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Online shoppers demand the immediacy, personal contact of live chat
Online shopping is efficient and convenient, and can save time and money, but there is one thing missing - someone around to tap on the shoulder when help and advice is needed.
Customer service backup for online shopping comes in many forms - email, telephone, click-to-call and, more recently, via mobile and social. However, there is one under-used channel that gives the immediacy and reassurance of an in-store sales assistant - live chat.
Recent research from Boldchat shows a healthy growth in live chat use in both the US and the UK.
Almost two-thirds (65.5%) of U.S. online shoppers have used live chat this year, up from 50.4% in 2009. In the UK the number using live chat has reached 53% this year, up from 41% in 2011.
Of those surveyed who had never used chat, the main reason was because they preferred another channel - 39% preferred email / 27% preferred telephone.
Significantly, 31% said the reason they hadn't used live chat is simply that the online stores they shop at don't offer the service. So, there's an opportunity for retailers to differentiate and stand-out from the crowd while delighting customers with immediate and relevant customer service.
But, what does live chat provide consumers with that telephone, email, mobile or even social channels can't?
For a start, an online store won't be "empty" with a virtual assistant available at the click of a button. The moment a shopper has a query, whether it is product or customer service-based, or perhaps a technical question regarding the website or check-out/payment process, they have instant access to a real person.
It is less interruptive to the shopping process. Live chat users can stay on a website instead of changing device to a telephone or having to create an email.
Not all shoppers have the time or the willingness to hang around for when a company decides to reply to emails. First contact resolution is becoming an expected service, and live chat is the perfect channel.
Online stores with customers in various countries can overcome language barriers with live chat programs that support multiple languages, improving and extending customer service.
Recent research from Oracle reveals another benefit of live chat - it enables consumers to multi-task while holding a conversation instead of waiting at the end of a phone line.
"As consumers frequent online sites more than ever, they expect to engage with companies' customer service representatives while they are there," said Mike Webster, senior vice president and general manager, Oracle Retail. "Whether the customer visits the company's commerce site or social media page, there must be a clear link to a customer service person that is informed and able to help."
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