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Contact Center Behavioral Purchase Intent Drivers: Empathy & Competence

As bank contact centers transition from service hubs to sales centers. It is instructive to investigate which service attributes and behaviors will yield the most ROI in terms of driving sales through the contact center channel.

Previously we explored which service attributes will yield the most ROI in terms of driving purchase intent.

Beyond the attributes measured in the previous post, Kinesis also performed mystery shop observations of specific behaviors across six institutions with national scope to determine their relationship to purchase intent.

Greeting Behaviors

While the importance of a good first impression is true, across the four greeting behaviors measured, there does not appear to any significant differences between shops with positive purchase intent and shops with negative purchase intent.

Greeting Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Greet by identifying the name of the institution 99% 97%
Greet by identifying themselves 100% 97%
Ask name 78% 71%
Ask how they could assist 100% 98%

This is mostly due to the high rate of performance across these greeting behaviors.  Greetings are strong across all shops regardless of purchase intent.

Service Behaviors

With respect to broader service behaviors, the behaviors with the largest gaps between shops with positive purchase intent and those with negative purchase intent are: suggesting additional products and asking for the business (each with about 2 times as many shoppers who experience positive purchase intent observing these behaviors compared to shoppers who experience negative purchase intent).   Use name, use of understandable descriptions and clarity of speech round out the next three.

Ratio Increased PI to Decreased PI: Service Experience

Hold & Transfer Behaviors

When the shopper was placed on hold, five behaviors were measured.  Of these, giving an estimate of how long the customer will be on hold, and returning if the hold time exceed the original estimate to advice of the status of the call were the behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent.  Again, both with about 2 times as many shoppers who experienced positive purchase intent observing these behaviors compared to shoppers who experienced negative purchase intent.

Ratio Increased PI to Decreased PI: Hold Experience

Additionally, five transfer behaviors were measured.  Of these, the behavior with the strongest relationship to purchase intent by far is returning to explain any delay after 60 seconds.  With five times as many shoppers who reported positive purchase intent observing this behavior relative to those who reported negative purchase intent.

Ratio Increased PI to Decreased PI: Transfer Experience

Call Conclusion

Finally, at the conclusion of the call, asking how else the agent could be of assistance and thanking the shopper for choosing the institution were the two behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent.

Ratio Increased PI to Decreased PI: Conclusion of Call

Of the behaviors measured, a couple of common themes tend to be present in the behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent.  The behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent tend to deal with the themes of personalized service and valuing the customer.

These behaviors with strong relationships to purchase intent group into these two themes as follows:

Personalized Service/Empathy

  • If transfer hold time exceeds 60 seconds, explain delay and ask if customer wants to continue (this behavior 5 times more likely in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative)
  • Give estimate of hold time (2.1 times more frequent in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative)
  • If hold exceeds estimate, return with status update (1.8 times more frequent)
  • If transfer, stay on line until completed (1.6 times)
  • Use of name (1.5 times)
  • Ask how else could assist (1.5 times)

Valuing Customer

  • Suggest additional products or services (2.1 times more frequent in shops with positive purchase intent)
  • Ask for business (1.9 times)
  • Thanks for choosing the institution (1.5 times)

To maximize purchase intent, focus agents on behaviors which personalize the service in an empathetic manner (care for the customer and their needs) and value their business.

Click here for a cross-tabulation of the raw data by purchase intent.



 

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Contact Center Purchase Intent Drivers: Empathy & Competence

Historically, bank contact centers have served primarily as service hubs, serving customers who call for information or are seeking assistance dealing with a problem in need of resolution.  As banks continue to transition into an omni-channel model where customers can interact with the institution across a broad spectrum of channels, the contact center is transitioning into a sales hub, where customers who have researched a product online may still want to speak with a person prior to completing the purchase.  As a result, contact center agents will require a new set of sales skills.

To help understand some of the new skill sets required of contact center agents as they transition from a service to sales role, Kinesis conducted mystery shops of six institutions with national scope to identify what customer experience attributes will yield the most ROI in supporting this sales role.

Our conclusion is customers want empathy and competence.  They want agents who both care about their needs and can satisfy those needs.

Kinesis performed an analysis of purchase intent to identify the attributes with the most potential for ROI in supporting a sales role.  We asked shoppers to rate the experience across a spectrum of service attributes on a 5-point scale where 1 is poor and 5 is excellent; as well assigning a purchase intent rating on a similar 5-point scale.  We then cross tabulated the results by purchase intent to identify which attributes have the largest gap between shops which reported positive purchase intent and those which reported negative purchase intent.

Mean Attribute Ratings By Purchase Intent

Confidence in the Agent, valuing as a customer, interest in helping and explain the products in understandable terms are the four attributes with largest gaps between shops with positive purchase intent and negative, followed by professionalism and job knowledge. Friendliness/courtesy was the attribute with the smallest gap.  While friendliness is important, when it comes to driving purchase intent, the attributes with the largest gaps are those related to care and competence.  Customers want agents who care about their needs, and are capable of delivering on those needs.

 

In a following post we will look at the relationship of specific sales and service behaviors to purchase intent.

Click here for a cross-tabulation of the raw data by purchase intent.

 

Click Here For More Information About Kinesis' Research Services

Contact Center Purchase Intent Drivers

Previously we explored which service attributes will yield the most ROI in terms of driving purchase intent.

Previously, we also explored the relationship of specific sales and service behaviors to purchase intent.

Cross Tabulation By Purchase Intent

Greeting Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Greet by identifying the name of the institution 99% 97%
Greet by identifying themselves 100% 97%
Ask name 78% 71%
Ask how they could assist 100% 98%

 

Hold Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Ask permission to be placed on hold first 85% 73%
Give the reason for being placed on hold 100% 88%
Give an estimate of how long you would be on hold 56% 27%
If the actual hold time exceeded the estimate, representative returned to the call to of the status 88% 50%
Thank for holding upon returning 96% 81%

 

Transfer Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Explain the reason for the transfer 99% 98%
Ask permission to transfer 84% 65%
Stay on the line until the transfer was answered by another representative 53% 33%
If hold time exceeded 60 seconds, return to explain delay and ask if you want to continue to hold. 35% 7%

 

Service Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Listen attentively 100% 88%
Use name at least once during the call 66% 44%
Use proper grammar 11% 96%
Speak clearly 98% 72%
Allow customer to speak first and finish your thought 99% 93%
Clarify all requests prior to processing the transaction 100% 80%
Maintain a friendly demeanor and pleasant voice throughout the call 100% 91%
Describe products or services in a manner that was easy to understand 100% 70%
Suggest additional products and/or services 71% 34%
Avoid bank jargon or other technical financial terms 100% 95%
Ask for business 88% 47%

 

Conclusion Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Thank for calling 98% 92%
Ask how else they could assist 95% 65%
Thank for choosing the institution 92% 66%

 

 

 Mean Attribute Ratings Increased Purch Intent Decreased Purch Intent
Job knowledge 4.9 4.0
Friendliness/Courtesy 4.9 4.3
Interest in Helping 4.9 3.8
Explaining products in understandable terms 5.0 3.9
Level of confidence in the representative 4.9 3.2
Valuing as a customer 4.9 3.5
Professionalism 4.9 4.0

 

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Measure and Motivate the Right Contact Center Agent Behaviors

Increasingly banks must operate in a multi-channel environment.  While the changing role of the branch, combined with automated channels such as online and mobile, are getting a lot of attention, there remains a key role for the contact center in delivering an effective customer experience.  Central to this key role is designing an effective customer experience, comprised of the right sales and service behaviors – those which influence customer attitudes and behaviors in a profitable way yielding the most return on investment.

To provide direction with respect to what sales and service behaviors will yield the most return on investment, Kinesis conducted a series of mystery shops to identify which sales and service behaviors have the most influence on purchase intent. In addition to observing specific sales and service behaviors, mystery shoppers were also asked to rate how the call would have influenced their purchase intent if they had been a real customer. This purchase intent rating was then used as means of calculating the strength of the relationship between each behavior and purchase intent.

