By Steve Castro-Miller, firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are considering live chat solutions for your online business, you may be confused as to what’s best for you. That’s easy to understand, given how many options are available. Are you looking for live chat as a standalone customer communications tool, or are you interested in adding email, social and other components into the mix? How are you going to manage your live chat effort? Will you have dedicated chat agents, or will chat be lumped together with other offerings in the contact center?
The success of a live chat implementation depends greatly on knowing exactly what you are looking for from your live chat solution, selecting the right offering for your particular needs, and appropriately managing it to maximize its effectiveness. Live chat needs to be treated like a real business tool – or it will fail.
Before moving forward with a live chat effort, you should prioritize your requirements and goals and then look closely at providers to make sure they are meeting your specific criteria. Live chat product reviews can easily be found online, but many are just checklists, without detail or context. To get a clearer view on live chat providers and their offerings, we recently commissioned an in-depth study from a neutral third party. We did this because, even though we are a provider of live chat technology, we desired a detailed and thoughtful review which we felt was absent in the market. This is actually a follow-up to an initial report done several years ago, in the earlier days of live chat adoption, and since then applications have evolved, market segmentation has changed and vendors have come, gone and merged.
The current study goes into detail on the live chat space, but for the purposes of this article, retailers should keep the following considerations in mind as they are exploring their options:
1. Do I want a live chat specialist, or am I looking for a multimodal customer interaction provider?
2. What product features and functionality are available, and which are best suited to meet my needs?
3. What are some questions I should be asking the providers?
4. How will I manage my live chat implementation?
Live chat specialist or multimodal
Although some newcomers are present, the companies in the Live Chat Specialist vendor space are, to a large degree, the pioneers of live chat. Their longevity in the market and ongoing technology/product development have led to a rich and robust set of product offerings with a laser focus on delivering the unique benefits of live chat as a customer interaction tool. When you are looking into primarily live chat-focused providers, these companies are the ones to consider evaluating, given their history in the space and their continued investment in their live chat products over the years.
As customer contact and live chat capabilities evolve, an initial level of convergence is taking place that is creating a new technology segment called multimodal customer interaction (MCI). The primary capabilities that are coming together to create this new segment are customer relationship management (CRM) tools, traditional contact center tools, e-commerce tools, some types of social networking tools and live chat. The resultant product offerings are suites of customer interaction capabilities with varying degrees of integration. Because it is so early in the convergence phase, the actual degree of real integration is small, usually not going far beyond the typical interoperability of products from independent vendors.
Potential users of live chat should carefully weigh the pros and cons of MCI suites versus best-of-breed solutions.
Features and functionality
As you are looking into providers and their offerings, following are some live chat features and functionalities you may want to examine to determine which company can best address your particular requirements:
Questions to ask
You may have narrowed down your list and determined which providers’ offerings best meet your specific live chat requirements, but now you need to ensure that the provider itself is the right match for you. Following are key questions to raise:
Notice that many of these questions involve the agents handling the chats rather than the actual technology. This last question in particular may seem odd to ask a live chat technology provider, but it is very telling, as the “human” aspect of live chat is a key driver in the success – or failure – of a live chat effort for your business. The provider should recognize and be able to acknowledge that.
Live chat management
As a business, you need to plan how you will manage your live chat offering. The difficulty of integrating live chat with traditional contact centers has proven to be two-fold. First, the cost of integrating web-based live chat technology with telephony-based contact center technology has been shown to be prohibitive. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the required skill sets of live chat agents are very different from telephony agents. They must be treated differently to be effective. Many contact centers have struggled with this concept. As stated above, the agent piece of the live chat puzzle is a critical one, and it has a direct impact on customer satisfaction and business ROI.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the convergence trend is accelerating. This will place increasing pressure on the remaining chat specialists and MCI players as well. Regardless of which direction you choose, make sure that the provider can not only address your particular live chat requirements and effectively support the agents who will be handling your chats, but that it also has plans to continue to invest in, nurture and enhance its chat solution to address future industry challenges and opportunities.
Steve Castro-Miller, is VP Chat Products, LogMeIn, which provides essential cloud-based services to individuals, businesses, and IT organizations for remote access, collaboration, customer care, and remote IT management. He can be reached at email@example.com.