It took a long time to arrive, but online chat is now firmly established as a way for customers to talk to operators in the UK – whether to check their account balance, find out roaming charges or fix a technical problem.
BT currently offers chat for business customers, while T-Mobile and 3 customers can use instant messaging for technical, sales, billing and coverage advice.
In the US, it is fast becoming one of the most popular routes for customer support. Comcast, the largest cable and home internet service provider in the US, says that instant message communications have surpassed emails in popularity. Britain shouldn’t be far behind.
Technical support is one of its most obvious uses. Chat can be a more effective method of solving a technical problem than a phone conversation, since chat agents can use technology to diagnose problems with a cable-box or modem in a way that is not always possible over the phone. The success rates back this up: one UK mobile provider found that resolution rates from chat were 85%, compared to just 70% for email.
But there is a new technology, ‘proactive chat’, which promises to help telcos improve their online sales by proactively engaging with visitors to their website. A pop-up box appears on a visitor’s computer screen and asks them if they have any questions or need help – offering a live dialogue with an experienced customer service agent. This is particularly useful for helping customers browsing through handsets or phone packages.
Rather than accosting every passing surfer, proactive chat uses advanced analytics to determine how likely they are to buy. Telecom New Zealand use proactive web chat in parts of its website where consumers are considering purchases of TV channels, mobile, broadband and landline services.
Buying a new phone can be a confusing and complicated process and requires some level of personal interaction. It is a major drawback of online sales that, unlike in a brick and mortar store, there is usually no one who can clear up queries in ‘real time’. Chat changes this by giving customers live answers on everything from price plans to the differences between handsets.
One major telco in the UK is already reaping the benefits of this new technology, moving their online browser to buyer conversion from 1% to 12% by targeting selected web traffic.
For chat to be successful in the long run, telcos need to ensure that they have well-trained, well-resourced agents with good written English. And, although agents can cope with more than one chat at a time, it is vital that they aren’t over-stretched.