In e-retailing, customer service is handled through four primary channels: the telephone, e-mail, self-service and live chat. Relative newcomer live chat is seeing significant growth among e-retailers looking to service customers in the ways customers desire. Instant messaging and chat rooms predate e-retailing and Internet users have become quite accustomed to using text in real time to communicate. E-retailers are just catching up with chat, and they’re increasingly using it to sell more effectively, says Zachary McGeary, a JupiterResearch associate analyst who focuses on customer service.
“Retailers are leveraging chat to achieve different goals. These goals are becoming less about traditional customer service matters like resolution and time to resolution and more about sales metrics like decreasing cart abandonment and increasing conversion,” McGeary says.“Some retailers are engaging customers within the context of online interactions, monitoring customer sessions for signs of a need for help.”
These retailers are sending invitations to an audience that’s mostly welcoming or ambivalent. 30% of consumers would welcome a live chat invitation from an e-retailer customer service representative, 33% would feel confused or annoyed, and 38% are neutral, according to a recent JupiterResearch study.
“There is not a high risk for retailers to be doing this,” McGeary contends. “You don’t want to be blanketing all customer interactions with chat invitations. The idea is to get strategic and targeted with reaching out to customers.”
There are many instances, experts say, where e-retailers with live chat functionality, using real-time web analytics to monitor shopping activity and behavior, are being proactive and offering a chat to a customer.
For example, if a customer has entered his credit card information more than once without success, a customer service representative can create a small pop-up window offering assistance. This helps the customer complete a purchase and helps the e-retailer avoid cart abandonment.
Or, if a shopper has more than $250 worth of items in her shopping cart for more than five minutes, McGeary suggests, that could be a sign of a problem. “E-retailers can reach out at that point to ensure all goes well. You wouldn’t say, ‘I see you have a problem.’ You ask, ‘Do you need any help with your purchase,’” he says. “This kind of live chat targeting today is more of an art than a science.”