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The explosive growth of web-enabled mobile phones is opening the door for retailers to communicate with consumers in new ways, and the skills live chat agents already have can be employed to fill this need as well. While the small screens and keyboards on smartphones make traditional live chat through those devices less appealing, having agents communicate through text messages is a viable alternative.
One of the prime advantages of an SMS text message is that consumers do not necessarily expect the immediate response they would expect from a live chat exchange. That means agents can respond to customers' text when the agents have downtime between chat sessions. Retailers can replace the live chat feature on their mobile site with an icon saying "Text a Live Agent."
That can improve agent productivity. "A lot of consumers know that a chat agent will not abandon the session until they sign off, and a lot of consumers will temporarily leave a chat session to do something else," says Haskell. "When gaps like that occur, the agent can answer a text message."
Bold Software's latest version of its customer-interaction management software includes SMS text capabilities. The application also prioritizes incoming customer inquiries by message type for agents on their screens. For example, a click-to-call inquiry takes top priority, followed by chat, SMS texts and e-mails.
"We added SMS text capability because it allows firms to optimize chat agent efficiency and provides yet another communication method for web site visitors," Haskell adds.
No matter how well prepared agents are to handle live chat inquiries, they can only handle so many at once. The typical rule of thumb is to limit an agent's chats to between three and five at any time, and no more than three during peak shopping periods.
"I've seen some agents deftly handle eight chat sessions at once, but that is the exception," says Bager. "It's too easy to have agents make mistakes when they are handling too many sessions at once."
Retailers should also be sure their customer service representatives can route an inquiry to a specialist as needed. "Some questions are going to be beyond an agent's expertise or knowledge," says Ability Commerce's Buzzeo. "Better to seamlessly transfer a chat session to an expert than have an agent provide an inadequate response."
With more and more consumers embracing live chat, retailers need to make installing and actively promoting it a priority. "Retailers now understand that if they don't have chat, they need it, and if they have it, they need to make agent training a priority," says Haskell. "The more successful chat sessions a retailer has, the more fans of chat they will create."