Chat as a Channel for Customer Service Delivery

December 2012

Customers are looking for new channels to get information and assistance and different generations prefer different channels. Online chat is a relatively new option for inbound assistance that is both cost effective and leads to high customer satisfaction scores. Chat as a channel is typically provided through an online portal for an inbound customer service department or an internal shared services knowledgebase. The chat feature can be a button or pop-up that allows the customer to easily connect with an online representative for quick assistance.

Companies originally adopted chat as a channel to adjust to changing demographics and reach disabled customers, but utilization has grown thanks to high customer satisfaction, lower costs and increasing opportunities for outsourcing. Early adopters saw a younger generation who preferred email and messaging services, and adopted chat as a channel to reach those new customers. Over time, chat as a channel for inbound customer service centers has grown from almost nothing to 3% of total cases handled. Over 10% of internal shared services centers utilize chat as a channel as well. Chat is often used alongside traditional phone and email cases. The chat is received and answered by a live customer service representative. The transcript is archived in the service center and can be emailed to the customer for reference.

Implementation of a chat feature is most successful with an existing service center. Service center representatives require specialized training and a different skill set to be able to maximize the chat feature service delivery. The rollout of chat should be timed with any required systems implementations, re-training for support center staff, and a marketing plan aimed at target users. Companies that have successfully implemented chat have staggered the rollout of the new channel to start with high impact or high value customers. Staggering the rollout allows service centers to identify training gaps, determine topics that don’t lend themselves well to the chat function and ensure continued quality service delivery. Chat can be easily integrated into the internal case management system and the customer-facing websites.

Many systems providers already have optional add-ins or the capability for a chat feature. Depending on when chat is launched, companies should use existing channels to help market their new service. This can include messaging on the IVR system to inform callers of the new function or imaging and icons within the customer-facing website. Using these marketing options can help target those high-impact customers who are most likely to benefit from the chat feature.

When training employees to receive cases via chat, managers should look for candidates that are able to multi-task and are comfortable with multiple technologies and systems. Candidates must also be website and computer savvy and have strong typing and written communication skills. Most service center representatives have difficulty switching back and forth between phones and chat services. Organizations that handle multi-channel cases well train all their employees on every channel, but have specialists that focus on chat cases. Those chat specialists should be able to handle 2-3 chat sessions at any given time. Chats that are handled effectively are usually answered within 20 seconds, similar to a phone call. Duration of a chat can depend on the issue, but it can be shortened with technology add-ins that can auto-populate responses based on past chats and knowledgebase information.

Expansion of service delivery channels can help customer service centers handle more cases and reach more customers. Online chat features can be an efficient channel for expanding services and improving satisfaction.

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