Web Chat and Messaging in Customer Service.
There is no question that digital channels and new technologies are rapidly transforming the customer service industry.
Automation is making it easier than ever for agents to detect and address problems and, to a significant extent thanks to the proliferation of messaging apps, customers can contact you to solve their problems through multiple channels.
Text-based channels, such as web chat and messaging apps, are taking on an increasingly important role in the world of customer contact.
In fact, some research suggests that people prefer communicating with brands via messaging and that this preference leads to greater brand loyalty.
However, we need to be wary about using the results of such studies as definitive proof that chat and messaging are going to automatically deliver a better customer experience.
In fact, there are instances where these tools could actually have the opposite effect.
The Benefits of Web Chat and Messaging
Before going too far, though, let’s take a moment to understand why chat tools are becoming so popular in the world of customer service.
Most of us can remember a time when calling a customer service line meant being stuck dealing with automated operators. And most of us remember how this used to drive us mad!
So why are people going crazy for chat?
On the customer side of things, chat can be tremendously convenient. Instead of having to search through forums or other troubleshooting manuals, or wait on hold for an agent, people can simply type their question into a chat box and get a response much quicker.
On the other side, chat requires fewer agents spending less time compared to the traditional voice model.
In short, it appears chat helps save time (and money) on both sides of the customer service operation.
Because of this, we should all rush to implement web chat as soon as we can, no? Not so fast! It turns out things are not that simple.
Remember the Customer Journey
Before making any big changes to your customer service operation, it’s important to first spend some time considering the journey your customers take when they need to interact with you.
For many, this journey begins on your website. If they cannot find the answer there, they will contact you directly. Historically this would be over the phone but now, by offering chat or messaging, you can replace the phone with a channel which is both less costly to deliver and potentially provides a better customer experience.
However, in some instances, the use of chat, or perhaps better put, the improper use of chat, actually has a reverse effect.
When people see that they can simply contact you via chat to answer their questions, they do so without first looking themselves for the answer on your website.
As a result, contact volumes to your customer service centre can go up massively compared to what you experience with phone calls. This is because many customers use this channel rather than self-service on the website (e.g. via an FAQ page). This unexpected increased workload can easily result in reduced customer experience, as you simply don’t have the number of agents to cope with the unforeseen volumes in a timely manner.
A solution to this might be to scale up and add more customer service agents, but this can undermine the financial business case from moving from voice to chat!
In this scenario, the challenge in your customer service operation is not a lack of agents. The challenge is to optimise your website for customer service.
A comprehensive knowledge tool, such as a common knowledge base used by your customer service agents, underpinning an easy to reach, engaging to use, intuitive and fast FAQ page is one way to achieve this.
Choosing the right time to offer chat is another.
Choosing the Right Time
It’s probably best to offer chat only once you know the customer has already searched your FAQs and has not been able to find the answer (quickly).
This way, you can ensure customers who do contact you are only those who have been unable to self-serve on your website. In other words, you ensure that everyone who contacts you really needs to.
It can be tempting to offer automated chatbots at this point. However, in this scenario, you should be wary of offering chatbots. After all, if your chatbot and FAQs are both relying on the same knowledge base, then the chatbot will not be able to provide a better answer beyond that which is available on your website. This is likely to frustrate the customer rather than delight them and prompt them to call in (in a negative frame of mind).
Yet this does not mean that these automated solutions and chatbots have no place at all — just not one in that particular stage of the customer journey.
An Elegant Approach
The problem we are dealing with at this point in time is that people seem to prefer using chat when contacting a company. However, as we’ve discussed, chat can also pose a risk to the customer experience.
As customer service professionals, we need to identify ways to combine the convenience of chat with something that actually provides a quality service.
One way might be to replace the FAQ page entirely and front the knowledge base with a virtual agent (a nicer term for a chatbot), which provides a natural language interface to the knowledge base. A conversation with a virtual agent will help people to quickly and pleasantly find their answer.
However, you should always include the ability to seamlessly hand-over (‘escalate’) from the virtual agent to a live agent. But if you do this, ensure the conversation between the customer and the virtual agent is first presented to the (live) agent’s screen, as this will prevent customers from having to repeat themselves and improve the initial response the agent provides the customer.
By analysing (either manually or automatically using machine learning) how agents solved these escalated chats, you can iteratively improve the virtual agent so that it answers even more questions itself and incrementally reduces the volume of chats needing a live agent. This improves customer service and saves you money.
Chat certainly has a big place in the world of customer service. It offers a unique combination of benefits to both companies and their customers. But for it to be successful, it’s important to take the customer journey into account.
Inserting chat into the right part of this journey can add great value for both you and the customer, but putting them in the wrong place can increase customer frustration, increase costs, and diminish your ability to deliver a quality customer experience.
Effectively, this is an example of an evolution of an ‘omni-channel’ model into an ‘opti-channel’ approach. This means providing the optimum (most appropriate) channels at the right point in the journey instead of offering every possible channel to a customer at every point of their journey, regardless of whether this will actually help them.
How to Successfully Map Your Contact Centre Environment to the Customer Journey
The Contact Centre remains at the centre of customer service, but it is no longer a physical location with agents on phones. Instead, it represents an amalgam of technologies, processes, people, and skills that can make or break a brand’s reputation.
If you create a customer journey map, you can align your customer contact channels with the moments of truth or customer pain points to better serve your customers, improve customer satisfaction, and do so more cost effectively!