-to-day operations. He has 30+ years of hands on Call Center operational management experience.
Garry Schultz – Senior Consultant - Ottawa
Garry is an experienced Customer Care strategist with expertise in post-sale-support operations. With 25+ years as an executive manager for high-tech post-sale support operations Garry has lived the omni-channel evolution.
Turaj – Senior Consultant - Toronto
25+ years of contact center experience, Domestic and International: Telco and Consulting,
David Bradshaw – Senior Consultant - Toronto
David is a seasoned contact center financial services industry veteran with more than 20 years of hands on experience.
JD Fairweather – Vice President – South East
25+ years of contact center experience, Domestic and International, Client-Side and Consulting, Atlanta.
Peter Elliot – Senior Consultant – Europe
30+ years of contact center experience, Domestic and International, Client-Side and Consulting, London, UK.
Paul Knapp – Senior Consultant – Memphis
Paul Knapp is an experienced Call Center, Contact Center Consultant with 25 plus years of experience in the Healthcare, Customer Services industry. - Memphis
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