July 29, 2004, 12:00 AM

Talk, Talk

(Page 3 of 3)

But now, “Everybody that I have trained for chat will use their own name. It will simplify things, and we can expand the number of people using chat,” Koehler says. “Cintech was willing to make adjustments to make it work almost identically to the chat provider that we had been using.”

Koehler says his call center costs have risen overall because the new e-mail management system was “moderately” expensive. But his experience of going from paying a premium for chat licenses to getting them packaged in with his e-mail management system illustrates his point that the industry is evolving rapidly. “When we picked up the original chat provider, it was at what was the going rate,” he says. “But with things evolving every six months, the marketplace is more competitive.”

Koehler says live chat is Sierra Trading Post’s call center’s cheapest method of customer contact. His reasoning is that agents get though more sessions more quickly than when responding by phone or e-mail because they can handle four or more chats simultaneously. Agents respond to queries too complex for chat resolution with a request to deal with the query by e-mail or phone. Thanks to the new e-mail management system, e-mail response time drops to as low as minutes during the call center’s posted operating hours, 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., he says.

Know the audience

The most critical piece of advice Gartner Inc. research director Esteban Kolsky gives clients considering live chat is to make sure they know what its use will be before they spend the money on it. “If you are going to spend $450,000 plus maintenance plus the cost per transaction of having an operator ready to go, you are not going to recoup what you invest unless you have high usage,” he says. “But many who implement it don’t know the audience for it and just hope the usage is there.”

While noting that less expensive chat solutions do exist, Kolsky’s opinion is that the most strategic use of chat requires a high degree of automation including a “chat bot” that can pull answers to lower-level queries from a database. That leaves the live chat channel to serious online customers more likely to drive revenue through the interaction.

During a time in which technology vendors have worked to create live chat technology and retailers have experimented to discover its best use, Kolsky notes that chat’s popularity has ebbed and flowed. “Chat is the closest thing to the Phoenix I’ve seen. It keeps growing, dying, and being reborn,” he says. ”But I believe there is a lot of value in chat if marketers do it right. I’ve always maintained that this technology is going to make a difference in customer service.”


Click Here for the Guide to Live Chat Services

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