To determine the relationship between these service attributes and purchase intent, the data for these different studies was cross-tabulated by the purchase intent rating and subjected to significance testing. [i]

When the percentage of calls in which purchase intent significantly increased is tested against the percentage of calls where purchase intent significantly decreased, nearly all the sales and service attributes are statistically significant at or above a 95% confidence level.

 

Significantly Increased Significantly Decreased Test Statistic
Product knowledge 98% 35% 9.6
Explanations easy to understand 99% 45% 9.0
When thanked, respond graciously 98% 42% 8.5
Friendly demeanor / pleasant voice 100% 60% 8.4
Express appreciation for interest / thank you for business 92% 20% 8.3
Listen attentively 99% 60% 7.3
Ask probing questions 79% 10% 6.4
Offer further assistance 85% 25% 6.2
Speak clearly and avoid bank jargon 98% 68% 5.8
Listen attentively to your needs 80% 25% 5.3
Mention other bank product 99% 75% 5.3
Clear Greeting 95% 60% 5.1
Invite you to visit branch 64% 10% 4.6
Explain the value of banking with bank 57% 5% 4.4
Offer to mail material / mention website 66% 20% 4.3
Ask your name 68% 25% 3.8
Ask for your business / close the sale 57% 21% 2.9
Avoid interrupting 100% 95% 2.9
If no one available to assist you, offered options 100% 0% 2.2
Professional greeting 98% 89% 1.9

 

The differences between the highest and lowest purchase intent for product knowledge and ease to understanding explanations are the most significant, while a professional greeting is the least significant.

Dividing these behaviors into rough quartiles and comparing them side-by-side, reveals some interesting observations:

 

 

Quartile I

Product knowledge

Explanations easy to understand

When thanked, respond graciously

Friendly demeanor / pleasant voice

Express appreciation for interest / thank you for business

 

Quartile II

Listen attentively

Ask probing questions

Offer further assistance

Speak clearly and avoid bank jargon

When thanked, employee respond graciously

 

Quartile III

Listen attentively to your needs

Mention other bank product

Clear greeting

Invite you to visit branch

Explain the value of banking with bank

Offer to mail material / mention website

 

Quartile IV

Ask your name

Ask for your business / close the sale

Avoid interrupting

If no one available to assist you, offered options

Professional greeting

 

The attributes with the most significant differences between high and low purchase intent ratings appear to be those associated with reliability and empathy.  It appears mystery shoppers valued such “core” attributes as product knowledge or interest/enthusiasm for the customer.  They seem to be less concerned with more peripheral service attributes, such as asking for names, etc.  Influencing purchase intent is not as simple as merely using the customer’s name or answering the phone within a short period of time.  Rather it is a much more challenging undertaking of being competent in your job and having the customer’s best interests at heart.

[i] Significance testing determines if any differences observed are the result of actual differences in the populations measured rather than the result of normal variation.  Without getting into too much detail, significance testing produces a test statistic to determine the probability that differences observed are statistically significant.  A test statistic above 1.96 equates to a 95% confidence level, which means there is a 95% chance any differences observed are the result of actual differences in the populations measured rather than normal variation.  For all practical purposes a test statistic over 3.1 means there is 100% chance the differences observed are statistically significant (although in reality the probability never reaches 100%).  Finally, in interpreting the following analysis, it is important note that test statistics are not lineal.  A test statistic of two is not twice as significant as a test statistic of one.  The influence on significance decreases as the test statistic increases.  However, the test statistic does give us an opportunity to rank the service attributes by their statistical significance.


Click Here For More Information About Kinesis'; Bank Mystery Shopping


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Clink Here for Mystery Shopping Best Practices

Own the Call: A Key to Customer Loyalty

What service attributes from your agents drive customer loyalty?

To answer this question, Kinesis conducted surveys of people who had recently called a contact center. Impressions of the customer experience with particular attention to the performance of the agent were collected across a variety of attributes. In order to determine the relationship of these attributes to customer loyalty, we identified each customer as a promoter or detractor as a result of the call, according to the Net Promoter methodology. Net Promoter is generally accepted as a strong proxy measurement for loyalty, and serves as the basis for evaluating the relationship of these attributes to customer loyalty.

