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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...

Schuh

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

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

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.

In conclusion...

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.

David Moth

Published 9 January, 2013 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (14)

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James Doman, Product Marketing Manager, Personalisation Specialist at SmartFocus

Does live chat really fall under a "personalisation" strategy?

I would say it's more of an engagement tool, as it's manually driven, rather than automated. I wouldn't even say that it forms a "personalised experience", rather that live chat engagement is just part of the overall customer experience.

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@James, I think it depends how you use it. Admittedly Sky's use of live chat is definitely more for sales, but I think the way ASOS offers stylist advice definitely makes it feel like a personalised shopping experience.

I agree that it doesn't fit within the automated personalisation category, but that doesn't necessarily mean it isn't a personalised experience.

over 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Hi David, thanks for trying the Schuh live chat, I thought you might be interested in our take on it. Firstly, your concern about the opening of a new window: you may not actually have realised this due to the nature of your enquiry, but this new browser window actually allows you and the operator to co-browse and you can be guided around the site. It wouldn't be possible to do this without opening a new window. Secondly, one of the most common use-cases of the facility is shopping (i.e. pre-purchase), which is quite different to normal customer service contact which is usually post-purchase. Our live chat operators are trained in the shops, they know products; they are bringing that offline experience online.

It’s something we've had great success with and will be expanding our capacity to meet the growing demand.

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@Stuart, thanks for your comment, it's always good to hear back from the brands in question.

I didn't realise that was why the new browser opened, and I wish I'd asked a different question now so I could have seen how the co-browsing works!

And it's interesting that customers use live chat more for pre-sales than for post-purchase queries. Though I'd never used live chat prior to researching this article, I do think one of the best uses of the service is for giving customers product advice to help increase conversions.

over 3 years ago

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ASOS Personal Stylist Team

@david Sorry to hear about your UX issue. We are unable to replicate, if you could provide any more information that would be really helpful.

over 3 years ago

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Jamie Dickson

Some of our customers have found it challenging to manage a sizeable international customer base and provide high quality native language chat support. Our GeoFluent multilingual real-time translation solution was designed to address this exact challenge. Integrated seamlessly with a number of chat platforms (we are LivePerson’s premier partner – we also work with Moxie, Telligent & Jive), GeoFluent would enable agents to converse with customers in 38 languages while maintaining brand and specific terms…with exceptional CSAT and FCR metrics. It is worth noting that English does not need to be the source language and GeoFluent is available in any language combination.

Should you like to discuss please contact me - jamie.dickson@lionbridge.com

over 3 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Editor & Head of Social at EconsultancyStaff

@ASOS, it may have just been a glitch with my browser. I was using Google Chrome.

over 3 years ago

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Jack Jarvis, Owner at The Website Review Company

Has anyone experienced as a business any negative implications from live chat e.g. a customer is about to place an order, but at the last minute, uses live chat, asks a few questions and decides to think about it?

Obviously, it's not possible to tell if they were about to purchase, but has anyone experience a downturn in conversion rates?

over 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Jack, at Schuh we've only seen conversion go up (considerably)

over 3 years ago

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Vee24 Live Help Team

@David, great article on how different brands are using Live Chat! We thought you may appreciate some input from a Live Chat supplier. We are Vee24, the Live Chat supplier for Schuh.

We agree that Video Chat provides an overall improved customer experience, and it has proven to increase both Sales Conversions and Customer Services ratings above and beyond traditional Text Chat. As @Stuart mentioned, it's about bringing the offline experience, online.

Our Video Chat solution allows Operators to not only co-browse, but also jointly complete online forms with the customer. This allows operators to guide customers through the checkout process, face-to-face, as you would in a store.

@ASOS are using this in a very similar way to our new client Isabella Oliver, who are going live early this year. If you're interested, there's a great article on Drapers titled 'Baukjen to launch free online eStylist service' published yesterday.

Isabella Oliver will be able to demonstrate its selection of clothes through a LIVE Video Chat, via an 'e-stylist' Operator.

Exciting times ahead, and if you would like any more information, feel free to have a Live Video Chat with us on our website.

From the Vee24 Live Help Team

over 3 years ago

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Jack Jarvis, Owner at The Website Review Company

For fashion retailers, from the above comments it looks like there are some niggles with showing products in tabs etc which isn't seamless, but good for comparison.

Wouldn't it be a good idea to create a 'personal style area' where the 'style assistant' could display a range of clothing, both for what they have asked and complimentary clothes for cross-selling.

This way you would be able to show visitors a range of clothes that are in one place and easily comparable.

over 3 years ago

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Jack Jarvis, Owner at The Website Review Company

I used ASOS live chat today and was looking at a suit but wanted the shoes the guy was wearing.

I asked if they sold them and was asked what page I was on.

Does the ASOS system not tell the ASOS Stylist what page they are on and what pages they have already viewed?

These are fairly basic features of standard live chat systems and saves unnecessary questions.

over 3 years ago

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The Chat Shop

@David Moth, In these examples live chat is used for pre-sales, the instant nature of it makes it favourable channel for consumers - I think this is likely to increase as consumers become more familiar with live chat.

There is also a growing need for live chat as a post sales, customer support tool. Consumers don't want to wait for an email response, and often picking up the phone isn't convenient.

If any readers have any questions on live chat, we'd be happy to help. My contact details are on my site.

Regards
Joe

over 3 years ago

Andy Soloman

Andy Soloman, CEO at Yomdel

This is a really interesting discussion and there are some great points made. Live chat is growing tremendously in popularity, both as a preferred communication channel by customers and as an engagement platform to increase conversions, boost average order values and create loyal and satisfied customers.
@David, you are right. A critical consideration in implementing effective live chat is resourcing. I'm the CEO of Yomdel and we help businesses get around this issue through offering bespoke 24/7 end-to-end operator-backed live chat services. We're UK based and this is an outsourced model, but it is proving incredibly effective. We are also able to offer out-of-hours support or a blended approach using our operators and client experts together.
I published an article on eSeller and the Yomdel blog yesterday that looks at common live chat mistakes and highlights some of the challenges. We are seeing huge growth in live chat adoption, but for some businesses it can be a bit like wobbling along a tightrope. It is a very fine line between delivering a fantastic customer experience and a very frustrating experience. Key in ensuring it is a great experience is, of course, having well trained live chat operators, but equally it is vital to manage customer expectations carefully.
@Stuart, I also want to congratulate you on the Schuh live chat service. It is fantastic, but it's very success must also bring challenges and I would be interested in understanding how you plan to resolve these. For example, as customers get used to live chat, they will increasingly seek it out. This means outside standard hours, as well as at times when operators are busy and not available. If they
try and chat only to find it not available, do you consider it a risk? I'd also be interested in knowing how you see video chat growing. I think it can be a wonderful personal experience, but are the operators able to handle concurrent chats in the same way they can when exclusively handling text chat? As volumes grow, any restrictions on the number of concurrent chats that operators can manage both adds costs and potentially degarades the experience for some customers.
@jack, you ask about whether chat can have a negative impact. Most certainly it can, but overall, as is evidenced above, those businesses using live chat see positive results. At Yomdel, for ecommerce clients we would typically be targeting 20% conversion rates among those that chat, plus a 10% plus increase in AOV through incremental sales.

over 3 years ago

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