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 while Chat in the Contact Center – Part 2 focused on proactive vs. reactive chat, AI impacts, costs as a channel, challenges and the customer experience (CX). Today, part 3, focuses on the following:
Discussion participants: Colin Taylor, John Cockerill, Garry Schultz, David Bradshaw, JD Fairweather, Bruce Lebowitz, Turaj Seyrafiaan, Peter Elliot and Paul Knapp
Live Chat Across Various Countries
JD: I’ve seen where the Contact Center has hired multilingual individuals to respond to different groups but eventually, we’re hoping to see the technology to catch up. So, right now, Google provides through their online tools, a translator that allows conversation with someone in their native language even though one might have no experience with that language. Google translator is imperfect and French Canadian friends may laugh at some of the translations, but each interaction is better and I think eventually that is where live chat will go. In fact there a number of short form translation services operating who support multi-lingual chat centers.
In order to have live chat across various countries, you need agents that can handle different languages on the fly and then you have to route them, determine how much volume is coming in for a specific language – this can get very messy - especially when talking about chat where you are already trying to reduce head count and maximize the number of contacts that an agent can handle at any specific time.
There is also this false idea that through live chat, you can multitask and handle multiple inquiries at once. Technically, this is not exactly how live chat works; there really isn’t a multi-tasking functionality. Regardless of how many they have open, they can really only chat one at a time. What they are doing is using that dead, in-between time to respond to other customers. This can be great when it works, but even as the 2016 Live Chat Benchmark Report states, agents are handling more chats as time continues – what you’re doing is placing a demand on that agent. Eventually, they will not be responding in a timely manner – enter law of diminishing returns. Be cautious of the experience factor with this – the purpose was to handle multiple chats at the best experience possible but now you’re handling many chats with a worse experience. The experience factor starts to decline with the increase of the chats being attempted to handle. Essentially you want to use this technology to improve customer experience, but be cautious of how this can hinder the customer experience if agents are dealing with too many inquiries at once.
Chat in Relation to Voice
Bruce: One area that is worth addressing, is chat in relation to voice. For instance, I have often heard that chat satisfaction scores are higher than voice scores. Does this mean we can all move people from voice to chat and were the successful in lowering a company’s cost while achieving efficiency?
Colin: In some cases, yes we can. One of our clients, an education publisher, was able to shift more than 50% of their interactions to chat from voice and achieved higher satisfaction scores. This sounds amazing, but it wasn’t so much that chat performed better than voice, it was more of a case that chat was always a more logical service as the students were already on-line consuming content when they had a question or needed help -a chat button, made more sense than opening up another window to locate the phone number to call for support.
Paul: In terms of comparing chat to voice and the IVR, it has a long way to go. People will still generally evaluate the voice call with a higher degree of satisfaction, because of the human interaction. The exception maybe the situation Colin shared (above), where chat just made more sense than voice ever did for that client and their customer’s. There are some great chats where agents do a fantastic job of creating a personal conversation with soft skill words etc., but still, with voice infliction and tone, voice is hard to replace.
Chat at Transaction Points
Bruce: A lot of companies use chat at transaction points – perhaps they don’t offer chat everywhere, but rather at specific tactical points in the customer journey. For example – an abandoned shopping cart is a great opportunity to offer chat resolve a question or concern and to move the person closer to close. Chat could be used to reduce abandonment rates and increase conversion rates. This is another key reason organizations are deploying chat.
Integrated Strategy for Chat, Voice, and Other Channels
Bruce: Consider cost, conversion and how chat is offered and merchandised. Chat is just one element in your customer interaction ecosystem. Don’t just look at chat as a vacuum, but rather integrated with other channels.
We must view chat holistically within the ecosystem and understand what customers are looking to achieve through their chat interactions. These outcomes could be delivered through other channels. Chat is one of many tools in the Contact Center arsenal and we need to understand where it can work best and why.
Moving Consumers from Email to Chat
Bruce: Moving people from email to chat seems to be a strategy that many companies are adopting to lower costs, increase First Contact Resolution (FCR) by being able to handle multiple customers at a time.
When companies use email for customer service, there is often a lot of time-consuming back and forth because the agent may not have complete information, the customer may have follow-up questions and an email chain can be 5, 6, 10 emails long just to solve 1 problem. Even though email may be less expensive than voice, the back and forth may end up taking just as much, if not more time and therefore cost. Some companies are ditching email completely and pushing customers to chat because you can resolve a problem on the spot, even if there is some back and forth. Chat can truly be one and done.
Dedicated Chat Agents vs. Blended Agents
Bruce: One pool of agents could be employed handling all channels.
Historically Organizations, have had to deploy dedicated work-groups to support each channel. Dedicated chat agents in addition to dedicated voice agents. In these circumstances, the chat agent could be idle while the voice agent could be over capacity and vice versa.