It’s the People

Not surprisingly, the performance of the individual agent weighs heavily on customer loyalty. The average overall impression rating (on a 5-point scale) of the agent is 1.4 times higher in calls where the customer was identified as a promoter (4.9) compared to those identified as detractors (3.5).

Further evidence of the importance of the agent can be found in a comparison of the specific attributes ratings for promoters compared to detractors.

Promoter

As Result of Call

Detractor

As Result of Call

Took Ownership of Call 4.9 3.2
Confidence in Agent 4.9 3.3
Value as a Customer 4.8 3.6
Interest in Helping 4.9 3.8
Use of Understandable Terms 5.0 3.7
Job Knowledge 5.0 3.8
Professionalism 5.0 4.0
Friendliness/Courtesy 5.0 4.3

The agent taking ownership of the call and the confidence the customer had in the agent are both 1.5 times stronger in calls where the customer is a promoter as a result of the call, compared to calls where they are a detractor.

Own the Call

What does ownership of the call mean?

Ownership of the call was defined in this survey as the extent to which the agent appeared to be the voice of the company, took responsibility for the customer’s concerns, showed a desire to be of assistance, and advised of possible solutions and assured resolution.

Every time a company and a customer interact, the customer learns something about the company, and adjusts their behavior based on what they learn. When customers encounter a contact center agent who owns the call, they learn that the company, through the agent, cares about their needs, wants to help resolve the need, and will stay engaged until the need is met. Customers respond to this information with an increased desire to positively spread word of mouth, a behavior strongly correlated to customer loyalty.

What are some of the ways you take ownership of the call?


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Drivers of Purchase Intent in the Contact Center Experience in Retail Banking

What impresses customers positively as a result of a call to your call center?

Call Center Mystery Shopping

To answer this question, Kinesis conducted research into the efficacy of the bank contact center sales process by observing a battery of sales and service behaviors through the use of mystery shoppers. The objective of this study was to identify which sales and service behaviors drive purchase intent. (See the insert below for a description of the methodology).

The table at the end of this post shows the relative frequency in which each behavior was observed in shops where the shopper reported positive purchase intent as a result of the call, compared to shops with negative purchase intent.

The seven behaviors with the strongest relationship to purchase intent are:

  • Invite to visit a branch
  • If on hold, thank for waiting
  • Express appreciation for interest/thank for business
  • Offer further assistance
  • Mention/refer to website
  • Listen attentively to your needs
  • Offer to send material

Each of these behaviors is at least three times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to those with negative purchase intent.

Two observations jump out from this first group of behaviors:

First, integration of other channels into the sales process appears to drive purchase intent. Inviting the shopper to visit a branch was observed 6.4 times more frequently in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative. The branch still has a role in the sales process; other research consistently points to the convenience of branch location as a driver of selection of a primary financial institution. If contact centers leverage the branch during the sales process, they have a significantly better chance to advance the sale. Additionally, when the agent incorporated the website into the sales presentation, they also have a better chance of advancing the sale. Mentioning the website was 3.3 times more likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent compared to negative.

Secondly, the balance of these key behaviors all revolve around personal attention (thank for waiting on hold, offing further assistance, listening attentively, offer to send material) and interest in the customer’s business (express appreciation or thank for business).

Nine more behaviors were at least twice as likely to be present in shops with positive purchase intent:

  • Product knowledge
  • Ask for name
  • Ask for your business/close the sale
  • If on hold, check back in 1 minute
  • When thanked respond graciously
  • Ask probing questions
  • Explanations easy to understand
  • Explain the value of banking with bank
  • Thank for calling

The themes most common in this second group of behaviors that appear to influence purchase intent are competence (product knowledge, easy to understand explanations), personal attention (asking name, checking back on hold, probing of needs) and interest in the customer’s business (ask for business, express value, thank for calling).

So…what drives purchase intent as a result of a call to a contact center? Integrating other channels into the conversation, and sincerely expressing interest in the customer broadly drive purchase intent.

