Is Chat Ready to Grow Up?

My credit card recently expired, which meant updating accounts such as Netflix, cable, etc. where the card was used for automatic payment.

It was a strangely inconsistent process from company to company.

My cable company's website wasn't working, so I had to contact a live agent. I opted for chat, hoping this would be the most convenient. It was not a great experience.

I waited for two minutes to get connected with an agent. Once the agent came online, her responses were so clearly templated that I sincerely questioned whether she was a human or a bot. She replied "I am a robot :) beep beep," which tells me she was (probably) a human.

There was also a long lag between her responses. I later learned she was handling three chat sessions at the same time. The chat session took 10 minutes just to update my credit card expiration date.

This experience is similar to what many chat customers encounter every day. If your company offers live chat, it's time to do better.


Chat Satisfaction is Down

Customer satisfaction for chat was down in 2017. 

The LiveChat Customer Service Report 2018 shows an overall chat satisfaction decline from 86.35 percent in 2016 to 83.54 percent last year. Comm100's Live Chat Benchmark Report 2018 showed a similar decline from 84.06 percent down to 80.68.

Two major pain points are average wait times and average chat length, both of which I experienced in my chat with the cable company. Here are the averages for 2017 from the LiveChat report:

  • Wait time: 51 seconds 
  • Chat length: 11 minutes, 34 seconds

Companies should drive those numbers way down if they want to modernize their chat channel. Keep in mind that customer satisfaction with wait time is a function of the actual wait combined with how that wait was spent.


Best Practices to Speed Up Chat

I reached out to leading chat providers such as Comm100, LiveChat, and Zendesk to learn some best practices.


Leverage Chatbots

Comm100 launched a chatbot in 2017. Its clients were able to use the chatbot to handle 20 percent of their chat volume, on average. Let's go back to my credit card example. The agent added no humanity (recall I initially couldn't tell if she was human) to what was really a simple transaction. A chatbot could have handled the same issue with no wait time and no lag. This also would have freed up the agent to assist another customer with a more complicated issue.


Integrate Customer Data

Szymon Klimczak, CMO at LiveChat suggests leveraging available information. "Building a positive experience is all about using the available data appropriately. Hence, knowing your customers really well seems to be the key to success." For instance, I was signed into my cable company account when I initiated my chat session, so the chat program could have been programmed to recognize that data and allowed that chat agent skip the four questions she used to verify my identity.


Route Intelligently

Tony Sandhu, Comm100's Customer Success Manager, suggests making sure chats get routed to the best available agent, rather than just assigning chats on a random or round robin basis. "Long wait times can be eliminated by using intelligent routing rules that automatically route requests based on departments, customer value, or competency of agents."


Share Content 

Caitlin Henehan, Zendesk’s Vice President and General Manager for Chat, describes how sharing helpful content in chat helped one client solve issues faster. “The ability to send video, screenshots, and links to help articles via chat has allowed our customer TeamSnap to reduce their work time per issue by 20% and increase customer satisfaction."


Limit Simultaneous Chats

The number of simultaneous chats an agent can handle at one time should be capped to improve customer satisfaction, reduce lag time, and prevent errors. The exact number varies from company to company and should be determined by working closely with your agents to observe what's most efficient. In my cable company example, running three chats at once created a negative experience because the agent took took long to respond and wasn't able to inject any personality into her initial responses.


Take Action!

Chat has the potential to be a really great channel if used correctly.

Evaluate your own chat function from the outside in by conducting a mystery shopping exercise to experience what your customers experience. Look for opportunities to apply best practices to reduce customer wait times, increase customer engagement, and solve problems faster.

How Zendesk is Making Customer Service Simple

I was lucky to score an invite to Zendesk's Relate Live user conference in New York last month.

This was my first software user conference, though I was assured by conference leader Sarah Stealey Reed that this wasn't an ordinary experience. The event focused on relationships first, software second.

Zendesk's President of Products, Adrian McDermott, made this crystal clear when he described the convoluted process for adding a security certificate to a website.

"This only works for two technical people having a nerdgasm."

The Zendesk approach is to take something that may be a 22-step process and simplify it down to the push of a button.

