From holiday returns to hand-held upsells: How live chat drives loyalty and conversions after the holidays

By Steve Castro-Miller, president and CEO of Bold Software, steve@boldsoftware.com

While the weeks after the holiday shopping rush aren’t awash with the same glamour as their December predecessors, the opportunity for lasting business growth is no less present -- perhaps even more so. In the aftermath of the holidays, retailers are entrenched in the second wave of the season’s bustle, handling returns, processing exchanges and providing support. When a customer uses live chat on a retailer’s website to ask questions about or receive support for a holiday gift they received or even to inquire about how to return it, the interaction represents an opportunity to positively influence the customer’s perception of the retailer’s brand. 

According to a June 2010 independent research report by Forrester Research entitled “Making Proactive Chat Work”, “nearly one in five online U.S. consumers has used chat -- reactive or proactive -- for customer service in the past 12 months.” When implementing live chat, businesses often have a pre-conceived notion about the technology being specifically for sales OR service. However, savvy retailers realize that these days, you can't have one without the other. Live chat -- done right -- can be an effective tool for not only enhancing the overall customer experience but also for saving business and/or driving conversions by enabling agents to personalize interactions and help customers easily and quickly find the right answer or option for them -- without the customers ever having to leave the comfort of their homes or even needing to pick up the phone.

How can your business leverage chat technology most effectively to help turn returns into “saves” and drive customer loyalty? Here are four tips.

Tip #1: Employ Adaptive Messaging in Chat Interactions
As users of live chat technology know, canned messages help agents to respond more quickly to customer inquiries to better serve them. However, adaptive messaging takes that a step further. Adaptive messaging makes it possible for chat agents to find and deliver more accurate, intelligent messages to website visitors. Based on keywords in a visitor’s chat query, or from searches that agents initiate, adaptive messaging technology “learns” and presents agents with a series of targeted canned messages that adapt over time to become more accurate and relevant to customer needs, enabling faster and better communication between agents and customers. These messages can be easily customized as well, helping to personalize the interaction between the customer and agent and empower a more effective dialogue.

Tip #2: Ensure Every Chat Opportunity Possible is Acted Upon
Research shows that people who use chat technology are four times more likely to make a purchase than non-chatters. If you have chat agents available at all times for every customer or prospect that wants to communicate, you can maximize the benefits that chat affords. However, perhaps it is off-hours for your business, or there is a high volume of chats in the queue -- which could very well be the case after the holidays -- and people don’t want to wait. How can you capitalize on these potential missed opportunities? Determine whether your chat technology offers a way to recapture those visitors. For instance, if a visitor is still on your website when an agent becomes available, your chat technology may be able to proactively inform that agent, so they can immediately get back in touch with the visitor and drive a positive experience.

Tip #3:
Optimize Your Implementation
The data collected from customer visits to your website contains valuable information that can be analyzed and leveraged. You can identify your site’s most valuable levers to ensure the right messages are being delivered and that opportunities to convert interactions are maximized. For example, through analyzing chat dialogues you may be able to quickly identify that inquiries about a specific product are being raised more than others. From this data you can be more proactive in your approach and messaging and help to potentially save business or direct customers to alternate offerings that are suited to their needs. Your chat technology provider may be able to assist with this type of optimization as well.

Tip #4: Use Proactive Chat Appropriately to Deliver an “In-Store” Experience
Proactive chat takes live chat a step further and is the web version of a salesperson in a brick and mortar store asking a shopper if they need any assistance. Consumers who chat with an agent via an invitation-driven chat are six times more likely to buy than a regular website visitor. You can set up business rules to monitor where people are visiting on your site. As a result, you may see that one page with a specific product is visited more than others or that a specific product is being searched for more often than others. Being proactive about approaching site visitors to see if they might need any help may present an opportunity to retain business and drive new sales. However, proactive chat needs to be carefully implemented and managed so as not to be intrusive to a site visitor’s experience. Consider things like invitation placement and appearance, timing and messaging to avoid looking like “Big Brother” is watching.   

In closing
In a recent survey Bold Software conducted of 1,000 U.S.-based Internet shoppers, 44% of the sample said that they purchased as a direct consequence of being engaged in the chat interaction. Further, 68% of the sample said they were highly likely to visit the site again, and 77% of them said that the interaction positively influenced their attitude about the e-tailer. These statistics make a compelling argument for why retailers shouldn’t just “set and forget” their live chat implementation, but also invest some time in determining how to leverage it most effectively. Employing some of the above tactics after the holidays is the perfect opportunity to help turn customer service inquiries and returns into potential conversions and new sales for your business. It’s also a great opportunity to bolster customer loyalty, and that’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Steve Castro-Miller is president and CEO of Bold Software. He can be reached at steve@boldsoftware.com.