Improving the Customer Support Experience with Live Help Software: Part One

What characteristics define a positive customer experience? How can live help better cultivate those characteristics for your customer support team?

Live help can improve both sides of the customer support experience, making a positive impression with customers and making things easier for staff.

How can live help support customer support?
What characteristics define a positive customer experience? How can live help better cultivate those characteristics for your customer support team?

On the customer side, the experience of engaging customer support is a positive one if it can be described by the following three characteristics:
1. Effective – was the issue resolved?
2. Convenient – was support accessible and efficient in resolving the issue?
3. Pleasant – were support staff courteous (respectful, empathetic, attentive, etc.) in their interactions with customers? (bonus points if staff were engaging or had a sense of humor, but that’s not a replacement for being courteous)

The first point, effectiveness, is largely going to be impacted by hiring, training, and knowledgebase tools (if your staff can’t access and understand the answer, they’re going to have a hard time helping a customer with it!). It’s on the second point, convenience, and to an extent the third point, pleasantness, that live help can really make an impact. I’ll get into the details of how next week.

Live Help Supports Support!

On the staff side, an interaction with support is a positive one if it hits the following four points:
1. Efficient – was the time to answer (customer wait time) and time to resolution within team goals?
2. Effective – was the issue resolved in the first interaction?
3. Customer Satisfaction – was the customer satisfied with the support they received? This is just as much an issue of communications skills as it is of actual technical support.
4. Documentation – was the case attached to the right ticket, closed, assigned, etc. appropriately?

On the staff side, live help software can actually impact all four of these points, though some preparation may be required depending on what your organization’s current processes are. Again, I’ll get into the details of how next week. One final note for this week.

Customer Experience is Too Important to Ignore Live Help

Customer experience is increasingly the differentiator for companies, not price or features. Think about Verizon vs. Comcast or Southwest Airlines vs. United Airlines—you know which of the pair are (more) infamous for their bad service. Some of this is just better marketing, but at some point even exceptionally good marketing can’t salvage exceptionally poor customer service. This is true whether you’ve experienced it personally or you’ve heard about it from multiple friends, colleagues, family members, etc.

Admittedly, some of the “importance” of this is on the sales side of customer service rather than on the support side – especially when you consider how easy it is to go to a competitor’s website and complete a transaction there (especially if they are using a click-to-chat live help solution!). However, there are implications for customer support as well.

Everyone’s had the experience of dialing into a support line and waiting and waiting…, and/or having to choose between some volume of options none of which clearly represent what you’re trying to accomplish, and some of the more unfortunate have had the experience of being juggled by multiple transfers and possibly even of being disconnected during one of said transfers or while on seemingly eternal hold. I’ve been one of those more unfortunate customers, it’s frustrating and discouraging! But I’ve also been one of those fortunate customers who has called into a company with exceptional customer service. Service that leaves me saying to myself: “Wow, this company really has its act together.” When you surprise and delight a customer like that, they tell their network of friends, colleagues, etc. how remarkable your company is.

Live help reduces wait times and directly engages the customer about their needs. It makes it easy for a support rep to direct customers to the information they are seeking and to remain compliant with your company’s protocols. By improving the customer experience, you help build the next wave of advocates or promoters for your company. By streamlining things internally, you ensure that live help software doesn’t become just another burdensome obligation your team needs to allocate time and money into implementing, learning and staying on top of day after day—its value is clear to the customer, to staff and to your organization as a whole.

Check back in next week for details on how live help can impact convenience in the customer experience, and efficiency and documentation on the support staff side. In a subsequent post, I’ll speak to the role of live help in building pleasantness in the customer experience, and effectiveness and customer satisfaction on the support staff side.

Improving the Customer Support Experience With Live Help Software: Part Two

Live help software can make customer support more accessible and efficient for your customers.

Last week, I gave an overview of the characteristics of customer support that result in a positive customer support experience- on both the customer side and the staff side.

Live help software can make customer support more accessible and efficient for your customers.
Live help software can make customer support more accessible and efficient for your customers.

Live help software is able to impact much but not all of this, and this week I’ll get into a little bit more detail about how.

How Live Help Can Improve the Customer Experience

Convenience is the primary means by which live help software impacts the customer experience in customer support. Live help can also impact the pleasantness of interactions for customers, through pre-written messages/scripts and chat agent training that conveys courtesy, empathy, and attentiveness, but that is secondary (note: it is secondary, but it is not irrelevant!).

Convenience can be thought of in two dimensions: 1) accessibility and 2) efficiency.

If your customer support team is literally one mouse click away, many of your customers will find your click to chat convenience preferable to dialing the support line (and likely struggling to navigate through a VRU). During the chat, it’s easy for customers to read your support team’s guidance in the same window as the one they’re working in, rather than clicking between an email and your product/website. After the chat, your customers will appreciate being able to reference the chat log if the same issue should recur (as will staff, as that could prevent an unnecessary help session). This positively impacts customer experience by making things as easy as possible for the customer.

