If you thought your customers were willing to cut you some CX slack due to the pandemic, think again. Right now, customers are less forgiving of brands’ customer service delays and wait times, and more in need of the human touch than ever before. The reality is, unless online customer service is conducted quickly, reliably and with compassion, there’s a risk of customers walking away completely—at a time when companies need customer loyalty more than ever.

In Simplr’s new State of CX study of 750+ ecommerce brands and 500 online shoppers, 27% of online consumers said that their loyalty has wavered from a brand due to high customer service wait times at the onset of the pandemic. No company, regardless of how well they execute on customer experience, has been immune.

In fact, the study found a seven percent increase in wait times on digital channels (email, chat, contact us) among top-performing brands between February and June. Though the number of brands using three digital channels (chat, email, contact us) increased 50 percent from February to June, many are struggling with the execution, particularly chat.

The hard truth is that turning ‘on’ a channel like chat means retailers have more staffing requirements to meet the needs of customers shopping online 24/7. While retailers strive to offer really great customer service, many are struggling to have their team cover the primetime online shopping hours of 5pm to midnight.

Meeting that “always-on” expectation is critical, particularly with Millennial and Gen Z shoppers who favor the chat channel for communicating with customer service. Chat is far less forgiving when it comes to response time, an area that retailers will have to address if they want to keep their customers happy.

Below is an overview of Simplr’s chat findings, along with tips for improving chat performance as it relates to the 3 Rs of customer service: responsiveness, reliability and relatability.

Chat Response Times

While customers may not be timing a company to see how many seconds it takes to get a response to a question or concern, we have found there are some patterns in just how long consumers are willing to wait once they reach out.

  • 94% of customers who received chat responses in under 60 seconds said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their experience.
  • 61% of chat interactions that were rated as “Very Good” had a response rate under 30 seconds.
  • Conversely, 92% of the chat interactions that were rated as “Very Poor” had wait times exceeding five minutes.

Women’s fashion brand ANINE BING experienced a 74% increase in web traffic from March to April. Despite this incredible surge, the company scored a 5 out of 5 for chat. Their success can be attributed to the fact that they had a chat bot that immediately acknowledged and routed the customer’s pre-sale question and then a human representative who joined shortly to answer the question in a kind and straightforward manner. This blend of chat bot and human response amidst a tremendous rise in web traffic was made possible by the company’s use of flexible staffing.

It’s clear that the faster a company can respond to customers when they show they need support, the better the chances of delivering a positive experience. If a company isn’t set up to respond in near real-time, it may be selling itself short.

Reliability and Chat

The ability to reliably resolve customers’ challenges and answer their questions is another hallmark of CX excellence. Connecting with customers quickly is half the battle; being equipped to provide the information they need is the other.

  • 73% of all the companies that earned a 4.5 out of 5 for overall satisfaction score solved chat tickets on the first attempt.
  • Ensure the right resources are in place to effectively solve customer problems and answer customer questions with as little back-and-forth as possible.
  • Don’t use a chat bot to mask an email submission. In this study of the companies with chat available during the prime shopping hours of 5pm to 12am, 39% used their chat windows exclusively to redirect visitors to an email submission. This approach negatively impacts customer experience when what they were expecting was an instant response to their question.

Relatability and Chat

Chat needs the human touch. With the influx of pandemic-related inquiries, it’s tempting to respond with a chatbot-centric strategy. But this approach isn’t always effective—especially during times when worries are high. Simplr’s findings show a strong positive correlation between companies that engage customers with empathy and high customer satisfaction.

For this research, we created a Relatability Score, based on responses to 10 questions around the personalization, kindness, and above-and-beyond-ness of responses.

  • Overall, 41% of companies shopped earned a “high” Relatability Score.
  • However, when we isolated Relatability Score results for chat in particular, this number dropped to 36%.

Research reveals that people want to connect with humans when they feel anxious. Yet, many companies have focused more on self-service technologies that isolate people when they crave connection.

  • Take a different path by deploying human-staffed live chat on the website. Today, human agents equipped with AI tools can help scale support capabilities to meet surges in demand while maintaining optimal service levels.
  • Let your agents’ personality shine through. Empathy is critical, particularly during this time of upheaval and disconnection. Customers notice when agents bring their personality into the interaction. The most “relatable” interactions we saw in our study included personal anecdotes about a product, first name sign-offs, and emojis.
  • Know your customer! Many CRMs and ticketing systems make it easy to pull previous interactions with a specific customer directly into an agent’s view. A simple “welcome back!” or “hope you’re still enjoying <> from last year” will go a long way in making a customer feel at home with your company.
  • Customers notice when agents bring personality realness. Don’t be afraid to let the brand’s (and agents’) personalities show. The most “relatable” interactions we saw included personal anecdotes from the agent.

Why it Matters

In the face of a 76% rise in YoY online shopping, it’s more important than ever that companies work on getting chat right. That means solving for response time issues in a 24-hour shopping cycle, while incorporating the human element into their CX delivery. By leveraging flexible on-demand staffing, brands are finding a way to be there when their customers are ready to make a purchase. And being there during the difficult times of a pandemic will help to cement brand loyalty that will pay dividends for the foreseeable future.