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Lets Talk about Chat…

Web Chat is a fast growing communication channel with mature technology. Unfortunately, most chat interactions are sliding down the poor customer experience hill very fast and becoming a useless Contact Center channel – not unlike the phone. If you have not yet deployed chat but would like to, tweet @Bushman10. I’ll be happy to provide some advice on what pitfalls to avoid. If you have already deployed chat but you are suffering from poor customer satisfaction ratings and a failed business case – well then tweet me as well so I can help you out of your dilemma. In the meantime, read on for some Web Chat best practices.

The business case for Web Chat is typically motivated by:

  1. Reducing the cost of phone-based interactions
  2. Introducing new interaction channels to customers

A typical Web Chat deployment will start as a pilot project, potentially becoming the first big mistake. Pilot projects are not seen as strategic and it’s not unusual for such a low-cost solution to eventually be selected and become a permanent installation. This leaves the organization with a platform that has no hope of delivering the seamless and cohesive customer experience audiences expect. The success of the pilot project will be measured in customer satisfaction and in the total cost of ownership. When neither expectation is met, Web Chat is deemed a failure.  The first Best Practice is to commit to a full-blown deployment or don’t deploy web chat at all.

Beware of Web Chat hidden costs

Next, let’s focus on the costs associated with Web Chat. There are typically two types of costs:

  1. The cost of the technology
  2. The cost of the agents

Many organizations focus only on the former and forget about the associated operating expenses. Typical technology costs for chat are in the region of 10% to 20% of a contact center solution because ACD, PBX, CTI etc are not necessary. Cloud solutions bring even more savings, making the business case much easier to greenlight. However, the challenge does not lie in the technology costs but in the human costs that make up 72% of the expense of a Web Chat interaction (28% of interaction cost is technology) so for real Dollar based savings, one need to focus on the OPEX of customer interactions and not on the technology costs of the interactions.

The problem with a Web Chat interactions is that the duration (handling time) of a session, on average, is twice as long as that of a phone call. Thus, a phone-based agent can service two customers in the same time it takes a chat agent to service one. Looked at another way, the chat agents are only half as productive as their phone-based colleagues and therefore have twice the total cost. Miss this in your business case and you just experienced a huge #BusinessCaseFail. (tweet @Bushman10 if you have made this mistake)

Focus on simultaneous Web Chat session handling

The second Best Practice suggest that the very first day you switch Web Chat on, your agents must, at a minimum, handle two simultaneous and concurrent sessions. By engaging with two customers at the same time, chat agents become equally as productive as a phone-based agent. According to documented benchmarks, Web Chat agents with complex interactions such as financial services and healthcare should handle an average of four simultaneous sessions. When performing simpler customer interactions six simultaneous Web Chat sessions can be expected. By increasing the number of simultaneous interactions, a good chat agent can become twice or three times as effective as a phone-based agent. The 72% of OPEX costs attributed to a customer interaction can, therefore, become 36% in complex interactions or even 24% in simple easier interactions and the business case goes from good to great.

Unfortunately, there are very few agents alive that can manage so many simultaneous sessions while also delivering a great customer interaction. This brings us to the third Best Practice, which is to never give a phone-based contact center agent the additional responsibility of Web Chat. (tweet @Bushman10 if you have made this mistake). Call Center agents can’t type and only use two fingers. The minimum requirement for a Web Chat agent is 65 words per minute double handed typing. If an agent can’t pass this most basic test then they should not have Web Chat responsibility.

The day you start planning the deployment of Web Chat you should also start a new recruitment and training drive to find agents that have both business writing skills and typing skills. When an agent engages in a Web Chat session with a customer they can NOT type poorly constructed responses nor may they use abbreviations or code like teenagers texting one another. The responses must be fast and efficient and the text and content well structured and professional in order to properly represent your organization. It is therefore strongly recommended that in the contact center you create separate skill groups where all agents that perform written interaction with customers are separated from agents that perform spoken interactions.  The fourth Best Practice is, therefore, to never mix phone calls and Web Chat to the same agent at the same time. It is impossible to run multiple simultaneous chat sessions and still stream a phone call in between.

By following some simple best practices everybody can get great TCO, deliver excellent service and make a success of web chat. For more on the non-voice channels also read our blog on “Voice is Dead


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