June 5, 2006, 12:00 AM

Text chat is gaining acceptance from consumers, JupiterResearch says

Although text chat has yet to reach its promise, there is evidence of growing consumer acceptance of the fledgling customer-service tool, according to a new JupiterReseach report

Although text chat has yet to reach its promise, there is evidence of growing consumer acceptance of the fledgling customer-service tool, according to a new JupiterReseach report.

Sixty-three percent of U.S. online consumers say they had contacted customer service at least once using text chat in 2005, up 22% from 41% of online consumers in 2001, Jupiter found. In addition, 58% of those using text chat in 2005 said they were satisfied with the results, up 13% from 45% in 2001.

But text chat has some underlying problems that make its universal availability to consumers costly, according to Jupiter. “Despite promises to the contrary, an agent cannot realistically handle more than 1.3 simultaneous chats, and agents do not generally engage in simultaneous sessions,” Jupiter says. “Furthermore, JupiterResearch’s executive interviews reveal text chat sessions last about seven percent longer than do phone conversations.”

However, retailers can improve the ROI of text chat by limiting its availability to certain situations, according to the report. In one model-reactive chat-companies use text chat only to address issues with moderate to high complexity and for troubleshooting.

With the second model-proactive chat-retailers can engage consumers through pop-up chat requests or availability of chat buttons at critical phases, such as after products sit in shopping carts for certain lengths of time, Jupiter says.

In the third model-automated and agent-assisted chat-live agents are brought in only to answer inquiries for which automation is not suitable. Automated chat can reduce service costs by 81%, while enabling retailers to make text chat universally available, Jupiter says.

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