Customer service is one of the most important aspects of retail, and all businesses should invest in a robust support system. This is particularly important for online retailers. According to a recent survey, around 83% of consumers regularly need some form of support when making purchases online.
Customer Service – the assistance and advice provided by a company to those people who buy or use its products or service’
Failing to help these customers can have serious repercussions. Bad customer service reflects poorly on a company, and can seriously damage even the most popular brands. It can also lead to lost revenue. Some 45% of US shoppers will abandon an online transaction if they don’t receive a prompt reply from the customer service department.
Flawed Models of Customer Service
Most e-commerce sites offer a point of contact for customer queries. This is typically a phone number or email address. However, these traditional support methods are often slow and inefficient – and this is reflected in consumer opinion. In 2013, 66% of customers reportedly switched to a different company because of poor customer service. Some of the most common complaints include:
- Having to contact the company several times for the same reason
- Being kept on hold for a long time when contacting the company
- Having to deal with employees or FAQ guides that cannot solve the problem
Phone support is particularly loathed by consumers. Large companies typically outsource their customer support to large call centres – often overseas. While it reduces costs, this can create significant problems for customers. Some of the biggest frustrations include expensive phone bills, lengthy hold queues, unhelpful operators, and frequent call transfers.
Business owners must take great care when choosing a customer support system. Efficiency, speed and a great overall user experience are the most important factors. The chosen method must be able to solve most customer enquiries during one interaction, and questions should always be answered quickly and effectively.
The Live Chat Antidote
Live chat is a relative newcomer on the customer support scene. It is hoped that this new method of support will solve some of the most common problems faced by online retailers. Indeed, when implemented correctly, live chat is the perfect antidote to slow and inefficient customer service.
Live chat support is certainly growing in popularity amongst e-commerce websites. Since its conception, a number of high-profile online retailers such as Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft have adopted the technology. In a 2009 survey by BoldChat, just 50.4% of respondents had experienced live chat support. By 2012 this figure had risen to 65.5%, and the numbers have continued to grow.
Live chat support effectively cuts out the most common support complaints. Research indicates that customers will abandon live chat conversations if they don’t get a response within 60 seconds – so most providers aim to answer queries within one minute of receiving them. This eliminates the frustrations of being kept on hold.
Customers who use live chat support typically deal with one company representative during their interaction. This means they only have to explain their problem once before it is solved. This is radically different to the traditional call centre model, where customers are frequently transferred between departments and forced to repeat their query to numerous operators.
When questioned, survey respondents were generally satisfied with their live chat interactions. 79% of customers said they prefer live chat to other methods because their queries are answered immediately. Furthermore, nearly half cited it as the most efficient company-customer communication method.
Expectation vs Reality of Live Chat
A survey by LivePerson also indicates that live chat support is more effective than traditional online customer service models. Consumers tend to find the encounter more satisfying than when using other support services. 73% of those surveyed described their live chat interactions as ‘satisfactory’, whereas only 61% said the same of their phone and email interactions.
Despite these promising statistics, the same report also states that live chat is currently less popular than other customer support channels. When shopping online, 61% of respondents expect to see a customer service telephone number, and 60% would like the option of email support. In contrast, only 57% of customers would actively seek out a live chat function.
However, the figures indicate that this is simply due to customer familiarity with phone and email support, rather than an active dislike of live chat platforms. As with all new technology, it takes time for the general public to catch on. Real-time online customer service is a relatively new concept, and it is eventually predicted to become more popular than traditional support methods.
The technical aspect of live chat support can appear daunting, particularly for small online retailers. However, a number of live-chat providers have sprung up in recent years, making it easier than ever to invest in real-time customer support. LivePerson is an excellent, yet expensive platform, while LiveHelpNow and Comm100 are popular with SMEs. For startups on a limited budget, BoldChat offers a lightweight free service.
When implemented correctly, live chat can completely transform the customer service experience. Unlike over-subscribed call centres and email accounts, real-time online support is both quick and efficient. E-commerce business owners who are serious about providing first-class online customer service should consider investing in a live chat service platform.
(Lead image source: Morten Wulff)