Frequency Behavior Observed in Shops with Increased and Decreased Purchase Intent:

Increased Decreased
Invite to visit a branch 64% 10%
If on hold, thanked for waiting 97% 20%
Express appreciation for interest / thank you for business 92% 20%
Offer further assistance 85% 25%
Mention/refer to website 66% 20%
Listen attentively to your needs 80% 25%
Offer to send material 97% 31%
Product knowledge 98% 35%
Ask for name 68% 25%
Ask for your business/close the sale 76% 32%
If on hold, check back in 1 minute 94% 40%
When thanked respond graciously 98% 42%
Ask probing questions 94% 42%
Explanations easy to understand 99% 45%
Explain the value of banking with bank 88% 43%
Thank for calling 99% 50%
Friendly demeanor / pleasant voice 100% 60%
Clear Greeting 95% 60%
Avoid bank jargon 98% 68%
Use name 96% 67%
Mention other bank product 99% 75%
Good pace 98% 75%
Wait for response before placed on hold 100% 80%
Demonstrate understanding of question 100% 81%
Answered in 3 rings 99% 88%
Speak clearly 99% 88%
Professional Greeting 98% 89%
Avoid interrupting 100% 95%

 

Methodology

To evaluate the state of the in-branch sales process, Kinesis mystery shopped five banks with significant North American footprints. Among the objectives of the study were to:

1) Define the sales process among different institutions.

2) Evaluate the effectiveness of specific sales behaviors.

Shoppers were asked a mixture of closed-ended questions to evaluate the presence or frequency of specific behaviors, and open-ended questions to gather the qualitative impressions of these behaviors on the shoppers – in short the how and why behind how the shopper felt. Finally, to provide a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of each sales behavior, shoppers were asked to rate their purchase intent as a result of the visit. This purchase intent rating was then used as a means of evaluating what behaviors tend to be present when positive purchase intent is reported as opposed to negative purchase intent.


Click Here For More Information About Kinesis'; Bank Mystery Shopping

Cheer Up: Improve your reps’ job satisfaction to reduce turnover – and raise sales

Author: Julia Chang, Staff Writer, Sales & Marketing Magazine
Reprinted from the Sales & Marketing Magazine
June, 2004

Cheer Up: Improve your reps’ job satisfaction to reduce turnover – and raise sales

When the economy soured and the number of sales jobs shrunk, managers had little incentive to improve job satisfaction. But with the market getting stronger, managers could find themselves dealing with flight risks: According to a recent survey by job site CareerBuilder.com, four in 10 sales professionals plan to look for better jobs in 2004.

Internal unrest can lead to low morale, and smart managers will work to mitigate discontent.

“You’ve got to catch dissatisfaction quickly,” says Jim Campbell, president of Performance Unlimited, a sales coaching and training firm based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “Even if you have one person who’s unhappy, it spreads. It’s the whole rotten-apple-spoils-the-barrel thing.”

Campbell recalls one recent client who suffered from a bad case of employee dissatisfaction. The client, a bank, was having problems with its 11-member internal sales and service department, whose job it was to train branch tellers and loan officers to sell new services. The department had recently expanded, but there was no unity among new and veteran members; a few even made it clear they were looking for new jobs. The bank’s performance was going south, and the manager was told he had to turn it around it around in six months – or lose his job.

Through team-building training, Campbell focused on topics like communication skills, creating a well-functioning team, and the effect of attitude on performance. Additionally, he held follow-up sessions for several weeks afterward to see how these new skills were being executed. He also individually coached the manager on his motivational and performance management skills. Team unity improved, and even those most vocal about their unhappiness stayed on. “They actually wanted to be part of the team, they just didn’t know how,” Campbell says, “They finally saw they could accomplish more in a team than as individuals.”

Happy employees yield more business. Campbell’s client saw the number of new loans and additional services sold increase following training, because employees were more enthusiastic in their training of branch workers. “In doing interviews with clients, we definitely see a link between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction,” says Eric Larse, Managing Member of Kinesis, a market research firm based in Seattle, that specializes in the customer experience. But, he says, an employee satisfaction culture has to start at the top. “It’s a strategic issue that rests at the highest levels of the organization.”