McDermott explained that the typical Zendesk customer is a Director of Customer Support. That customer is trying to help her customers, not spend time grappling with technology.

"Our challenge as builders is helping her get that job done," said McDermott.

I've seen this first hand, since many of my clients use Zendesk's customer service software. For instance, legal practice management software provider Clio used Zendesk's built-in survey feature to increase survey responses by 600 percent in just two months.

Another example is Zendesk's Answer Bot, an automated tool that helps customers find self-service resources and avoid contacting a company for support. The major benefit is this frees up agents to focus on helping customers who really need a human.

Omnichannel is another opportunity to make service simple.

Many companies manage various customer service channels such as email, chat, and phone in different silos. If you contact a company via one channel such as email, you'll have to tell your story all over again if you move to another channel such as chat.

Zendesk is putting the customer at the center of all those interactions so it becomes a seamless experience from both the customer and support agent's point of view. This removes a barrier to having a human-to-human conversation.

Mikkel Svane, Zendesk's co-founder and CEO, described the need to keep things simple in his opening remarks.


Svane acknowledged it is sometimes difficult to keep things simple as the Zendesk platform grows and more features are added. For instance, people could signup for Zendesk and configure the software on their own when it was first launched.

Now, laments Svane, we need customers to call us because it's become more complicated.

That's where Zendesk's customer service vision comes into play.

The emphasis is on people and relationships when you contact Zendesk for support. The idea is to connect Zendesk users with a helpful, empathetic support representative who can understand the customer's needs and help them achieve their goals.

The company's elite service culture is why I profiled Zendesk in The Service Culture Handbook, where you can read about how Zendesk developed its vision in Chapter 12.

Zendesk 2015 Q1 Report Reveals Live Chat Insights

A new report from Zendesk reveals new insights into live chat.

Zendesk is a leading provider of customer service software. Their 2015 Q1 Benchmark report analyzed live chat data from 2,261 companies.

This post summarizes a few of Zendesk’s more interesting findings. For example, live chat delivers the highest customer satisfaction rating among contact center channels with a 92 percent average. 

You can download the full report here.

Faster Problem Resolution

Implementing chat in a contact center can lead to faster problem resolution.

Companies that introduced Zendesk’s Zopim live chat software saw a significant drop in API and Web Form contacts. These are channels that customers typically find when searching for support on a company’s website. 

Moving to chat allows customers to resolve their problems faster. Zendesk recorded an average chat duration of 10 minutes and 35 seconds. Most companies take an hour or more just to respond to contacts submitted through an API or Web Form.

The grainy graph below shows the percentage of contacts by channel prior to implementing live chat in green. The percentage of contacts after implementing live chat is show in yellow.

Source: Zendesk

Source: Zendesk

Slow Reply Times

There’s still room for improvement when it comes to reply times.

When a customer initiates a chat, they typically have to wait for an agent to respond. In some ways, this is like being on hold when you call a customer service line.

Predictably, customers prefer a faster response.

The average time to first reply is 1 minute and 36 seconds. However, Zendesk noted that customer satisfaction begins to drop once first reply time crosses the 50 second mark. 

Another large drop in customer satisfaction happens just after the two minute mark.

Source: Zendesk

Source: Zendesk

An Emerging Channel

Zendesk’s data also shows that live chat is still an emerging channel.

Most companies are seeing very low chat volume:

62 = Average monthly chats per company

Individual agents aren’t handling a high average volume either:

22 = Average monthly chats per agent

Companies with a low volume of chat contacts face a number of challenges:

  • Live chat agents typically need to support other channels too
  • Training can be difficult when volume is so low
  • Scheduling is tricky at low volumes


Whats Next?

Live chat offers two advantages over phone that companies could capitalize on.

First, it has the potential to deliver higher customer satisfaction. It’s a perfect channel for today’s multi-tasking, keyboard addicted consumer. 

Second, chat’s can be more efficient to serve. A typical agent handles two to three chats simultaneously. This means chat agents have the opportunity to serve more customers per hour than phone.

The key to getting this right is response time.

Live chat has to offer a response time of less than 50 seconds to be competitive with phone. Otherwise, the channel will simply continue to divert contacts away from slower channels.