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Similarly, jewelry e-retailer Whiteflash ensures shoppers get the answers they need by having seven accredited gemologists on site to staff chats, many of whom have worked for Whiteflash for years and know the jewelry e-retailer's products like the backs of their hands. Given the retailer's high average order value, $5,500, and the complex product it sells—diamonds—that type of expertise is essential, Bailey says.
"Our customers are extremely educated and so we need to provide them with a high level of service," she says. "That requires our agents to be able to answer any type of question."
4. Look for signals
Because SamsFurniture.com sells furniture and appliances, the types of products that consumers think carefully about before buying, shoppers often browse the site without any intention of completing a purchase online, says Seth Weissblatt, owner of the Texas-based multichannel retailer.
"The furniture industry is different than a lot of other forms of e-commerce," he says. "When you buy a shirt online, it's easy to return. But that isn't the case when you're buying a sofa that is 300 pounds and 10 feet long." When buying something so large and expensive, consumers are going to think about it, he says.
But shoppers still provide clues that they have questions, and recognizing those clues can be extremely valuable, he says. For instance, when a shopper clicks to the site's "Lease to Own" page after spending several minutes comparing two sectional sofas, he is likely in the final stage of his decision-making process, Weissblatt says.
The retailer last year deployed LivePerson Inc.'s live chat program, which uses an algorithm to dig into the site's Google Analytics and Omniture SiteCatalyst analytics programs to determine which shoppers might benefit from an invitation to chat. The algorithm uses data, such as how many pages a consumer has viewed, his navigation path and how he arrived at the site, to develop rules about when to invite a visitor to chat. Since it began working with LivePerson about half of the retailer's chats stem from such proactive chat invitations.
The retailer's online chat sessions contribute about $50,000 in sales each month from shoppers chatting online, then completing a purchase in one of the retailer's two stores. Weissblatt tracks by manually matching the chat logs, which include the name of the customer on the chat, to his sales orders.
5. Make it easy
Helping a shopper find a particular setting or product can be difficult at Whiteflash.com because the retailer offers more than 100,000 diamonds on its site, each with its own product page that features details like the diamond's shape and size, as well as color, cut and clarity ratings. The retailer offers assistance by using LogMeIn Inc.'s BoldChat technology that enables a chat agent to take over a consumer's computer to show her particular pages on the site. The feature comes standard with all levels of the vendor's offerings.
When an agent wants to take over a consumer's computer, he sends a message to the consumer, "A Whiteflash Sales Associate would like to share their browser." After the consumer clicks an Accept button, the agent can direct him to other pages to help the shopper find the right product or site information, Bailey says.
"If we just sent a link they might not click, or it might open in a new window on some mobile phones," she says. "This eliminates any ambiguity about what the customer is seeing."
It also makes for a better, simpler experience for the shopper. "We can guide them where they want to go," she says.
6. Faster is better
Retailers should make chat as simple as possible, says The E-tailing Group's Freedman. The consultancy's survey found that 46% of shoppers who said their preferred way to reach customer service is via live chat said they found it to be the most efficient communication method.
Efficiency is also the reason the jewelry retailer began using BoldChat's software to quickly reply to questions that are asked time and again, such as how long it takes for an item to ship.
The technology examines the consumer's message as he types to find the most suitable responses from the retailer's library of canned replies. After an agent clicks on a reply he can edit the message so that it flows with the conversation. That ensures that all of the retailer's agents communicate the same information, while also shaving seconds off agents' response times, Bailey says.
With busy consumers looking to get answers in the most efficient and effective way possible, every second counts.