July 12, 2013, 4:39 PM

Live chat gives Brownells a low-cost way to get shoppers' questions answered

The firearms retailer has gun aficionados answer consumers’ queries.

Zak Stambor

Managing Editor

Lead Photo

It helps to have customer service agents who know a retailer’s products well. But that isn’t always easy, says Van Schlichting, online experience manager for Brownells Inc., an Iowa-based operator of three e-commerce sites that sell firearms and related supplies.

Because it can be difficult to find customer service agents with in-depth knowledge of firearms can be difficult, Brownells employs 25 gun technicians to handle complicated product questions, while other agents respond to most conventional customer service issues via phone or e-mail. Each gun tech has at least 20 years’ of firearms experience and their pay reflects that knowledge, which is why shoppers have to first talk to a customer service agent before being routed to a gun tech, he says.

While that approach works, the two-step process it’s not the easiest way to get an answer for a  shopper curious about, say, if a Nightforce scope works with a Weatherby rifle, he says.

That’s why earlier this year the retailer worked with customer service vendor Needle Inc. to add live chat as another way for shoppers to get their questions answered. The vendor recruits agents from gun-related message boards and those agents—who are Needle employees working from any place with an Internet connection—receive an hourly wage, as well as points they can apply toward the retailer’s merchandise.

The live chat option offers a relatively inexpensive way to help shoppers get answers from informed agents, says Schlichting. Its cost per interaction is half that of a shopper interaction with a gun tech and only 15% more than an interaction with a customer service rep. He provided no specific figures. Live chat has also provided a boon to sales—shoppers who chat with a Needle agent are nine times more likely to make a purchase than shoppers who don’t interact with a customer service agent or gun tech.

Live chat is making a significant impact on the retailer’s overall business. Since Brownells launched live chat in April, 2% of its total orders have come directly from shoppers who engaged in live chat.

Read more about live chat in August issue of Internet Retailer. Click here to sign up for a free subscription.



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