November 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

We need to chat

(Page 2 of 2)

Purpura hopes the training will lead to chat sessions that tell shoppers what they need to know while providing friendly chit-chat—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 a customer's question, Purpura says.

The trick to chat

The trick for live chat agents, he adds, is to try to put in writing the kind of empathy for customers' concerns that comes more easily on the phone. "We point out the positive, that this is how we can offer such a great deal," Purpura says.

So far, live chat is showing positive results, though its effectiveness in engaging, satisfying and converting shoppers can vary with the kind of shopping they're doing, Purpura says.

When fashion apparel shoppers log onto fashion apparel site looking for a limited-time deal, for example, 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, Purpura says. Most customer service contacts at the daily deal apparel site deal with shipping and other post-orders matters.

But when it comes to choosing a travel deal on HauteLook Getaways, about 90% of shoppers who seek help from a customer service agent are seeking assistance in making a purchase, with about 70% of them 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 tab on a Getaways web page, which lets visitors ask questions of other consumers, a process than can take up to a day to produce an answer. Getaways travel deals are typically available for a few days before they expire.

Pushing performance

But HauteLook wants even higher conversions. "13% conversion rate is about what I expected from live chat, but I'd like to see improvement," Purpura says.

He also expects to raise live chat's customer satisfaction ratings, he adds.

As another way to improve live chat performance, he plans to work with RightNow to let live chat reps as well as other customer service agents use an internal live chat help desk system to quickly check information from staff experts on such matters as product design, inventory availability and shipping status. With all internal as well as external live chat sessions recorded in the RightNow system, the help desk will enable HauteLook to analyze how well its agents' questions are being answered, and whether agents are frequently asking the same questions, Purpura says.

As HauteLook improves its use of live chat, it's also offering chat on more places on its web site, including product and checkout pages, as well as in its Apple and Android mobile apps. Although the retailer doesn't offer live chat on social network pages, it sees customer communications through live chat, phone, e-mail and social media all complementing one another.

HauteLook is continuing to work with RightNow to integrate communication records from all of these communication channels, enabling its customer service agents to respond to customers' past questions regardless of where they placed them. "Our live chat agents can see a customer's past questions on Facebook, live chat sessions, phone calls and e-mail messages," Purpura says, "and say 'I see you called last week. Did you get that taken care of? Is there anything else I can help you with?'"

Abt Electronics has also found its live chat system, from Bold Software LLC, to be a good way to monitor customers' questions over time. "If we see the same questions pop up over and over in live chat, we may realize there's a problem we need to correct," Abt says.

That's just one example of how retailers like HauteLook and Abt are building on what they've learned to make live chat even more effective in the future.

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