Is that any way to talk to a customer?

on . Posted in News Analysis

live_web_chatThe role of web chat in mobile customer service

How should operators engage with their customers? Through email, phone, social media, IVR, FAQs, apps? The answer, if you are the customer, is likely to come down to what it is you want to find out, and your own personal preference.

But some commentators think that mobile operators could increase their brand value, reduce cost of sales, and improve their customer satisfaction scores by deploying live web chat.

Web chat, in case you’re not sure of the distinction, is a direct chat function embedded into a website or app that lets and customer and an operative interact using a text-chat function. 

Some operator sites deploy a pop-up “Can I talk to you” web chat panel when they see a customer trying something out, or offer to move from email to chat. Other operators are deploying chat from within apps on the devices themselves.

Proponents of webchat like its immediacy, the ability to show consumers rather than merely tell them, and the fact that from an operational perspective it can also allow agents to have more than one conversation “live” at a time.

Research commissioned by Oracle has claimed that customers will spend more with a brand if their interaction with the brand is easier. In a research report release this week, Why Customer Satisfaction is No Longer Good Enough, Oracle found that that 81% of 1,400 European consumers surveyed would be willing to pay more for superior customer experience, with nearly half (44%) willing to pay a premium of more than 5%.

Interestingly for those considering web chat, the provision of quick access to information and making it easier for customers to ask questions (35%) were both cited as key drivers for spending more with a brand.

Ram Mohan Natarajan, Business Transformation Officer (Senior Vice President) at Firstsource Solutions, said that his company sees a clear increase in the Net Promoter Score, he claims a 15-20 point difference across his clients, when operators use chat rather than more traditional channels such as email.

“Broadly what we see when looking at the overall customer experience or the Net Promoter Score, there is a 15-20 points difference across our clients from people using chat to people using more traditional channels such as email.

Mohan Natarajan says, “The drawback with email is that the customer may not be entirely clear about the problem or think of everything in their first email and may raise a subsequent point later, sometimes based on the email response from customer service, or if they had multiple questions in the first email, sometimes the agent would come back with an incomplete response. This repeated back and forth has an impact on customer satisfaction scores.

“But if you offer proactive chat as an option to the customer, particularly where you have analysed the previous types of email exchanges and scenarios to identify bottlenecks and problem areas, you save time and make things more cost-effective. A good example is around the subject of connection speeds and email is proven to be not the best way of dealing with that as often we need more information than is contained in the customer’s initial email before we can get to the root of the problem and resolve it. By offering a webchat at that initial point, we get a live interaction with them and resolve it there and then.”  

Wendy Schratz, BSkyB Director of e-Experience, Sky, says, “As we’ve experimented with chat, we’ve found it’s quite special and distinctive in comparison to any other of our channels. It’s because you can show-and-tell. So, on the telephone, if you’re dealing with something technical, the customer might have to listen to quite a complicated set of instructions. Sometimes that’s quite difficult to say and to hear on the telephone but with chat, we can not only type you an instruction which you can read and keep, but we can show you a picture, we can show you a video.”

Schratz adds that Webchat has lifted, as Mohan Natarajan claims, Sky’s customer satisfaction scores – by around 5-10%. Not only that, but because chat provides a written log of a transaction, records can then be analysed and operators can use that to make process improvements, and even to lower cost of sales

Mohan Natarajan says, “Using our own Social Networks Analysis Reporting tool, we can get a good understanding of any brand or product and for a customer like Sky can break down how technical support is being received, what things people are happy about, how the customer service is perceived and get a real insight into issues as well as costs. We also use call centre data so we are sitting on a wealth of information with which to do analysis.

“One of the noticeable advantages we have seen with one operator is that the cost of making a sale through traditional channels is £13, whereas using channels like chat brings the administration cost down to £6. So there is a big story in using chat as an effective sales channel.”

Is chat more expensive to maintain, however? What is the cost impact of aving teams of people dedicated to typing into chat panels? Mohan Natarajan says that although chat sessions often last longer than a call, the agent may be parallel processing by having two or three concurrent webchat conversations with other customers, or going away to find out some information and coming back with that to continue the webchat.

“In terms of time difference I think we’re only talking about 10-15% additional for a webchat,” he says. “The important thing is you can use webchat to promote self-serve as you already have a customer online, so you know this customer is net-savvy, can use website and it’s much easier to help and guide them, plus at the end of the webchat flag up helpful self-serve links for future reference, all with the objective of gradually reducing the number of interactions of this kind over time.”

Sky’s Schratz contends that using chat is cost-neutral on an employee basis but does come with other benefits.

“What I can tell you for definite is that the number of chats an agent can do per hour is equivalent to the number of phone calls that an agent can do per hour. Longer chat, but more simultaneous, so that means we are starting off from a neutral cost base.

"But what we also know is that customers are more satisfied and they tend to get their answer more first time round. That means taking repeat calls, repeat contacts out of the system, and that saves us money.”

Igor Sarenac, VP, Global communications and international business, Convergys, warns that there can be unintended consquences of deploying web chat.

“The original idea of using chat was all towards cost reduction,” he says. “It seemed a good idea, with it being cheaper to have 2-4 concurrent chats an hour. Then what happened? People opened up chat to anything and everything, offering click to chat on their websites, and then immediately there was this conflicting cost of chat going up – because customers were using chat to contact people who on the other side were not properly equipped to handle those types of enquiries.

“If the agents are not equipped customers get into chat, realise their issue cannot be solved and so then they pick up the phone and call anyway. So you are wasting money chat because you pay for every chat session and still have an extra call. The need is to train people properly and open up chat only for issues that can be handled through chat. Be selective on certain types of issues and how you train people behind them.”

So will we see live chat increase its presence within the customer interaction toolkit of mobile operators? it certainly has some way to go to overcome traditional channels.

Convergys’ 2011 UK scorecard found that whilst 63% of customer interactions are still happening over the phone, web chat ranked sixth in terms of usage.

Interestingly, though, when Convergys asked what were people’s preferred method of communication, web chat came in third, after live phone support and email. And that preference was slightly more marked amongst “milennials” than amongst Generation X and Baby Boomers. Sarenac argues that this means that operators must be aware of likely generational preference when offering chat.

Overall, 36% of customers said that they had used live web chat in the past six months (remember these are 2011 figures) and 13% said offering the opportunity to live chat was acceptable. 22% said they would prefer to use web chat, whilst 78% still preferred the phone.

Sarenac says that his company is seeing the impact of web chat on his customers' businesses. One deployment has grown from 200 to 2,000 seats, another customer has grown from 250 seats to in excess of 1200. He also thinks there will be an increased desire to provide chat from mobile devices themselves, perhaps from within operators' own customer care and subscriber usage control apps – such as Optus and AT&T offer — as well as through “desktop” websites. Again, he says, it comes down to the needs and preference of the customer.

Sky's Schratz is also convinced. “We are going to keep developing this programme. We think we are at the tip of the iceberg – we already do 2.5 million interactions on live chat per year and that is going to grow even faster than it has grown so far. This year we have gone from zero to 350 agents in just six months, which makes it one of the biggest programmes in Europe, but we are definitely going to go further.”