One of the most interesting findings from our recent research on multi-channel service, highlighted the growing user acceptance for live chat – the research found that a quarter of consumers would use live chat to contact customer service representatives if they cannot self-serve.

There’s no doubt that the general popularity of live chat is increasing, with recent research from Forrester reporting a 24% rise in chat usage in the past three years, with the younger generation in particular using it as their channel of choice.

But whilst live chat is set to grow and expand – it’s vital that it’s not viewed as a stand-alone service – but as being integrated into your overall multi-channel customer service offering. Indeed Gartner analyst – Johan Jacobs recently said, ‘“The best practice is that you have to invest extensively in building a deep knowledge depository that can be used by agents and by external customers.”

Increasingly, customers will search for answers to their questions via web self-service but if their question requires a more detailed response, they will resort to either calling a contact centre agent or escalate from self-service to real-time contact via live chat. At this point there will be an expectation that the agent they are communicating with will have a greater knowledge of the products and services they offer.

Typically agents ‘knowledge’ is built through a combination of experience and training but increasingly agents are expected to answer a wider variety of technical questions on products and services, including offers that may change constantly. So how can you ensure that agents are armed with the most up-to-date information and that they all offer the same high standard and consistency of information to customers?

Last week, the Foreign Office highlighted the pressure on contact centre agents, by releasing a list of bizarre questions they have been asked, about everything from how to help silence a noisy cockerel to finding the best place to watch the football. And whilst some of the strange requests for information they received made an amusing read, there is a more serious side to this story. Whilst the onus is on the consumer to understand the limitations of information a contact centre can provide – organisations must arm their contact centre agents with constantly up-dated information on their products and services.

With the pressure to increase FCR rates and reduce costs, contact centre staff are under increasing pressure to improve efficiency and service. Companies that invest in a centralized knowledge-base and integrate their live chat software with it, will ensure contact centre agents are able to quickly search for information during chats.

So what are the key benefits?

  • Optimize contact centre metrics – a central knowledge-base will provide instant, reliable answers to agents communicating with customers via phone or live chat. Reducing your cost per interaction, average handling times and abandonment rates.
  • Reduce training times – A reliable source of information will enable agents to get live quicker, cutting average training times by up to 30%.
  • Improve engagement & sales – Offering proactive, tactically triggered chat can increase conversion rates by 20% over reactive chat.
  • Consistency of information – By giving agents access to a centralised knowledge-base of information, you can be sure customers receive the same consistent answers, across all channels – improving customer experience.
  • Instantly up-dated information – A constantly maintained and up-dated knowledge-base will enable contact centre agents to have the very latest information on products and services at their fingertips, 24/7.

Where next for live chat?

We recently wrote about the work we are doing with HGS UK – building a live chat service for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The service deals with passport enquiries and is believed to be the first deployment of a paid-for live chat service of its kind. Customers simply buy a web chat pin for a flat rate free (currently £4), can ask as many questions they like at a time of their choosing, and at the end of the session are e-mailed a transcript of their web chat session.

Why would people pay for a live chat, you may well ask?

Well think about it for a moment and you can start to see why. The passport application process can be long and laborious. A live chat session could help you answer all your individual questions in one go and save you a series of expensive phone calls. It might save you a long trip to a passport application office. Even better, you get a record of the conversation that may prove useful if you come across a glitch in your application further down the line.

It doesn’t take long to see that this is a service that could be of real value to the consumer – one that they are willing to pay for. And if a government department has to lay on extra resources to provide it, it seems fair that they would charge to cover costs.

The Foreign Office example is currently unique as far as we know. It will be interesting to see if it followed by other government departments and industries.

Find out more on our live chat solutions.