This is a guest post by Adele who writes for Customer Service Guru. She is experienced in consumer service and customer experience trends, and has contributed articles to many of the industry’s leading magazines and websites.
With social media taking the reins in recent years regarding customer service relations, many companies may be thinking of abandoning the concept of a live chat platform and turning their attention to Facebook and Twitter instead.
The benefits of using social media as part of one’s customer service efforts are indeed undeniable, with 80% of companies now including it in their service strategy in 2013. Its popularity is also on the rise – last year it was predicted that the number of businesses using social media would grow by 37%.
But nevertheless, it’s important not to forgo live chat on the presumption that social media is an adequate substitute. Here’s why…
Benefits of Live Chat
First of all, let’s refresh on the benefits of live chat, which can certainly surpass social media in some aspects.
According to KISSMetrics, 44% of customers claim that having their questions answered by a live person during the purchase process is one of the most important features a website can have. In an emarketer.com survey, 63% of people said they were more likely to return to a website which offered live chat, whilst 83% said they made a purchase based on the live chat experience itself.
Live chat is instantaneous; there’s no waiting around (unlike call centres). As it supplies assistance onsite, there’s no need for the customer to open another browser tab or window (as with social media), which would surely disrupt and distract from the customer experience.
Unlike social media, agent responses can also be more detailed – not limited to 160 characters. But it carries the same multitasking potential of social media, enabling agents to balance several customer queries at one time and take on chats via their smartphone or tablet.
There has also been evidence to show that live chat increases sales. Customers have somebody on hand who can walk them through a sale, help them if they get stuck and answer any last minute questions that could make or break the sale. This reduces the number of abandoned shopping carts and helps customers find products more tailored to their needs through the help of a live chat with an experienced customer service representative, three’s customer service team do this notably well.
Let’s not forget that live chat gives you instant access to customers’ pain points – a problem or frustration that remains to be solved. Social media, message boards and on-page reviews are not so immediate; at a glance they provide only scattered, incidental insights. Live chat makes it much easier for your frontline to find patterns in customer woes (with or without analytics) and report back to the rest of the company.
For customers, live chat also closely reflects the real-time scenario of speaking to an adviser in a shop. And for agents, live chat helps them cover gaps in their knowledge more seamlessly by researching or asking a colleague.
How Social Media Measures Up
Many of the aforementioned benefits of live chat can be seen easily with social media. It too has the ability to show great insight into your social customers’ behaviour and their feelings about your brand (this may require external analysis software, but it’s still less expensive than surveys and focus groups). And thanks to its great usability on mobile devices, it can also be accessed anywhere both by agents and customers. Live chat, on the other hand, is not always a mobile-friendly platform, which is why it is often bypassed by avid mobile customers.
Another boon of social media is that it doesn’t waste agents’ time with non-serious or ‘prank’ chats. Most contact centre agents will have no doubt had their fair share of troublemakers and will heave a large sigh when they realise they almost lost a whole five or ten minutes.
Some social networks also give the opportunity to see what customers are saying about your brand – not just to your brand. The Twitter search bar is one example of this, allowing you to view not just hashtags and direct interactions, but general mentions too. In turn you will be able to see the overall volume of customers who are chatting about your brand and judge the climate of their comments – whether they’re for better or for worse – and take action on these.
Whilst social media’s output should ideally be instant and real-time (just like live chat), this can be thwarted when overworked agents fail to respond to social media posts, comments and mentions in a timely manner. The constant flow of updates and notifications can also make it easy for certain customer queries to be missed and therefore pushed to the bottom of the pile. It’s crucial that brands have a different team of reps manning each individual social platform each day, and that there is an appropriate number of staff to handle the demand.
Social media, it must be said, has the ability to boost brand awareness in a way that live chat can’t. With all interactions and responses between you and your customers being public, your good efforts will be positively rewarded by creating an online ‘word of mouth’ that many brands crave. However, this publicity also acts as a multiplier, so poor response rates or a failure to respond altogether will also be common knowledge.
Don’t Separate – Integrate
It has been predicted that by the end of 2014, 45% of contact centres will have integrated social media into their customer service strategy. But this is not enough.
Many businesses perceive live chat and social media as two very exclusive channels, with separate purposes to be used in very different situations. But as talked about here, their platitude of overlapping benefits show that the two platforms are not that different and they both have their own, sometimes joint, advantages to bring to the table.
There may indeed be instances where it is appropriate to prioritise one platform over another, but only the behaviour and preferences of your customers should determine this. It is altogether much better to integrate the two channels, to ensure that all customer needs are satisfied via a variety of communications.
HelpOnClick is one company helping businesses integrate live chat with social media thanks to its dedicated Facebook app. The app can place a live chat platform seamlessly onto any fan page of the leading social network, meaning customers can speak in private about issues via a platform they are already comfortable and familiar with.