Interactive Chat Drives Improved Engagement

Posted by Matthew Vallance

I have talked before about social media engagement and how this explosion in channels has changed customer service in the past five years, but there is a similar technology that has been with us far longer – interactive chat.

Instant messaging has been around for almost as long as the web itself. ICQ dates back to 1996 and popular tools - such as Yahoo! Messenger - have been around since 1998. People have been using chat for almost twenty years now so it is a far more mature communication medium than the new social channels.


According to Forrester Analyst, Kate Leggett, there is resurgence in the use of chat for customer service. By combining the use of chat with data analysis of customer behaviour in real-time, a very powerful process of proactive chat can be introduced.

To illustrate what this means, imagine you were on the website or phone app of a clothes retailer. You drop some items in the basket, remove others, and keep switching between the basket and the preview of the items because you just aren’t sure if the shirt matches the trousers. Then a chat window pops up and an agent asks ‘I can see that you are a bit unsure about some of these items. Is there anything I can do to advise or help you?’

To some it may sound creepy, as if the retailer is watching your behaviour, which is actually the case, but this is really just the electronic version of a shop assistant coming over to help in person when they can see that you need advice.

The Forrester data applies to the US market, but I can see similar sentiment from consumers in the UK so it is worth checking. Almost half (44%) of US consumers say that they really appreciate this kind of pop-up help and this compares to 33% in 2012 and 27% in 2009 – so customers are getting more familiar with this kind of assistance.

Kate Leggett believes that there are many quantifiable benefits to this form of proactive chat: “It helps increase customer satisfaction, decrease operational costs of serving customers, decrease shopping cart abandonment, increase average order value, increase conversion and positively influences top line revenue.”

That covers pro-active chat – but there are other interactive chat options such as reactive web chat and video chat – which are equally easily accessible, deliver the highest levels of customer experience, and also improve conversion rates. Specifically next-generation services like video chat are finding increasing traction; businesses are using it effectively as a great alternative to voice, while creating enhanced experiences especially when buying or selling at a lifestyle level.

But the really important statistic that I think is a game-changer for more chat in customer service today is that it is accepted and used by all generations. We know that older customers still prefer to call for help and younger customers are rapidly moving away from voice to social channels, but every age group finds chat to be a very useful channel for customer support.

Forrester suggests that even the older demographics, such as Older Boomers (57-67) and the Golden Generation (68+) use chat widely. With this wide acceptance, chat is possibly the most important customer service channel of all and the power of proactive chat to create positive experiences and close more business is a strategy that customer service decision makers need to explore in more detail.

Have you deployed chat as an effective customer engagement tool ? Tweet me your thoughts on @vallancematt.


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