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Live chat is still a relatively new customer service channel, though it’s proving to be an increasingly popular method of communicating with brands.
Stats from BoldChat show that more than 65% of US online shoppers have used live chat, up from 50.4% in 2009.
The figure is slightly lower in the UK but still growing at 53%, up from 41% in 2011.
The same research shows that 31% of respondents would be more likely to purchase after a live chat, however this stat should be treated with a decent amount of scepticism, as it’s difficult for people to accurately predict their future purchase behaviour.
Personally I’ve never used live chat, so I thought I’d take a look at how three different are using it and see how it impacted the customer experience...
On Schuh the live help option is constantly available on the right of the screen. When you click on it you have the option of either a video chat or a text chat. They are basically the same, except in the video chat you can see the operator as they type the responses to your queries.
At first I was unsure about using this option, but it’s actually a great idea as it makes it a more personal experience.
My call was answered immediately and the operator was able to answer my questions about its returns policy straight away – and as a nice touch he even waved goodbye at the end of the conversation.
Overall it was very easy to use and my query was solved within seconds, however one negative point is that the live chat tool opens a new browser window that duplicates the page you are currently on.
This is a minor problem as you can carry on shopping in the new window, but it is still an interruption and means it isn’t quite a seamless experience.
Even so, I’d certainly use it again if I had a genuine customer issue.
Sky offered a cleaner experience, as when you click the live chat option it only opened a small chat window using LivePerson rather than duplicating my browser.
The system asks two questions to prequalify whether you are a Sky customer already, then you get to speak to the advisor.
I asked about getting Sky TV with movies and sports, and the advisor was able to give me a full breakdown of the cost, as well as details of all the channels I would receive.
At the end of the conversation he even sent me a link so I could directly navigate to the order page in future.
Again this was a relatively easy query, but it was answered quickly and without bothering me with any additional sales chat.
ASOS is trialling a new service called ‘Personal Stylist Chat’, which fits with the brand and offers fashion advice rather than dealing with general customer care enquiries.
I bought a teal dress from ASOS for my girlfriend the other day, so asked the advisor if he could help me to find shoes to match.
There was a slight problem at first as he asked for a link to the dress, but when I navigated to my account information I lost the chat window.
However, when I reopened live chat on the homepage I was reconnected to the same advisor, though I’m not sure whether that was by accident or design.
Nonetheless, he then asked several questions relating to the style she likes, her shoe size and my budget.
The advisor then posted links to several types of shoes based on my feedback. Each time you click a link it opens a new tab in your browser, but the chat window remains open in each one.
At first I found it annoying, but it's actually helpful for comparing the different product options.
Overall this seems like a really good use of live chat as it comes close to replicating the in-store experience, and I can imagine it would be particularly useful when shopping for gifts.
There is one UX issue with it however, as it doesn't automatically scroll down to show new messages. This means you have to manually scroll down each time the advisor responds, which meant that I occasionally missed his messages.
Live chat is still a relatively underused feature in ecommerce, highlighted by the fact that all three sites asked me to fill in a feedback form.
However all three were extremely helpful and promptly answered my queries, even though they were relatively simple.
The main barrier to implementing live chat is presumably a lack of available resource, but if a business is already operating a call centre then it’s definitely an option they should consider.
Sky previously told us that live chat improved its conversion rates as well as the customer experience, however I think the best use of it is actually a mix between the approaches adopted by Schuh and ASOS.
Allowing the customer to see the person they are talking to is a great way of improving the experience, as it confirms to the customer that they are talking to a real person and makes it feel like a more natural conversation.
But I also like the way ASOS uses live chat to provide advice from a stylist rather than to answer general queries, as it provides an element of personalisation that has been largely absent from ecommerce.
Overall, I think if a brand has the budget then live chat is an excellent way of providing the sort of personalised experience that could make them stand out above the competition.