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Customers Switch from Phone to Web for Sales and Service

Companies are rapidly adopting online chat according to a research update of a white paper, which originally showed that chat usage was limited even though it was beneficial.

Originally, the benchmark study looked at 29 online retailers. Only, nine of them, 31%, offered chat. Since then, many our readers asked us whether the market - particularly focused on younger, hyper-connected consumers -  is adopting live chat as a customer service channel.

We expanded the list to 42 companies, our original 29 and 13 others. The change is dramatic. Of our original 29, 22 now offer either sales or customer service/support chat (or both).  That’s 76%.

Among the larger group of 42, 29 (69%) are providing sales or customer service/support chat (or both). Breaking down the numbers further we found chat is used slightly more in customer service/technical support (60%) than sales (55 %).

Clearly with such a high acceptance rate in just two years, online chat is gaining momentum and acceptance. Customers are driving the change as they continue to make the switch from the telephone to the web when looking for help.

Companies are making the investment in chat because they see real value including:

  1. higher average orders
  2. increased customer satisfaction
  3. lower operating costs.

In a perfect world, they’ll achieve all three. 

 In spite of the growth in chat, there is still plenty of room for improvement. For example:

  • Chat can be hard to find even for our expert researchers. The feature is often buried under “contact customer support” or “help” menus, which suggests companies may be trying to limit the costs associated with providing chat support. From the customer’s point of view this is akin to being on hold, listening to a host of options and trying to decide which number to press before you reach a “real person.”  It’s creating another way to frustrate a customer.

  • Some companies would like customers to try web self-service before tying up a chat agent.  These online retailers want their agents to deal with real issues and not be a web surfing aid to customers.
  • Companies continue to struggle with how to deliver high-quality chat service when customers ask questions about a wide range of sales and support issues. This is where cross-training customer service agents are an effective solution.
  • Companies offer only one type of chat and not both. To restrict chat to support, some retailers require a model number before engagement begins. Companies that only provide chat in the sales channelseem to do so for specific reasons such as privacy concerns. 
  • Companies should make an effort to impress their customers in all communication channels and markets. Many retailers typically focus on big market “hot spots” where there are large numbers of potential customers. However, it is also profitable to target smaller local markets.  It’s relatively easy to test the extent to which location targeted efforts increase performance.  Retailers that localize the user interface of their websites will experience the greatest traffic, as these different locations express brand and support preferences. 

In addition to online chat growing in the area of customer support, companies continue to invest in all types of online channels including social media. We found extensive support and technical information provided through community forums, support sites, FAQs, online video tutorials, and web-based product and technical specifications.

So who isn’t chatting yet? To our surprise several major online national retailers have yet to adopt the chat channel – most notably Costco and Target. 

Join The Conversation

  • mohantarneja's picture
    Sep 22 Posted 3 years ago mohantarneja

    Hey Al Rose this is very interesting topic to discuss.. well its all about market research and service to customers. Also it will increase positive reviews for the business. no doubt this article deserve a like :)

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