Let’s Chat

Let’s Chat-web

September 2018—

Is it time to add a live chat proponent to your store’s website?

The popularity of live chat as a customer service tool is soaring. Chances are you’ve used this tech tool yourself in the past year for your own personal shopping. Guess what? You’re not alone. You might be surprised to learn that about 45 percent of all American consumers over the age of 40—prime furniture-buying shoppers—used live chat to interact with a live agent last year, according to Forrester, a research and advisory firm.

There’s a lot to like about live chat. For starters, using live chat on your store’s website can keep you from losing customers. According to Forrester data, half of U.S. online adults will abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their questions (I did it three times this past month alone). Buying furniture is not as easy as buying a blouse. When you factor in upholstery, padding, internal composition and wood finishes, there’s a lot to consider. Live chat can instantly help answer some of those questions and make your store the go-to brand for product information. Sure, you still have to come up with a price that will convert lookers to buyers, but live chat keeps you in the front of the consumer’s mind.

This leads to the obvious: Live chat can also boost your store’s sales. Forrester says site visitors who use web chat are 2.8 times more likely to convert than those who don’t.

Forrester examined the websites of 10 major retailers (Amazon, Best Buy, Dell, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us, before it shut down) to see how they’re using chat. Here’s what you can learn from these big names about best practices, both customer-facing and internally, for using live chat.

Make it easy to use

All the retailers Forrester studied offer customer service chat, but it was typically not easy to find. In many cases, users must dig through the Contact Us section to find chat or fill out a form before starting a chat session. Why not put chat functionality on every page of your website, or at least the pages where customers are most likely to have questions?

Be proactive

Reactive chat means the customer must find the chat tool on the website and initiate the chat. Proactive chat, in contrast, reaches out to engage customers even when they haven’t asked for help.

You can add proactive chat to specific pages where customers tend to have questions—say special orders—or set up triggers so a chat window opens after a customer spends a certain amount of time on the same page. Proactive chat is a great way to help customers decide, instead of leaving your site (and possibly never returning) to get the information they need.

You can also use proactive chat to ask for feedback (especially after a purchase has been made) or to offer promotions and discounts to spur a purchase. Just one in 10 of the companies Forrester studied uses chat proactively for sales purposes, so clearly, there’s lots of opportunity here to get ahead of the curve.
Be responsive and communicative

The whole point of live chat is to reply to customers quickly, so make sure your business is set up to do that. Just starting the chat with a “hello” response lets the customer know there’s someone on the other end of the line. Once the conversation begins, the customer service rep assigned that day from your store should communicate with customers throughout the process. Even if the rep needs time to research a solution, they should let the customer know (“Give me just a few minutes to find that information for you”) and keep them updated periodically (“Thanks for your patience”).

Obviously not every furniture store can offer a 24/7 live chat. That’s fine. Just make sure that your website clearly states when live chat is available. You can even have your customers leave an email address or phone number for you to contact them the following day.

Use internal chat

When you combine customer service live chat with internal chat tools, your customer service employees can ask each other questions, collaborate on assisting customers, and otherwise be more efficient. Internal chat can also be used to “broadcast” alerts or messages to the entire team, saving time.

Enable shortcuts

The chat tool you choose should allow your chat agents to quickly type common messages with just a couple of keystrokes. For example, “Hi, this is Alex. How can I help you today?” This not only saves time and allows for faster service, but also helps keep messages typo-free, so your business looks more professional. Also, avoid fake names. You strive to have an authentic brick-and-mortar furniture store, one that is transparent and honest with customers. Why should your online presence be any different?

Avoid overloading agents

One more thing about those customer service agents. Live chat gives your customer service reps the ability to interact with multiple customers at once. However, you should know there’s a limit to how much agents can handle and still provide quality service. Think about the last time you were at a restaurant that was packed and the attention you got (or didn’t get!) from your server. How did that make you feel? Do you want your customers to feel the same about your brand?

Make sure the chat tool you choose has controls built in so you can limit how many customers can enter a chat queue, give agents automatic notification of new messages and otherwise help manage their workloads.

Collect and learn from data

Look for a live chat tool that records chats and saves them in customer history. This allows your customer service agents to quickly reference past conversations and prevents customers from having to repeat themselves over and over. Review live chat records to uncover the most frequently asked questions your customer service team encounters. Then put that information to work!

Use these questions to develop an FAQ section on your website for customers to use, and standard answers to common questions your customer service reps can refer to. You should also collect data about how satisfied customers are with live chat, how quickly issues are resolved, what percentage of customers use it, and other indicators of how well live chat works for your business compared with your other customer service channels.

Integrate chat

Many live chat communication platforms incorporate live chat along with voice, email, customer surveys and more—all with robust analytics tools to turn data into actionable insights you can use to improve the customer journey.

Live chat is the wave of the future. Imagine having one of your sales staff engaging with a customer and telling them your brand’s story before they’ve even set one foot in your store. Integrating these best practices into your store’s customer service operations will help you do just that—and help your business stay a step ahead of the competition.

RetailerNOW is changing.

Insights Magazine will be replacing RetailerNOW as the official publication of the Home Furnishings Association. With this change, you will be able to find the same great content on the HFA website. All current members/subscribers will automatically receive the new print editions. You can continue to view content on this website until January 2020.

About the Author

Rieva Lesonsky
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Weekly, a consulting company specializing in small businesses and entrepreneurship. Sign up for free small business stories and tips at smallbiztrends.com.