Cerillion Business Analyst, Gústaf Gústafsson, experiences the rising use of web chat applications to support online sales, and finds that context and timing is crucial to ensuring the right customer experience.
High street retailers are in the midst of a crisis as consumers use the convenience of internet shopping to make their purchases from the comfort of their own home. But price comparison sites have made online shopping a price war, rather than customers buying from the shop that provides the best service. Sure, every online shop shows customer reviews to try and convince the customer they are trustworthy, but at the end of the day it’s generally the price that counts in the online world.
The skill of the high street sales assistant is to step in at the right time with the knowledge and advice to convince the shopper they are making the right choice. Price is always important, but the sales assistant’s role is to close the sale before the customer moves on to the next store. And this is more art
than science. Reading body language, asking the right questions at the right time, using a bit of charm, these are all tools of the trade on the high street.
In the online world, many companies have introduced web chat
applications that enable the customer to engage with an ‘expert’ for advice. However, from personal experience some are falling well short when it comes to the customer experience.
I recently moved to a new flat in London, and as most of us know, there is a little bit more to moving than just packing and unpacking, not least contacting all my utility providers – electricity, gas, water, phone and internet, to mention just a few. Gladly, many companies have made it straightforward for me as a customer and I was able to transfer my services on the internet instead of having to wait in a call centre queue. Some also provided a web chat option in case I had difficulties or questions when making my changes, a reassurance that help was close by.
But I realised the full potential of web chat when I was browsing for a new home insurance policy, as I ended up buying my insurance from a website where I was able to chat with a CSR. By being prompted with the web chat invite at the right time, I was able to ask relevant questions and the friendly and knowledgeable sales advisor was able to seal the deal.
I am saying ‘at the right time’, because later that day I visited another website, which I ended up leaving within a few minutes, as their attempt to enrich my online shopping experience with a web chat session failed dismally, asking me how they could help before I even had chance to understand what they were selling!
Timing is very important, maybe more so online than in a retail store. But getting to know the product is also an essential part of the purchase. And just as in a retail store, if the sales assistant is too eager to make a sale, the customer might be scared away. On the other hand, with no one there to help you, you will most likely lose interest and leave.
The customer experience is increasingly important in attracting new and keeping existing customers. When I used to work in customer service, we were always discussing how to provide a better service; how to provide the best service possible. Because we knew that good service could be the difference between a customer staying or leaving for a competitor.
Offering customers the opportunity to interact through multiple online channels, including web chat and social media (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc), has the potential to revolutionise online sales. However, these channels also need to be staffed with the right people or have the automated intelligence to understand an increasingly complex array of digital buying signals. Offering these online interaction channels but not being responsive is worse than not offering them at all, and doing the right thing at the right time has never been more important.