Is live chat worth it?

We live in a 30 second world. As a business, it’s important to be available.
In 2013, 6000 consumers across the UK, US, Australia, Germany, France and Italy were interviewed* about online customer support and live chat, some key findings concluded:

  • 83% admitted they need some form of support during their online journey
  • 51% either try once or give up immediately when seeking help before an online purchase
  • 71% expect to be able to access help when purchasing online within five minutes – 31% expect help to be immediate
  • If a response is not delivered in the expected timeframe, 48% of shoppers will either go elsewhere or abandon the purchase altogether.

Technology will never be the answer to improved customer experiences; it’s implementation always needs to be carefully considered. ‘Live Chat’ is no exception. I read two good examples online recently. Both case studies come from the telecoms industry and both are from disgruntled customers based in Australia. However, you can imagine a very similar scenario here in the UK or elsewhere.

Is Live Chat worth it?

Case Study 1

Telstra’s live support: A lengthy problem had led me to the Foxtel service page on the Telstra website, and once there I was presented with an offer to chat. I duly typed ‘Foxtel outage’ into the box and had an exchange which, technically speaking, worked well – fast responses, friendly, and correct phrasing. But after 60 seconds, or 4-5 messages, I was told I would need to be transferred to a Foxtel specialist (even though I’d started from a Foxtel service page and already given my reason to chat). My second chat was also friendly, despite having to repeat myself a little, but ultimately came to an unhelpful ‘we don’t know when this will be fixed’ conclusion. Essentially, an unresolved query, and several minutes wasted of both my and two Telstra staff’s time.
The lack of intelligence in the routing of my query, the lack of care on the agent’s part to read my previous exchange carefully, and both agents lacking the tools or technology necessary to resolve my query, ultimately resulted in a superficial service. The chat itself was fine, but the supporting methods and tools were not. It’s clear that the issues I saw were systemic and would be experienced by many customers.

Case Study 2

Optus – whilst looking for a new phone, I noticed after a few minutes that a small ‘Chat now’ box had appeared in the navigation bar where there wasn’t one before. It wasn’t that obvious or inviting, so I decided to continue browsing. Later, however, after adding an item to my cart and pausing for a while, a more obvious, targeted offer to chat popped up in a highlighted box on the screen. I clicked and had a short conversation with the agent to answer my questions. What’s happening here is that the website detects customers who are not exhibiting the ‘right’ buyer behaviour and presents them with a real-time offer to chat.

The Optus approach seems to be the technology enabled equivalent of a shop assistant or alert concierge, who sees that you look confused or unsure, and comes over to ask if you need any help. Personal, timely and relevant.

Live chat can be very effective, but you have to design the right experience from the outside-in, and change your internal support processes too, not just implement a glossy new customer channel on top of a poor process and poor back-end system that still won’t result in a good customer experience.