August 25, 2004, 12:00 AM

Sierra Trading Post finds live chat key to customer service

Web orders now constitute 50% of the multi-channel retailer’s total sales, but many customers order from home on dial-up connections. For those locked into a single line, chat gets get questions answered without having to disconnect from the site.

Though home-based broadband access keeps increasing, it’s still far from universal. That makes live chat a critical part of the customer service offering at Sierra Trading Post, where web orders now constitute some 50% of the multi-channel retailer’s total sales.


“The majority of customers who want to use the live chat function are locked into their modem and land line,” says Bob Koehler, customer service director at Sierra Trading Post’s web-enabled call center. “They have their one phone line tied up with the ISP, and they have a question. The live chat function interfaces with their web browser and lets them contact us.”


With more than 100 e-mail and phone service agents who also are cross-trained to handle live chat, customers using chat don’t wait long for a response. That’s particularly important to conversions, Koehler says. “If someone goes as far to ask a question via chat, there is a serious interest in the item. If you’re able to resolve their question or concern, you get a fairly high conversion rate in getting them to put the item in their shopping cart,” he adds.

While most questions customers raise through chat are simple and lend themselves to quick answers – what is the fabric used in a jacket, for instance -- chat also is a point of entry for more complex queries, Sierra Trading Post finds. For example, a mix-up with an order, a delivery delay or an issue with their account are queries that arrive via chat – and are sometimes resolved there – but may be escalated instead to e-mail or phone. If agents are having difficulty resolving a question via chat, customers are asked to forward the query via e-mail for an e-mail response or asked if a supervisor can contact them by phone. “The sense of urgency and degree of importance increases with the other mediums,” says Kohler.

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