Live chat is no longer a business luxury

With online retail rapidly overtaking in-store purchasing, vendors must treat web customers as equals. By helping to replicate an in-store experience, live chat software is changing the face of online customer service, and companies can no longer consider it a luxury commodity. Howard Williams, marketing director for chat specialist Parker Software, investigates the emergence of live chat as the lifeblood of online retail.

It is predicted that by the year 2020, UK online retail expenditure will grow by nearly 45 per cent, reaching £62.7 billion. As such, vendors must consider the online store as a direct extension of their in-store space. Customers expect and demand the same levels of service, regardless of where they are making their purchase. However, without the ability to put a friendly human face in front of digital consumers, carefully managed communication with online customers plays an even more important part in satisfying customer service expectations and increasing sales margins.

Leading the way is live chat software. 73 per cent of customers report being satisfied after using a live chat system — higher than all other forms of customer support. With such high levels of satisfaction, it is no surprise that 63 per cent of customers said they were more likely to return to a company’s website if it offered live chat services.

But it’s not just younger generations who prefer live chat. Nearly 30 per cent of Generation X consumers (born 1965-1980) prefer using online chat for their customer service needs, while a growing number of baby boomers (born 1943-1964) are joining the online world, and are receptive to digitalised customer service.

Implementing live chat systems builds relationships with customers that can increase customer loyalty and sales across all generations. The American Marketing Association reports that customers who use live chat are three times more likely to make a purchase. By providing instant access to support and sales staff, customers can have their enquiries answered immediately, as staff have opportunities to influence purchase decisions from behind a screen.

Some companies may have the misconception that live chat software is expensive and won’t provide a valuable return on investment compared to traditional methods. However, an Aberdeen Group Report in 2012 shows that companies can save as much as 50 per cent on customer service costs by using live chat, compared to offering telephone support.

Despite handling numerous support sessions at any given time, live chat operators are often much quicker at solving consumer queries. Instead of having to give verbal instructions on where to find a product or how to place an order, online chat operators can send direct page links for products and processes in the click of a button.

Of course, the benefits of live chat aren’t just for the consumer. There are numerous reasons for using online chat software that can significantly benefit the company too. Systems like Parker Software’s WhosOn link your online chat platform to a customer relationship management (CRM) database, where you can monitor customer activity, run detailed reports and analytics and be proactive in your future sales targets.

Knowing which customers are contacting your support teams can mean sales leads are monitored, CRM systems are kept up to date, and resources like reverse IP lookup can help you focus your marketing efforts accordingly.

Another key reason for implementing live chat sooner rather than later is that few retailers are yet to implement the software. Those that do will still be ahead of the curve, and consumers are more likely to be loyal to brands that are one step ahead of the rest.

Just make sure that your products match the service you’re offering. While back in 1994, a CD was all that was available to buy online, these days you can buy anything from an invisible friend or Justin Timberlake’s half eaten breakfast, to a business jet listed at £25million. Now that is what you’d call a luxury item.