October 7, 2011, 4:41 PM

HauteLook wants chattier live chat agents

When consumers shop for a Getaways travel deal, live chat leads to more conversions.

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When fashion apparel shoppers log onto HauteLook.com looking for a limited-time deal, few of them take the time to contact a customer service agent for help with a purchase. Most are too concerned about simply locking in a deal on a trendy apparel outfit before it’s too late, says Chris Purpura, the retailer’s director of member care.

But when it comes to choosing a travel deal on HauteLook Getaways, the retailer’s site for vacation deals, about 90% of shoppers who seek help from a customer service agent ask for assistance in making a purchase, with about 70% opting for live chat, he says.

And that’s good for HauteLook Getaways, because among travel shoppers who engage in a live chat session, about 13% complete a transaction, compared to 9% to 10% who convert after clicking a Discussion on a Getaways web page tab that can take up to a day to receive an answer; consumers who ask questions via that tab also can get their answers from other shoppers. Getaways travel deals are typically available for a few days before they expire.

“13% conversion rate is about what I expected from live chat, but I’d like to see improvement,” Purpura says. The retailer uses a live chat system that is part of an Internet-hosted customer relationship management system from RightNow Technologies Inc. 

One way he expects to increase the live chat conversion rate is by working with agents to provide a better mix of information and friendly communications—a tactic that is more challenging in live chat sessions than in phone calls, where it’s easier to engage in friendly small talk while researching information for customers, Purpura says.

Indeed, in analyzing customer survey data compiled through the RightNow software, HauteLook, No. 156 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide has found that 90% of customer service phone sessions get a “satisfied” or “very satisfied” rating, compared with about 80% for live chat sessions. E-mail comes in a distant third, probably because customers must wait up to a day for e-mail responses to their questions, Purpura says. He declines to give the score for e-mail communications.

But live chat is more efficient—agents typically handle from 90 to 120 live chat sessions per day, compared to 60 to 70 for phone calls—giving HauteLook good reason to work to improve the skills of live chat agents, Purpura says.

In ongoing training classes, live chat agents are learning how to be more personal in their communications while also being informative and efficient, he adds. “We don’t ever want a HauteLook member to wonder if they just received a self-service type of answer to their live chat question,” he says.

HauteLook is a unit of Nordstrom Inc., No. 34 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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