Chat is not a new technology, but in a connected world organisations are finding more uses for it as a way to both engage with customers and expand profit margins. Neil Blagden, Director, Customer & Commercial Operations at Vodafone UK, explains its potential.
Chat is a text-based communication tool that is becoming a leading platform for brands wanting to connect with audiences and serve customers in a quick and meaningful way.
From a customer’s point of view it is useful because it supports online self-service. Consumers are increasingly demanding more convenient ways to access products and services. They want the convenience of buying or resolving an issue from wherever they are via a digital channel, but also the peace of mind knowing that they can discuss their options without having to pick up the phone or go into a store.
Businesses can use chat to inform customers, answer questions quickly and, increasingly, to drive additional sales revenue. As a result, it is being picked up not just by large companies and public sector bodies, but also by small and medium enterprises who want to find new ways to grow.
Adoption rates have been bolstered by text-based social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. These demonstrate a clear appetite for text communication, in real-time.
The growing appeal of online chat
Vodafone UK is seeing around 25% of customer interactions coming via chat. It’s a figure that has increased significantly in the last six months as customers grow more comfortable with the technology.
As smartphones become more widely adopted, chat is being accessed on mobile devices as well as desktops and laptops. Vodafone has embedded it into its app and recently it experienced a 10-fold increase in chats triggered from phones.
People tell Vodafone they appreciate the simplicity of chat as well as the fact it can be used when a phone call is not appropriate, for example on a quiet train or when customers want to keep the conversation private.
It has other advantages too; the latest webchat technologies have recently embraced ‘WhatsApp’ style, synchronous chat, which means customers can open a chat and fire off a few questions before taking a break and running some errands. The chat box stays open and it’s perfectly possible to pick up where you left off, unlike in the case of a call.
It appeals to generations who have adopted text-based messaging and, from an organisational perspective, it can save companies money because it is around 50% cheaper to run a chat operation than a voice one.
Another major benefit is the value of rich content. This allows people involved in the chat to post links, pictures or video that illustrates what they are saying. This can be done without interrupting the conversation flow.
Within businesses there is also an opportunity to link-up parts of the organisation with quick and easy communication. IT can solve problems with sales and provide updates on fixes, while sales can talk to logistical staff about live deals.
Cross-over with artificial intelligence?
We are entering an exciting phase in the development of chat with its potential to crossover with artificial intelligence and machine learning. This is currently in its infancy but the potential is significant.
A possible outcome could be that chats begin with a ‘robot’ or ‘avatar’, who will answer basic questions and make suggestions based on algorithms, then humans are cued to takeover if the conversation moves to more complex territory.
The software will learn from each new enquiry, using data from the content of the conversation and the language used. It picks up more scenarios and uses these to create better outcomes the more it is used.
We are at a very early stage with this technology, but the scope is clear.
How chat could work for you
For businesses considering incorporating chat into their communications portfolio, I suggest recruiting a chat specialist – someone who has run operations in the past and understands how they work.
They must understand not just the operational side – in other words running a communications centre – but also how to refine the rules of engagement from a technical point of view: when chat is triggered and when it isn’t, for example.
It’s also vital to partner with the right technology provider. Two big players are Live Person and Touch Commerce, but there are many others in the market. You need to assess which will integrate easily with your existing platforms.
A third piece of advice is to think about chat in terms of value-add to the customer and an opportunity to up-sell when it is appropriate to do so. Organisations occasionally see chat as a way of keeping people away from a phone, but this is a fairly negative approach.
Chat is here to stay and organisations are just getting to grips with its potential. If businesses play to its strengths then the returns, in the form of greater customer engagement and better profits, could be substantial.