February 28, 2006, 12:00 AM

The Customer Connection

(Page 2 of 2)

The Internet Retailer survey found that almost all responding retailers run tightly integrated and internal online customer service departments. But those programs are also grounded in handling calls, complaints and questions over the phone or by e-mail. For instance, web retailers have been fascinated for years with the idea of providing live chat, a form of instant customer service to their online shoppers. But the merchants taking part in the Internet Retailer survey see live chat as a future upgrade. The survey found that 78% of retailers don’t offer a live chat option, and 32.7% have no plans to offer live chat. 44.3% say it will be one or two years before they offer live chat.

But live chat gives online retailers the chance to conduct an interactive customer dialogue. The exchange, which usually involves answering a customer’s question or resolving a problem, is also seen by most web retailers as an excellent opportunity to cross-sell the shopper on new merchandise and build loyalty, which, in turn, generates more repeat business.

The Internet Retailer survey reveals that web merchants with live chat employ highly trained reps to respond to a customer’s query. The survey found that 65.5% of retailers with a live chat program used a trained specialist , as opposed to 34.5% that don’t. Live chat is also a small part of most retailers’ daily customer interaction volume. Of the web retailers taking part in the survey, 44.6% say they handle 25 or fewer live chats daily, compared with 25% who conduct 26 to 50 chats, 7.1% with 51 to 75 , 5.4% with 76 to 100, 3.6% with 101 to 200 chats and 14.3% with more than 200 interactions.



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