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The Ultimate Balancing Act

Reprinted from Call Center Magazine

May 6, 2002

Companies must keep tight control of budgets but not spending enough on agent training could cost them more in the long run. Here’s how to balance training dollars…

Click here for complete article

Cross-Channel Training

Imagine: You have call centers, print catalogs, an e-commerce Web site and retail outlets. And you just invested in a mega-million dollar CRM package.

But do agents know what is on your Web site, in your catalogs, and what sales are happening in your stores? Do agents and support reps know the contents and have access to your Web site’s FAQ?

If they don’t, then they should be brought up to speed. So says Peter Gurney, managing partner with Kinesis (Seattle, WA), who recommends that you train agents about your channels, how they interrelate and how they affect the total customer experience.

Too many companies do not train agents on other channels, resulting in a disjointed image of the company, missed sales opportunities and frustrated customers.

Sometimes customers call asking about a Web offer or a store sale, but the agents have no clue what they are talking about. And that will annoy customers and embarrass agents.

If customers go to a store, chances are someone there will know about your company’s Web site, catalog and call center. Web sites will have store locations and telephone numbers.

Gurney’s former firm, Service Intelligence, performed a mystery audit of several leading companies’ support desks in 1997 (as cited in the October 1997 issue of Call Center Magazine, “Keeping Your Support Center Afloat”). The audit found that many reps did not have the right answers and could not answer questions even though the answers were in the employer’s on-line FAQ. Little has improved since then, he notes.

“Call centers are not taking the customer experience across the channels but customers are channel-independent,” Gurney explains.


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ONLINE INTIMACY – Developing the Potential of Live Chat –

By: Lynne Taddeo

Several converging trends suggest that it is time to begin thinking seriously about live chat as a crucial component of the customer experience. Consider the following:

This year, Gartner estimates that 25% of all customer interactions will take place via Web-based communications (including email, live chat, web callback, etc.). By 2003, Forrester estimates this number at 56%.

  • At a time in which customer loyalty continues to elude online merchants, companies are finding that “superior online customer service has emerged as a key and – in many cases – the only means for businesses to differentiate themselves from the competition.” In fact, Bizrate reports that consumers cited “quality of customer support [as] the single most important factor driving repeat online sales, outstripping factors such as on-time delivery, ease of ordering, selection, and even price by healthy margins.”
  • Many consumers persist in their desire for a human element in the online experience. Yankelovich finds that 63 percent of people online say they won’t buy anything until there is more human interaction involved.” And a study by NFO Interactive found that nearly 35 percent of Internet shoppers said they would purchase a greater volume of products online if they could speak with a CSR at the time of their purchasing decision.”
  • Online chat is a more efficient medium than telephone: 1-800-Flowers reports that chat agents can handle four concurrent customers within about six minutes. Telephone inquiries average three minutes per call, thus half as efficient.

Thus, at a time when Web-based communications are becoming an ever greater part of the customer experience, when companies have the power to differentiate themselves by the quality of their customer service, and when consumers are clambering for a human touch in the online world, live chat offers an exciting and operationally efficient medium through which companies can connect with customers.

Corporations are catching on to the potential of live chat. Currently, only 2 out of 130 sites in a recent study offer live chat as an option. Yet IDC predicts that 70% of large corporations will install instant messaging software during the next 12 months and Yankee Group states that “live online interaction is the most frequently cited option among features to be added to corporate web sites in the next 12 months”. Retail sites that have initiated chat and personal shopper options include Polo.com, NeimanMarcus.com, Nordstrom.com, Ashford.com, Talbots.com, LandsEnd.com, EddieBauer.com, and REI.com.

Consumers enjoy live chat for the immediacy, intimacy, and convenience it offers. Browsers can easily obtain complex information from a customer service representative with a few clicks of the mouse. Our research revealed that many consumers prefer chat to telephone if asking intimate questions such as querying a retail representative on the cut of a garment or how sizes run. Chat offers the “immediate gratification” that analysts regard as fundamental to the appeal of the Web. And at a time when most home users continue to connect to the Internet via their single home phone line, the ability to communicate with a representative without having to log off the web to place a phone call is much more convenient. Even for those with multiple phone lines, Broadband or DSL, chat response times are often faster and far more appealing than the prospect of dialing a contact center, navigating through a VRU, and waiting for a representative to take one’s call. Moreover, live chat provides representatives the opportunity to build customer relationships with each interaction by giving customers “what they want, when they want it and how they want it.” Representatives can immediately push client-driven content directly to the customer’s desktop in a way, which is meaningful, tailored, and compelling.