In terms of efficiency, the customer wants their issue to be resolved quickly and simply. Pre-written messages can expedite communication (especially if the customer is asking a “popular” question). Screen-sharing puts your support team’s eyes on the customer’s screen, so providing a walkthrough solution becomes significantly easier. For more self-directed customers, support agents can offer to “push” the customer to a page from your online help manual with further instructions, a library of recorded or scheduled trainings, etc. When customers come to your support team looking for assistance, you have a major opportunity to surprise and delight them by leading them to the exact solution they needed so immediately.

Improving the Customer Support Staff Experience with Live Help Software

On the staff side of customer support, live help software can impact efficiency, effectiveness, measurement of customer satisfaction, and documentation. Efficiency and effectiveness can be measured in time to answer (customer wait time), time to resolution, and resolution achieved within the first interaction with support. As mentioned above, pre-written messages tailored to common support questions (e.g. forgetting your password, account history, exporting data in a certain format, etc.), screen sharing, and the ability to “push” customers to specific pages can be immensely helpful in terms of identifying and delivering the right solution quickly.

Measurement of customer satisfaction can be easily captured through a post-support survey. Many organizations use this opportunity to collected Net Promoter Score (NPS) data. You typically want to ask for a numeric, an open text field about why they offered that score, and an open text field that asks what you could do to improve.

Documentation can be tricky if your live help software does not have a live chat integration with your ticketing software. If it does however, it is easy to make sure the chat log gets attached to the appropriate record. Reporting on agent effectiveness (in terms of total time spent actively using live help, total number of help sessions/chats, total missed sessions/chats, average satisfaction, etc.) is also very easy to do with live help software. This information is not only useful for individual staff performance management but also for determining optimal headcount during peak/off hours.

The Importance of a Positive Customer Support Experience

We increasingly find ourselves in an environment in which a high quality of service is a prime factor for customers in determining what companies they will continue to do business with. Unless your customer acquisition vastly outpaces your attrition (and your negative brand image!), you will not be in business long, let alone grow if you do not address customer experience. From a staff perspective, if you force employees to use inefficient processes (especially if you penalize them for being too slow with them) and if you fail to provide feedback and identify opportunities for improvement, you will never reach a high level of quality (and will probably suffer significant turnover in the process).

Click here for more information about how live help software can improve the customer support experience.

Live Chat Remains a Relevant and Preferred Communication Channel

Many (would-be) customers prefer live chat to phone, for various reasons.

Live chat provides a number of benefits.
Many (would-be) customers prefer live chat to phone, for various reasons. Read more here: http://tinyurl.com/oddpc87

With all the new mobile apps and communication channels available to deliver customer service, it’s sometimes easy to overlook “old school” technologies. While there will always be a segment of the population that will flock to whatever new, shiny object catches their fancy, it’s important to not lose sight of what works and what a majority of customers actually prefer. Live chat is a case in point. Just because live chat technologies have been around for 20 years, doesn’t mean it’s the preferred communication channel for Baby Boomers. In fact, live chat is more popular with younger generations, with many preferring it over phone.

Millennials Prefer Live Chat

With all the excitement over new customer service delivery options such as self-service, it’s easy to want to divert time and resources into developing these new applications. True, these are important features to develop, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of tried and true communication channels such as live chat. In fact, in a new report released by help desk technology consultancy Software Advice, they found that of the 350 respondents surveyed, 60% of Millennials prefer to have their questions about online shopping answered via live chat over traditional channels. Additionally, Millennials were 20% more likely to prefer live chat over Baby Boomers with 56% reporting a successful experience with live chat at least once.

Live chat will continue to be the expectation in customer service.
Usage of Live Chat by Age

The popularity of live chat has less to do with “what’s old is new” and more to do with a communication channel that owes its longevity to its convenience and quick response time.

The Business Case for Live Chat

Besides its ease of use and efficiency, other business cases can readily be made for the continued investment of this important communication channel. In the same report referenced above, companies that successfully rely on live chat report that support agents are more efficient with live chat than phone, mostly because it is easier to handle multiple conversations simultaneously. Additionally, live chat is seen as an excellent entrance point for customers, as it is easy for prospective customers to ask questions and get timely answers, without the level of commitment that phone or email requires. When customers have a positive first interaction with a company they are more likely to become paying customers. Numerous studies have shown that customers are less likely to abandon their online shopping carts if live chat is an available option. Before committing to making a purchase, customers may have a question they’d like answered. If their only communication option with a company is via phone or e-mail, they are more likely to abandon the purchase as these modes of communication are less timely and more cumbersome. One case study featured live chat conversations being 90% likely to convert to a sale, another that adding live chat increased conversions by more than 20%.

