September 23, 2010, 3:28 PM

After a rocky start, constructs an expanded live chat service

The home-supply e-retailer plans to double the size of its live chat team.

Lead Photo Inc. dove into live text chat customer service last September and was quickly overwhelmed by the number of inquiries coming from customers. Because felt it wasn’t serving customers effectively with chat and that its chat approach needed work to make it profitable, the retailer took down the live chat option within weeks and regrouped.

The e-retailer then re-launched chat in May. And it now says it intends to double the size of the live chat team in the coming months because of its strong results.

The problem with the original launch was that the e-retailer emblazoned its live chat option throughout the site without paying heed to the traffic or types of questions that doing so would generate, says Diane Lawrence, sales manager at, No. 97 on Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

“It was in the header on every page and we were crushed with volume,” she says. “The way we had it on our site made it look like it was the main way to communicate with us.” Rather than spending time answering specific questions about products that could convert to a sale, for example, the team was spending time giving answers to general questions that could be found elsewhere on the site. Customer service agents were pulled from answering phone calls and put on chat just to keep up, she says.

“We knew we had to postpone live chat until we could decide how we were going to display and interact with chat. We also needed to allocate the right amount of resources to it and train on it,” says Ryan Brewer, vice president of operations at 

The e-retailer decided it needed a more controlled way to operate live chat. When it re-launched the feature it put the live chat prompt only on pages deeper into the site, such as product pages, where it was more likely to catch consumers deeper in the purchase process.

Doing so had a dramatic effect, says Lawrence. “The chats we started to get were from people that had specific questions and then we could show how the chat affected conversion,” she says.

Because the re-launch has proven effective, aims to further develop its chat program. Lawrence says the e-retailer will double the size of its live chat team in the next few months as it develops a proactive chat program, whereby agents will reach out to customers and inquire if they can help, rather than wait for customers to request a chat.

“Chat has had a positive impact on our business and we are slowly ramping up the team as we experiment with the size and location of the chat button and as we try proactive chat,” Lawrence says.

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