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From holiday returns to hand-held upsells: How live chat drives loyalty and conversions after the holidays

BY CSA STAFF

By Steve Castro-Miller, president and CEO of Bold Software, [email protected]

While the weeks after the holiday shopping rush aren’t awash with the same glamour as their December predecessors, the opportunity for lasting business growth is no less present — perhaps even more so. In the aftermath of the holidays, retailers are entrenched in the second wave of the season’s bustle, handling returns, processing exchanges and providing support. When a customer uses live chat on a retailer’s website to ask questions about or receive support for a holiday gift they received or even to inquire about how to return it, the interaction represents an opportunity to positively influence the customer’s perception of the retailer’s brand.

According to a June 2010 independent research report by Forrester Research entitled “Making Proactive Chat Work”, “nearly one in five online U.S. consumers has used chat — reactive or proactive — for customer service in the past 12 months.” When implementing live chat, businesses often have a pre-conceived notion about the technology being specifically for sales OR service. However, savvy retailers realize that these days, you can’t have one without the other. Live chat — done right — can be an effective tool for not only enhancing the overall customer experience but also for saving business and/or driving conversions by enabling agents to personalize interactions and help customers easily and quickly find the right answer or option for them — without the customers ever having to leave the comfort of their homes or even needing to pick up the phone.

How can your business leverage chat technology most effectively to help turn returns into “saves” and drive customer loyalty? Here are four tips.

Tip #1: Employ Adaptive Messaging in Chat Interactions
As users of live chat technology know, canned messages help agents to respond more quickly to customer inquiries to better serve them. However, adaptive messaging takes that a step further. Adaptive messaging makes it possible for chat agents to find and deliver more accurate, intelligent messages to website visitors. Based on keywords in a visitor’s chat query, or from searches that agents initiate, adaptive messaging technology “learns” and presents agents with a series of targeted canned messages that adapt over time to become more accurate and relevant to customer needs, enabling faster and better communication between agents and customers. These messages can be easily customized as well, helping to personalize the interaction between the customer and agent and empower a more effective dialogue.

Tip #2: Ensure Every Chat Opportunity Possible is Acted Upon
Research shows that people who use chat technology are four times more likely to make a purchase than non-chatters. If you have chat agents available at all times for every customer or prospect that wants to communicate, you can maximize the benefits that chat affords. However, perhaps it is off-hours for your business, or there is a high volume of chats in the queue — which could very well be the case after the holidays — and people don’t want to wait. How can you capitalize on these potential missed opportunities? Determine whether your chat technology offers a way to recapture those visitors. For instance, if a visitor is still on your website when an agent becomes available, your chat technology may be able to proactively inform that agent, so they can immediately get back in touch with the visitor and drive a positive experience.

Tip #3:
Optimize Your Implementation
The data collected from customer visits to your website contains valuable information that can be analyzed and leveraged. You can identify your site’s most valuable levers to ensure the right messages are being delivered and that opportunities to convert interactions are maximized. For example, through analyzing chat dialogues you may be able to quickly identify that inquiries about a specific product are being raised more than others. From this data you can be more proactive in your approach and messaging and help to potentially save business or direct customers to alternate offerings that are suited to their needs. Your chat technology provider may be able to assist with this type of optimization as well.

Tip #4: Use Proactive Chat Appropriately to Deliver an “In-Store” Experience
Proactive chat takes live chat a step further and is the web version of a salesperson in a brick and mortar store asking a shopper if they need any assistance. Consumers who chat with an agent via an invitation-driven chat are six times more likely to buy than a regular website visitor. You can set up business rules to monitor where people are visiting on your site. As a result, you may see that one page with a specific product is visited more than others or that a specific product is being searched for more often than others. Being proactive about approaching site visitors to see if they might need any help may present an opportunity to retain business and drive new sales. However, proactive chat needs to be carefully implemented and managed so as not to be intrusive to a site visitor’s experience. Consider things like invitation placement and appearance, timing and messaging to avoid looking like “Big Brother” is watching.

In closing
In a recent survey Bold Software conducted of 1,000 U.S.-based Internet shoppers, 44% of the sample said that they purchased as a direct consequence of being engaged in the chat interaction. Further, 68% of the sample said they were highly likely to visit the site again, and 77% of them said that the interaction positively influenced their attitude about the e-tailer. These statistics make a compelling argument for why retailers shouldn’t just “set and forget” their live chat implementation, but also invest some time in determining how to leverage it most effectively. Employing some of the above tactics after the holidays is the perfect opportunity to help turn customer service inquiries and returns into potential conversions and new sales for your business. It’s also a great opportunity to bolster customer loyalty, and that’s truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Steve Castro-Miller is president and CEO of Bold Software. He can be reached at [email protected].

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Sales, profits up at Family Dollar

BY CSA STAFF

An expanding number of consumers in search of value and an improved shopping experience at Family Dollar propelled the company to its strongest first-quarter same-store sales increase in 12 years, but profits for the period and the earnings outlook were below analysts’ estimates.

“Our comparable-store sales increase of 6.9% is the best first quarter result we’ve delivered in more than 12 years,” said Family Dollar chairman and CEO Howard Levine

“Clearly, our investments to improve the shopping experience in our stores are positioning us well to serve a growing number of Family Dollar customers.”

Overall, sales for the period which ended on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, or Nov. 27, increased 9.5% to nearly $2 billion and profits increased 9.9% to $74.3 million. Earnings per share increased 18.4% to 58 cents comparedwith 49 cents the prior year, but that figure was below the 61 cents analysts forecast. In addition, the company’s second-quarter guidance, which calls for earnings in the range of 92 to 97 cents, was below analysts’ estimates of $1.

While the company said it attracted more shoppers during its first quarter, average transaction size was flat. Sales were strongest in such consumable categories as food and candy, which in turned pressured gross margins that declined slightly to 36% from 36.1% the prior year. The company managed to leverage its expenses, though, as a result of the sales momentum so selling, general and administrative costs declined slightly to 29.9% compared to 30.1% the prior year.

Family Dollar continued to add stores at a rapid clip during the quarter with 85 units opened and 18 closed, compared to the prior year’s first quarter when 43 stores were opened and 33 were closed. In addition, 173 stores were remodeled during the period.

The pace of new store activity will continue through the remainder of the company’s fiscal year with a total 300 new units planned along with 80 to 100 closings, which should come close to pushing the retailer’s store count above the 7,000 mark.

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Sam’s Club starts new year with new health services

BY CSA STAFF

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Sam’s Club announced that it is offering its business, advantage and plus members tools to help them achieve their health goals including free monthly in-club health screenings and access to a new health management benefit, The Prevention Plan from U.S. Preventive Medicine.

"Through our member insights, we know our members want to stay in control of their health," said Jill Turner-Mitchael, SVP Sam’s Club health and wellness. "We’re proud to offer these simple health solutions, including free health screenings along with great products like The Prevention Plan, so our members can maintain control of their health decisions, minimize health risks and keep health care costs low for their families, employees and themselves."

Sam’s Club said it is now offering The Prevention Plan at $99 for its members. The program involves an online health assessment and at-home blood test to identify potential health issues for which a personalized plan is developed to address risks.Personal health coaching, ongoing support, a variety of tools and a plan-wide health challenge are provided through The Prevention Plan to keep members motivated to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the company reported.

In addition, Sam’s Club announced that allSam’s Club members across the country can participate in the free monthly health screenings beginning in January.

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