Yet as with any current communication medium open to today’s consumers, companies must establish service and performance standards to ensure that representatives take advantage of the relationship-building potential of live chat without bungling the opportunity. In establishing these standards, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Respond Fast. The Web experience is all about immediacy and consumers unflaggingly demonstrate that they hate delays and will go elsewhere if forced to wait too long. Simple queries should be answered within 30-60 seconds, while up to 120 seconds of wait time is acceptable for customers asking more complex questions. If fully answering the customer’s question will take longer than two minutes, set the appropriate expectation with the user by explaining that you are happy to research their question, but it may take up to x minutes to fully address
  2. Provide meaningful and pertinent information. Live chat provides representatives with the opportunity to “wow” their customers with detailed, meaningful, and confidently delivered product information. Yet it is equally important to answer the customer’s question in a concise and relevant manner. Avoid the pratfall of barraging chat customers with product information that is ancillary to their original request.
  3. Respect the customer’s choice of medium. One of the best practices to emerge this year is Eddie Bauer’s commitment to let the customer choose which medium they want to utilize and to provide superior customer service without attempting to move the customer to a more automated and cost-effective channel. I recently engaged with a live chat representative who offered to help me find the product I was looking for at a rather high-end retailer’s site. Anticipating appropriate screens pushed to my desktop, which detailed my product options, I was acutely disappointed to be directed to the site’s search engine for self-service. Customers engage live chat for a reason. They either can’t find the information they are looking for or require more detailed and tailored assistance. Respect their choice of medium and fulfill their needs through the channel they have chosen.
  4. Proper grammar, spelling and courtesies are compulsory. Customers will easily form a poor impression of a company whose agents cannot spell or follow the rules of proper usage. Although chat is a fast-paced medium, attention to such details is crucial. In addition, agents must use proper courtesies such as thanking the customer for their interest, etc.
  5. Continually update site FAQs to eliminate redundancy. Web customers generally prefer self-service and will answer their own questions if possible. By updating site FAQ’s to reflect common chat queries, companies can eliminate redundancy and allow chat agents to focus on complex inquiries and genuine human personalization.
  6. Offer live chat to all users. Although chat is a more time-efficient medium than telephone, there is a human cost to its usage. For this reason, many sites are considering offering live chat only to their most valuable customers. While this strategy may be invisible in the short-term, we believe that it will backfire in the long run. With the growing ubiquity of instant messaging and the growth of live chat on retail sites, customer expectations will rise and consumers will eventually demand live chat. In addition, customers are “catching on” to CRM-based personalization efforts, which often result in high-net worth customers’ calls being answered promptly while “less valuable” customers suffer long delays. While similar tools can customize Web-site options to only offer high-touch service to the most valuable customers, such tactics are offensive to ordinary consumers, jeopardize customer acquisition efforts and damage brand image.
  7. Finally, monitor chat agents’ interactions to ensure consistent quality. While customers crave a human touch in today’s web-based commerce, it is precisely the human element of chat that can leave your organization vulnerable to miscues. It is advisable to monitor a sample of your chat agents’ interactions to assess user-perceived speed, ensure consistency to basic protocols (spelling, grammar, courtesy), test product knowledge, and gauge responsiveness to customer requests. Third-party assessments may be preferable, as they prevent supervisor bias and provide an objective view of how your organization is viewed from the outside.

Multi-channel customer service offers companies unprecedented opportunity to develop profitable and long-term relationships with their customers. Customers who take advantage of multiple touch points are known to spend more with those organizations – Eddie Bauer reported that the value of clients utilizing multiple touch points does not increase in a linear fashion, but exponentially. And at a time when customers seek live human communication to enrich the web experience, “live chat provides the highest level of customer touch . . . to every Web visitor”. By taking advantage of this medium and practicing the above, companies will be poised to significantly enrich their overall customer experience, resulting in greater retention and revenue.


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