Live Chat Solutions: What You Need to Know Before Making a Selection
By Steve Castro-Miller, [email protected]
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:
- Custom Branding
- Integrated Co-browse
- Mobile Device Support
- Intelligent Assignment of Work
- E-mail Management
- Visitor History
- Multi-variate Rules for Proactive Live Chat
- Reporting Engine
- Conversion Tracking
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:
- Can you offer implementation best practices?
- What is your customer support model, and what are your customer satisfaction ratings?
- What does your company provide to help agents?
- How can you help me make my agents more efficient?
- What’s more important, the live chat technology or the agent handling the chats?
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 protected].
Paul Frank to launch exclusive line at Babies’R’Us
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Paul Frank is partnering with Babies"R"Us to launch all-new Small Paul designs that will be available exclusively at Babies"R"Us stores nationwide beginning May 23. The joining of these two brands, which are both distinguished and playful in nature, is sure to create buzz among moms and fans of all ages.
The line will include apparel and accessories, available in sizes 0 to 5T, as well Small Paul-branded bags, backpacks, footwear and hosiery, and plush toys.
"At Babies"R"Us, we recognize the undeniable popularity of the Paul Frank brand among kids and parents everywhere," said Aaron Kopolow, VP divisional merchandising manager for Babies"R"Us. "We’re constantly on the look-out for new, trend-right products from kid-favorite brands to introduce to our overall assortment. With this partnership, we’re excited to bring the widely celebrated Small Paul designs to the moms who frequent our stores and the kids who will be thrilled to wear them."
Paul Frank’s Small Paul merchandise will be showcased in a dedicated shop in Babies"R"Us stores nationwide through July, in which the company will display distinctive in-store signage featuring the friendly face of Julius the Monkey. Babies"R"Us will also support the collection with social and email marketing.
RECon 2012: Expectations on the rise
As retail real estate professionals from around the world prepare for the annual RECon convention in Las Vegas, it seems pretty clear to me that the anticipation for this year’s event is on the rise. This is a noticeable change from some recent years, where the recession eliminated any enthusiasm we once saw in the “glory days.”
People I talk to in the industry are excited to get together this year; they are truly looking forward to it. Quite honestly, I haven’t felt this kind of pre-RECon buzz and positive energy since 2007. And if my own calendar is any indication, we should expect good things to come (the last time my conference schedule was this full was 2007)! All of this optimism and energy leads me to believe that this is likely to be the most well attended RECon in several years. (I’ll revisit the attendance issue after the convention to see if my predictions were on point).
Given the context of what seems likely to be a lively, well-attended event, it will be even more interesting to watch and see the extent to which a few recent RECon trends continue. One of those, of course, is the prevalence of redevelopment opportunities over new development (it will likely take a more robust period of sustained growth to change that dynamic), and another is the growing international presence at the convention—a reflection of an industry that is growing faster overseas than at home. But to me, one of the biggest changes is in the tenor of the convention itself: RECon is not even really about just doing a deal or signing a lease anymore; it’s about learning more about the new projects and opportunities out there, and about putting a face to the name: networking, in other words. That networking—the personal interactions that help to forge and strengthen professional connections—is more important than ever at a time when professional communications are conducted more and more via email. In a sense, RECon has evolved beyond simply a deal hub, and is now a forum for making a connection beyond the deal.
So, what will be the big takeaways from the 2012 installment of RECon? I think people will be surprised that retailers’ growth plans are as robust as they are. My sense of it is that the industry is ready to make some big moves. I also think competition is going to remain a big theme. These days everyone is courting the same handful of high-profile “hot” brands, so competition is ferocious. The competitive atmosphere is especially obvious when it comes to the newer and more unique tenants. But, what’s a little competition between friends?
What do you think? What are you most looking forward to this year? Do you have a robust schedule? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at [email protected].
Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.