As a channel, chat has been around for a while, but it is now moving centre stage when it comes to Customer Experience.

Consumers like its ease of use and how it lets them have a real-time conversation without picking up the phone.

And with consumers increasingly adopting mobile messaging apps, people are becoming more familiar with the chat experience. This is great for brands because chat agents can handle multiple conversations at once, pushing up productivity and reducing the number of incoming queries by phone.

In fact, 65 percent of consumers say they are more likely to use chat now compared to five years ago. This comes from a survey of 1,000 UK consumers conducted as part of the wider Eptica 2017 UK Chat Study which also evaluated the chat capabilities of 100 UK brands.

Given the choice, the research reveals 68 percent of people say they’d turn to chat instead of using the telephone; 67 percent would use it ahead of email and 72 percent instead of social media.

Why do so many people prefer chat?

68 percent say its strongest feature is the ability to hold a real-time conversation with a brand, compared to the delayed nature of communications via email or social media. For quick, timely in-the-moment interactions, chat is perfect.

Importantly for brands, effective chat also has the potential to drive brand loyalty; 72 percent of consumers say a good chat experience makes them more loyal.

When it comes to the chat experience being delivered, the positive news is that answers provided on chat (from those of the top 100 brands that responded on the channel) had a very high (89 percent) level of accuracy. And, on average, chat sessions took just two minutes and 14 seconds to provide satisfactory answers.

Common complaints about chat

So far, so good. But digging deeper into the data reveals that many customers are frustrated with the chat experience. For example, just 15 percent say they are always happy with the chat experience.

Among the things that people complain about are a lack of knowledge, context, and resources when it comes to chat. 60 percent of consumers say agents don’t have access to the right information; 54 percent say they have to repeat themselves on chat (rather than brands using the context of previous interactions to deliver a personalised service); and 69 percent often/always have to queue, or find chat is not working.

The lack of resources is probably the biggest gripe people have. In Eptica’s evaluation, 49 out of 100 brands claimed to offer chat, but only 22 percent had it working when approached.

On top of this, nearly two thirds (64 percent) of consumers say they want to be offered proactive chat when they are stuck or need assistance on a website – but only 46 percent feel it is provided when they need it.

So, while consumers really like chat, the study suggests brands are not embracing this opportunity to interact with them on a channel they prefer.

What needs to change?

Here are five important best practice suggestions that brands should consider:

1. Match chat resources to demand

You want chat to be available whenever customers need it, but that doesn’t mean you want a large dedicated chat team available around the clock – even at off peak times when demand is lower.

The answer is to invest in scalable technology that makes it easy for agents to handle increasing chat workloads when things get busy. And consider multi-skilling existing agents so that they can cover chat conversation as well as other channels to cope with peaks and troughs in demand.

2. Integrate chat within your business

Chat has to be fully integrated with your CX platform and where possible connected to other systems, such as ecommerce (which can highlight insights about a customer’s recent interactions so agents can provide responses in context).

If you run standalone chat, you are creating additional costs, inconsistent answers, and damaging the Customer Experience by not having the ability to link and escalate to those other channels. 

3. Make knowledge & Natural Language Processing a priority

As well as extending your centralised knowledge base to support digital channels and chat, build in artificial intelligence (AI) tools, such as Natural Language Processing (NLP).

These work by automatically analysing consumer questions and recommending relevant answers to agents to improve accuracy, consistency, and productivity. This sort of AI is also the logical first step towards introducing chatbots.

4. Use chat to help customers when and where they need it

Define rules that maximise the help offered by proactive chat at key points in customer journey. To provide a superior experience, provide co-browsing and ‘remote control’ functions such as allowing chat agents to guide website visitors through form filling and any issues they have on the customer journey.

And as 52 percent of consumers want mobile friendly chat, make sure that your chat is accessible through any device. 

5. Prepare for the future

Chat is still evolving, so make sure you explore emerging areas such as chatbots and video, and extend chat facilities into Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp if this is want your customers want.

Another consideration could be video chat (something that 30 percent of survey respondents said they’d be happy to use) which has advantages for many businesses, such as making it easy to help consumers set-up or even put products together.

Chat is really coming into its own now and consumers seem to be keen to use it. It’s good for brands too, because it helps to drive up agent productivity and enhance customer loyalty.

So it’s surprising that leading companies don’t seem to be acting on this. It’s time to put in place the resources and an effective strategy to maximise the chat experience.

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