Ecommerce professionals must choose the best options for online live chatEcommerce professionals are always striving for a better customer experience. A popular method is to provide real-time answers through online live chat software. With the thousands of choices for online chat — even free options in CRM and online shopping software — how do you pick the right option for your website?

If you Google “online chat,” you will get 3.5 billion (yes, with a “b”) results. Chatting is one of the first popular functions of the Internet (CompuServe, AIM, IRC, etc.) even before web browsing.  With its ease of use and low cost, it’s popular with ecommerce websites to provide customer service and answer pre-sales questions.

With social media, chat services, texting, and website chatting features, customers have more ways to communicate with your company than ever before. I will not go into great details about social media, texting, or chat services such as Hangouts, Slack, Teams, and others. This article will focus on how to communicate with your online shoppers through website live chat.

Evaluate your needs for online chat

Ecommerce has always known the value of communicating with the customers, especially during the sales process. How do you get valuable information to the buyer at the right time for them to make a purchase decision? How do you reduce cart abandonment, increase average order size (AOV) and, better yet, how do you provide exceptional customer service so shoppers come back to your website for more? Many ecommerce professionals already know that adding real-time answers through online chat provides an instant channel to answer customer questions and reduce cost.

So take a minute to evaluate your needs. What is the purpose of providing live chat on your website? Here are a couple of common reasons:

  • Sales – Online shoppers need some guidance. When faced with literally thousands of choices, how will they know the best product to fit their need? Having a product expert available to answer questions in real-time will create a valuable experience for the customer. Online chat has been proven to increase sales, increase average order value (AOV) through product recommendations, and increase total lifetime value of each customer.
  • Customer service – Many websites simply want to reduce their costs for customer service using chat. Staffing and manning call centers are expensive and chat offers a quick way to answer immediate questions, handle returns, settle disputes, and take care of your customer’s needs after purchasing the product.
  • Product support – If your product has a learning curve or you need some technical knowledge to use or consume the product, you may need to provide product support. Chat is a great way to fulfill those needs without the customer having to wait on long call queues or for a return email.

In my experience, 62% of online chatters coming through a website were existing customers looking for customer service or support. This can quickly be frustrating to a sales group who is driven by a quota.

What resources do you have to support chat?

You realize the value of using online chat, but how are you and your customer experience team going to support it? Providing a real-time feature, but leaving your shoppers hanging with slow responses will give them a bad experience. Will you have to expand your internal team? Will you have to outsource? How can you support it 24/7? What if you need additional languages?

Supporting a team internally is a great way to get the best support for your customers. But it will be expensive. You’ll need to pay your employees including benefits, staff at critical times, and potentially increase the number of chat agents for peak times (i.e. Black Friday).

Outsourcing is a popular option as well. It’s cheaper than an internal team since you pay per chat. And you can compensate for peak times, languages, and follow-the-sun support. However, there are hazards to outsourcing. Many shoppers are frustrated with non-native speakers, lack of product knowledge, and the high costs of training. Also keep in mind that outsourced chat agents may also work on more than one contract, diluting their attention and knowledge on your brand.

Types of chat solutions

Chatbots and AI

When most people think of chat, traditional live chat comes to mind. However, there is a huge trend moving to chatbots and artificial intelligence (AI). As Siri, Alexa, and Hey Google get smarter, so does chatting software. This is a great solution and will only get better over the years. However, it still has a bad rap from the days of all of us shouting into a phone “customer service” over and over again only to hear “I heard, ‘discontinue service’” when calling the cable company.

Believe it or not, there is a difference between chatbots and AI. Chatbots identify patterns and spit out pre-canned messages defined by the person behind the current. Think of it as complex automation that is customized by the marketer to help with online chat.

Chatbots will get stuck eventually. If your questions are complex enough, they will switch over to a live agent or give you the “I don’t have an answer for you, please wait for my manager…” type message. The administrator looks through all the questions that couldn’t be answered and fills in the blanks or defines how the chat goes.

AI is getting really cool. AI actually learns from not having the answer. It’s also working on developing more natural language and can learn from a live agent.

Right now, chatbots and AI have the ability to answer customer service questions and effectively direct traffic. These are good customer service solutions but have yet to prove themselves for online sales. Coupling a chatbot or AI solution with live chat agents provides a great hybrid solution for those looking to provide the next level of customer experience.

Live Agent Chat

Of course, the best solution is to couple a live agent with those asking questions online. (See above for arguments of in-house vs outsourced agents) There is a myriad of chat solutions for your website that are available for you and your customer experience team. You can purchase some for a minimal cost that integrates with your website. Most modern CRM or marketing automation tools have a website chat offering that is easy to integrate into your website.

Some of these chat tools are good and some are very basic. What drives a decision into the type of chat engine will most likely be the effort to customize the experience to fit with your brand and the chat’s integration into existing sales and marketing tools.

What kind of experience would you like for your customers?

Customer experience makes or breaks online shopping. It’s easy to set up a shop online, but what makes a difference is how a consumer gets information about products and services that are offered and how quickly they go from browser to buyer. Because customer experience is so important, it’s the topic of a myriad of blogs and articles as well as fostered thousands of tools.

I’ve used websites that have customer reviews, product descriptions, Q&A, star ratings etc. But there comes a time when you have a thousand choices, you are looking for the right size, had questions about features, wondered about size, use, etc that either took you a long time to find an answer or didn’t have the answer at all. Did it drive you away from the site?

Real-time online chat is a critical tool for many brands. Effectively using online chat gives consumers a way to get immediate answers to questions.

Hybrid approach

Now that you have some ideas of your needs and how to support an online chat solution, let me make a proposal. Imagine being able to support customer service and sales and build an exceptional customer experience for your customers that will make them a lifetime customer? My proposal: couple Needle online chat with a chatbot engine.

Needle takes the experience one step further by taking third-party advocates of your brand and using them for chat agents. When it comes to selling, using a customer who is fanatic about your brand and products has been proven to greatly increase sales, AOV, and customer lifetime value.

WIth a chatbot guiding traffic and Needles just-in-time approach to the sales process, you can create a hybrid online chat experience that will satisfy your customer’s needs. It’s worth checking out Needle and how they can make a difference for your online company.


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