May 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

When introducing live chat, retailers may want to introduce users to Mary

E-retailers considering adding live chat to their web sites should try to make the experience as warm and friendly as possible. One way to do that is to use names and realistic-looking photos of individuals, says Matt Tharp of Bravestorm LLC.

Online retailers considering adding live chat to their web sites should try to make the experience as warm and friendly as possible. One way to do that is to use names and realistic-looking photos of individuals, says Matt Tharp of Bravestorm LLC.

“Especially if it is more of a technology web site, a person’s picture can really add that human element,” says Tharp, director of business for Bravestorm, which offers the BoldChat live chat system.

One e-retailer client of Bravestorm increased its live chat acceptance rate from about 4% to 34% by simply changing the chat invitation from a sterile invite such as “Do you want to chat?” to “Hi, I’m Mary. Do you have any questions?,” Tharp says.

But, he adds, it’s important to make the photo realistic-not a stock picture of a customer service rep with a perfect smile donning a headset. “People are pretty smart," Tharp says. “If you show them a stock photo and it feels automatic, it turns them off. The more human you can make the experience, the better.”

A good example of an e-retailer doing this well is Abt Electronics, No. 143 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, which uses pictures of actual employees in its live chat invitations, he says.

When deciding what a chat box should look like and its size, Tharp suggests retailers go for a box that complements the site’s color and design but that stands out slightly. When live chat was a new feature on retail web sites, Tharp says the trend was to make the box bold and noticeable. Lately, Tharp says e-retailers are trying to make site features fit a common color scheme and design, but a box that blends in too much can disappear, he says. To strike a balance, Tharp recommends using subtle differences. For example, if a site uses mainly blue and grey, a box might sport a brighter shade of blue or a complementary orange.

With box size, Tharp says it’s important not to disrupt the consumer. “You want it big enough to get their attention, but not so big that it forces them to chat or to work around it,” he says. “You have to be careful not to make the chat experience a negative experience.”

So, where should e-retailers place live chat on their web sites? It depends on their goals, Tharp says. For some e-retailers, the goal is to reduce call volume, while others implement live chat to help drive sales. Merchants using it as a sales tool may be more proactive and use a pop-up invitation as well as listing the chat option next to a customer service phone number. Tharp adds that putting live chat options at the header of every page lets consumers know, wherever they are on the site, that chat is an option. And peppering it elsewhere on the site, such as product pages, will draw more attention to the option, Tharp says.

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