While call centers will remain an important pillar of customer support, live chat should be seen as its equal.
• Live chat is more efficient as agents often engage in multiple simultaneous conversations.
• Because of quicker response times, live chat agents spend less time per interaction and can service more customers over other communication channels.
• Live chat reduces the amount of calls coming into call centers as many customers will use this feature over phone or email, thus allowing for more technical and specialized calls to be handled through the call center.
• With agents able to handle multiple customers at once, fewer agents are able to handle the work load.

Training Live Chat Agents

As with most aspects of customer care, live chat requires training and monitoring. Although customers prefer live chat for all the aforementioned reasons, they still want personalized and individualized attention. Just as customers are turning away from scripted, canned phone conversations, they expect their live chat conversations to feel natural.

Live chat training is more than simply showing agents how to use your live chat software, training should include appropriate communication techniques; always alerting a customer if an agent needs a few minutes to resolve a problem; asking permission for an agent to access the customer’s browser; and finally how to nudge a customer to complete a sale, without coming across as aggressive.

If your company has yet to implement live chat, now is a good time to explore adding this to your customer service communication options. The numbers speak for themselves: customers prefer live chat over other communication methods; live chat is good for the bottom line; and live chat leads to more satisfied customers. If your organization already uses live chat, it’s a good time to ensure your protocols meet customer expectations regarding natural communication styles. Knowing the demographics of your live chat audience will help you tailor your training to meet your user’s needs. There’s no time like the present to implement or improve upon this powerful customer service tool!

What Live Chat Reporting Can Drive Real Improvements?

Live chat reporting is most useful when it’s clean and unambiguous.

Live chat reporting does not need to be complicated to be actionable.

Live chat reporting is most useful when it’s clean and unambiguous.
Live chat reporting is most useful when it’s clean and unambiguous.

Any performance management expert will tell you that you don’t want to actively monitor and respond to more than 3-5 metrics at a time, or you will get hopelessly lost in the data, especially if you’re just starting off in tracking how you’re doing. Initially, it might even be best to start with one key metric.

That having been said, if the live chat reporting you’re working with is too limited for your organization to make actionable use of now or in the future (after you’ve grown and different metrics have taken priority, for instance), that’s effectively the same as not having live chat reporting at all.

So how do you balance simplicity with extensive usability in live chat reporting?

The best of all possible worlds is to have a wide variety of dashboard-style reports that make it immediately clear how you can improve, along with a set of more advanced reports for when you’re ready to take the next step in optimizing engagement for your website visitors.

What Should I Be Tracking in My Live Chat Reporting?

Live chat reporting, like most performance monitoring, can largely be broken into two categories: real-time reporting and more long-term assessments of progress.

Real-time reporting is useful for managers and/or team leads, optimizing resource allocation and identifying and resolving issues as they arise.

Long-term progress assessment is more comprehensive and longitudinal – insofar as there is a science of live chat, this is where it happens. Through well-documented trial and error, your organization can see where to initiate proactive chat to best impact conversions. Through chat agent-level, organization-level, and visitor-level live chat reporting, you can evaluate what’s working and what’s not. This allows you to identify your top-performing agents, so you can figure out what they’re doing that makes them so exceptional, then scale that across your entire team.

What Metrics Are Most Important in Live Chat Reporting?

Agent-level live chat reporting should be able to capture what chat agents are responsible for the highest number of conversions and what agents demonstrate the highest rate of conversion, as well as the dollar amount associated with those conversions. It should also be able to track agent availability in real-time and provide the ability for managers to supervise and transfer chats when necessary. Agent-level reporting should also include a breakdown of average wait time, chat length, handle time and customer satisfaction data.

Organization-level live chat reporting should include average wait time, chat length, handle time and customer satisfaction information, as noted above, but should also include stats about what volume and percentage of chats were abandoned and what overall utilization looked like, so you know when you need to adjust staffing volume. This utilization information is valuable on a daily and weekly basis as much as it is a seasonal basis, as many e-commerce sites could tell you.

Visitor-level live chat reporting should include real-time visitor monitoring, so agents can tell where customers or prospects have come from and what they’re looking at while the chat conversation is continuing. On the broader scale of progress monitoring, live chat reporting should make it easy to track basic information about your visitors via live chat integration with your CRM (e.g. SalesForce, NetSuite, SugarCRM).

As I mentioned initially, you want to start small and simple, or you can easily overwhelm yourself (and your team!). Maybe tracking staffing volume vs. demand is the easiest place to start, or maybe you are having a serious customer satisfaction issue and that’s Priority One for you—so long as you are always paying attention and responding to data points that matter, you are always making progress. You can learn more about currently available live chat reporting here.