Brand engagement has exploded in recent years thanks to the rise in social media and the demand that companies actively participate in online conversations. A brand’s interactions with leads and customers impact the way it’s viewed. Confirming this is a report by Lithium, a social experience SaaS (News - Alert) platform, that noted over a third of consumers say their opinions about brands and products are shaped by social media, and a Forbes study that found 82 percent of consumers trust a company more if they are involved with social media.
You may not think of live chat on your website in terms of social media, but as consumer expectations evolve, a shift in that mindset becomes necessary. Every interaction you have with prospects and customers, especially “live” ones, affects their perception of you and creates an opportunity to build trust and make a good impression from the get-go. After all, your website is a key transaction point. What better arena to use to foster trust? Starting with your website means starting by engaging with people who already express a strong interest in your products or services.
Unfortunately, live chat innovation has stagnated, resulting in the same old text-based, wait-your-turn-in-line model that makes consumers loathe call centers. Chat reps are often low-paid employees or even outsourced help who have little actual product knowledge aside from the pre-scripted answers they’ve been given – and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have an actual person on the other end.
Such poor service interaction leaves a bad impression on prospects. If they don’t get the information they’re looking for from the chat system, they’re likely to hit the road. The proof is in the pudding: A RightNow Customer Experience Impact Report found that 89 percent of consumers have stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.
The fact is, current chat models aren’t working. Customers want real live engagement with actual people who can answer their specific questions and don’t send them to other sources to find answers. The next evolution in live chat – we’ll call it live chat 2.0 – involves an integration with your brand’s overall user experience and a back-to-basics focus on good, old-fashioned customer service. Here’s how to do it.
Earn back the trust.
Companies have really mucked things up when it comes to customer service, and consumers have learned not to expect a whole lot. Echo Research found that nearly a third of consumers believe that businesses aren’t concerned about providing good customer service, with around the same number reporting that businesses failed to meet their expectations.
Be there when they need you.
You don’t have to offer 24/7 availability, but having a consistent schedule with clearly posted timeframes can go a long way. Your prospects want to chat, and being there for them creates a favorable impression: According to Forrester (News - Alert), 44 percent of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.
Be real and authentic.
Chat 2.0 is all about putting a real human face and name to these crucial interactions. Knowing someone’s name, title, and even location can create a more personal connection at the outset. It lets prospects and customers know that this company has real people offering real answers, not just stock quotes.
And while it’s helpful to provide answer guidelines to those handling the chats, it’s just as important that these interactions tie in with your overall brand experience. Chat representatives should be warm, understanding, and patient. And above all, they should focus more on listening than talking.
Go above and beyond.
The Echo report mentioned above also said that only 7 percent of consumers felt that customer service experiences exceeded expectation. Why be ordinary when you can be extraordinary?
Audio, video, co-browsing, file sharing – all of these more engaging ways of interacting transform the chat experience to a truly valuable educational encounter with your company. Worry less about volume and more about quality, and you’ll see an increase in qualified leads, which leads to quicker sales.
Whether someone has a good interaction with your brand or a bad one, they’re going to tell people about it. And those people are going to put a lot of stock into what’s said. A Nielsen study shows that a whopping 92 percent of people trust recommendations from people they know, far exceeding any other source. If you focus on giving each prospect an exceptional experience, they’ll let people know – and those people will likely come to you over your competitor when they’re ready to buy.
Lief Larson is CEO of Workface Inc. (www.workface.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi