Interview with Craig Borowski — Chat’s Appeal

Recently Craig Borowski, Help Desk Analyst for the online technology consultancy Software Advice, released a new report which studied the impact demographics had on consumers’ preference for live chat service and support. We had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Borowski to learn a little more about what his research uncovered.

1. Which demographics do live chat appeal to most and why?
We found that live chat is appealing to all ages, but it’s most appealing to younger generations. Millennials in particular have shown a preference for text-based communications in other areas (SMS, social messaging platforms) and this has carried over into a strong preference for live chat customer support. But having said that, we should emphasize that other generations are still using live chat. In fact, our survey found that more than half of consumers have used it successfully at least once. It’s almost certain that its use among older generations will continue to rise as more consumers become aware of it and more companies learn how to integrate it correctly.

2. How is live chat unique from more traditional customer support channels?
Comparing live chat to telephone and email, two traditional support channels, live chat stands out in several areas. Most importantly, it provides instant and real-time service. Emailed support requests usually receive an instant automated reply letting the customer know the request was received. While that’s supposed to provide reassurance, it’s of little use when the actual answer the customer needs might not arrive until the next day, or even several days later.

Phone service can be much better, but it comes with its own obstacles and baggage. Customers have learned to expect that a call to a customer service and help desk departments will begin with them facing off against an automated IVR or phone tree. That usually leads to them waiting on hold. When they finally speak to an agent, they might need to explain their issue all over again from the beginning. With live chat, all of this is avoided. It provides an instant, real-time communication channel.

Now, even though these descriptions of the user experience with email and phone support channels don’t apply to every company, and they certainly don’t, that’s in some ways irrelevant. The fact remains that many, even most, consumers have been conditioned to expect these kinds of experiences. Many consumers are already in the mindframe to avoid these channels for these and similar reasons. Live chat is an excellent alternative. It provides truly real-time support, without any of the baggage associated with traditional help desk channels.

3. What would you say to people who are nervous about the time and monetary costs of implementing live chat software?
I’d say they should start slowly and begin with a careful consideration of how live chat can improve the customer experience they currently provide. Look at each touchpoint along their existing customer journeys, then identify those that could be most improved by providing instant answers to questions customers commonly have.

Also, to maximize the ROI of a live chat implementation, companies shouldn’t expect that customers will actively seek out live chat. Instead, companies need to make sure it’s there for the customers when they need it most. As an example, let’s say a company is promoting use of their online self-service resources like an FAQ page or knowledge-base. If browsing history indicates that a customer is struggling to find an answer, maybe because they’ve returned to the same page several times, then live chat could be proactively offered then and there.

At the end of the day, if live chat support ends up costing more time or money than support via traditional channels, then it’s very likely that it wasn’t implemented correctly.

4. Are there any roadblocks to connecting live chat to a CRM system?
There can be, but these are increasingly rare. As most customer service and help desk strategies and vendors have been shifting towards closer platform integration and multi- and omni-channel support, the integration of individual service channels with the main service platform is becoming more and more straightforward.

The exception to this is with companies that use in-house, proprietary or legacy CRM systems. They can face challenging integrations when adding any new component to the platform, and that includes live chat.

Craig Borowski, Help Desk Analyst for the online technology consultancy Software Advice.

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