May 6, 2010, 1:08 PM

Half of consumers say they would be open to a chat invite, but few accept

6% of consumers perusing a web site will have a live chat discussion with a customer service rep if invited, Bold Software LLC, a vendor of live chat technology, finds in a new research report.

6% of consumers perusing a web site will have a live chat discussion with a customer service rep if invited, Bold Software LLC, a vendor of live chat technology, finds in a new research report.

The new research is based on a January poll of 1,000 U.S. Internet shoppers who opted in to a third-party panel as well as an analysis late last year of aggregated results from Bold Software’s clients.

The combined research found that the median percentage of web site visitors that accept proactive chat invitations—which typically entail a pop-up or floating window that invites an online shopper to enter a live chat session with a customer service rep—is 6%. However, results of the poll alone found 52% of those surveyed said they would be receptive to a chat invite.

It’s not surprising that more consumers say they would be open to chat invites than actually accept, says Adele Sage, a customer experience analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “It’s true that more consumers say they’re receptive to it than actually accept the invitations,” Sage says. “And that sort of pattern is typical—consumers aren’t very good at predicting their own behavior. They may say they’ll do something, but they won’t necessarily do it when presented with the situation.”

Sage says Forrester’s analysis finds that a similar 6% of consumers invited to chat accept. But Forrester doesn’t bother to ask consumers if they would be receptive to a chat invitation.

“We haven’t asked consumers how receptive they are because being receptive to something isn’t the same as actually doing it. There’s some value in looking at their attitudes towards something, but ultimately their actual behavior is what’s telling,” she says.

The Bold Software poll, coupled with the benchmarking analysis, also found:

  • Consumers who engage in chats in response to an invitation will convert at 6.3 times the rate of visitors who do not. Chatters who engage by clicking the chat button on their own are four times more likely to convert than web site visitors who do not chat.
  • 60% of consumers who’ve engaged in a live chat say they are in general receptive to live chat—that’s compared to 52% of all respondents.
  • 72% of those whose average online transaction is greater than $150 say they are receptive to live chat invites.
  • Those who were not receptive to live chat were statistically more likely to be older with lower household incomes.

To make the most of chat invitations Bold suggests e-retailers consider adding proactive chat to pages with high-value products because consumers on such pages tend to be more receptive to chats. It also says combining offers such as free shipping with proactive chat is a successful way to engage visitors who’ve never chatted before. These two methods were top choices among the consumers surveyed who said they had never chatted with a service representative online, Bold says.

Timing also is crucial, Bold finds. Visitors invited after being on a site for two to three minutes have a 79% greater chance of accepting invitations. Therefore, retailers should think about offering chat not only based on the time that a consumer has been on a specific page, but also to how many pages the shopper has viewed, how long she has been on the site and how many times she has visited the web site.

Forrester’s Sage also suggests web sites steer clear of annoying customers with repeat chat invitations. “If customers have already declined chat invitations, don’t continue to proactively pop up chat invitations,” she says.” Repeated invitations force users to take extra steps to ignore them each time, and those extra steps can be frustrating.”

Sage recommends keeping a button on the page that allows consumers to initiate chat sessions if they change their minds.

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