With the improvement in technology of cloud-based Call Center and Contact Center systems, you can have universal agents handling chat and voice in the same queue. This makes staffing a lot more productive, efficient and improves the center’s service performance and flexibility. Essentially the agent could take the next incoming problem, independent of what channel this is coming from, which makes staffing more smooth and easy.
If companies are using chat, they should take a more blended approach with their front-line staff. With that, it is important to keep in mind how this affects hiring and training processes. You have to make sure agents can excel both written and verbally and ensure they are able to utilize the technologies associated with both voice and chat. There’s additional training but this is minimal compared to the savings from agents being able to handle multiple queues, and being able to manage everybody’s efficiency as a whole vs. two separate groups with two separate efficiency metrics.
Endless Agent Options
Bruce: IP telephony has opened up new opportunities for center operators, not the least of which is geological independence.
Yes, with this software, you have options to use work at home agents (WAHA), agents on premises, agents on-shore or offshore – it opens up a lot of possibilities.
Wait-Time on the Phone Vs. Chat
Turaj: Customer Effort is a key factor in delivering a satisfying customer experience. If you customers can’t get through to you or have long wait-times, they won’t be happy. Even if you answer quickly, it is no guarantee of a happy customer, but at least you will have removed one possible point of dissatisfaction out of the mix.
It should be pointed out that it is very difficult for any of us to accurately assess how much time has passed while we are waiting for an agent. Customers can’t tell 18 versus 25 seconds, so don’t sweat the small variances that are going to occur. Of course, they can tell the difference between 20 seconds and 90 seconds, not in terms of how many seconds have passed, but in terms of their level of dissatisfaction with the delay.
Live Chat in Sensitive Information Industries – Healthcare and Finance
Paul: With the healthcare arena or other verticals dealing with sensitive information, chat is not as evolved when compared to other industries. This is because although you authenticate the caller on the front end of the IVR, it can be difficult to authenticate the computer/mobile user and confirm it is only this customer throughout the entire chat process. When you start sharing information from a health insurance standpoint, the Personal Health Information (PHI) could be compromised.
With industry verticals working with sensitive information, employing live chat can be optimal for cursory conversations – basic information, such as general questions. In the health care industry, this could include specific plans, eligibility etc. Companies who have already employed this technology have seen definite benefits and reductions in calls.
Be cautious of in-depth conversations - When chat gets in a discussion about personal information, this might be a good point to transition to the voice channel, especially in regards to situations where there is a liability at risk and demand for due diligence because of the opportunity for a breach of E-chat.
Many pharmaceutical companies have not yet evolved to employing chat."
Why Customers Prefer Live Chat
Peter: Immediacy – many customers prefer the live chat channel vs. voice, call back or email, due to the rapid response with chat. If they’re going to get a quicker response via chat, it only makes sense to use this channel. However, a voice call would be just as quick typically, unless they perceive they will encounter long wait times with a voice call.
Are there other reasons why some people would prefer to write on a screen rather than pick up the phone? We see this typically in terms of industries. For example, I have a background in the technology industry. The majority of customers we dealt with in my previous company, were all technical people. When we introduced live chat, we soon found after just 1 year, 1/3 of our total volume transitioned to live chat – absolutely incredible. The reasoning for this, I believe relays back to industry – our consumers were tech people sitting behind their screens all day – so of course they found it easier to communicate via chat.
Additionally, while live chat allows agents to multitask, it can also allow consumers the option to multitask.
For customers who are spending a lot of time in front of the screen every day, chat is very fitting. It is simply more convenient to continue working online and chat than it is to look for the "contact us" page and place a phone call. For something more consumer oriented, such as a utility like electric, customers are more likely to pick up the phone. However, with the advent of mobile and availability of it, they may prefer this channel. When you think about mobile and chat, and how difficult it is to use a keyboard on a phone vs. a laptop or PC, you can understand why customers might prefer to use the phone under certain circumstance.
Another good reason for using chat is because it provides an audit trail for your conversations. For instance, I recently used live chat on a sales call with Apple. I was looking to buy a new Mac Book and I was searching for deals – when a deal is offered in writing, the organization is unable to deny their offer because the audit trail supports any promises that were made to the consumer. This point also highlights the importance of properly training your staff who service chats and the value of creating short form template content which the agent can employ rather than rely on them to type out each response and comment.
About Colin Taylor:
For the past 33 years Colin has worked in the call and contact center industry starting as a agent, Today he assists clients improve the operation effectiveness and customer satisfaction achieved by their centers. A frequent speaker and author more than 100 articles on call and contact center operations.
About The Taylor Reach Group:
The Taylor Reach Group is a call center and contact center consultants specializing in customer experience consulting and call and contact center consulting, management, performance, technologies, site selection, tools and assessments. All we do is customer experience and contact center consulting: strategic and tactical. Our contact center and customer experience consultants have helped management in hundreds of contact centers and organizations achieve – and exceed – their business goals.
Published: Monday, June 26, 2017
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