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BizReport : Ecommerce archives : January 07, 2009

Live chat boosts sales and customer service

Online stores are increasingly giving a human touch to their customer service, with the implementation of live chat functions that are initiated by agents based on a customer's location on a website, or their browsing behavior.

by Helen Leggatt

You stand, lost and indecisive, in the middle of a store. Nine times out of ten you will be approached by a friendly store assistant who has noticed your obvious quandary, and who offers help in the hope of closing a sale.

This customer experience can be transferred online, too, using live chat tools. Unlike telephone help services, live chat between a consumer and a 'personal helper' can provide the customer with links and can stay active while consumers browse through suggested products. Unlike email, the live interaction with a 'personal helper' gives a human touch to online stores.

An article at Internet Retailer cites Brad Wolansky, VP of e-commerce at Orvis, as saying his customers who chat convert 15% to 20% of the time, approximately triple the rate of conversion via email.

Use of live chat is increasing. A survey of 100 top Internet retailers by The E-Tailing Group found that almost a third (32%) offered live chat, up from 29% the previous year. Increasingly the attraction is live chat's ability to boost sales, while many retain the service as a less expensive customer service channel.

At what touch points should live chat be implemented? Many abstain from using it on product pages and instead place live chat tools on their customer service pages (88% according to The E-Tailing Group's survey) and at the checkout, all the time tracking how much time a customer spends on those pages and activating online chat after a determined period of time has passed within which the customer has not moved on.

Some retailers map out customer browsing behavior and identify deviations which may indicate a consumer is about to exit the site and activate chat on that basis.

Increasingly, marketers are using online chat for a variety of activity outside of sales including, according to Erika Morphy of, pure customer service functions, particular in the financial and health insurance industries.

Internet Retailer's recent article on the topic contains valuable tips on how to use online live chat profitably, including which customers to initiate chat with, for how long and how agents should be prepared for the interaction.

Tags: Internet Retailer, live chat, online retailers, sales

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