Video has come a long way from the clunky experience of trying to interact with someone on a hazy screen that frequently freezes. While these experiences still occur, the advent of smartphones and PCs that include powerful cameras are making video a more useful communication tool.
Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, and other applications have also made it easier for people to have face-to-face conversations remotely. One out of four U.S. adults, for example, interacts with a financial advisor or broker using video chat applications like Skype and GoToMeeting, according to Forrester Research.
As consumers become accustomed to communicating via video, companies are following suit. Interacting with a customer face-to-face can have a powerful impact on the relationship and allow agents to more effectively answer a customer's questions. But video does not fit every situation. Here are tips on when it makes sense to integrate video into a business strategy and when to skip it.
Bring the In-store experience Online.
Schuh is a footwear company with more than 100 stores in the U.K. and Ireland. The company was looking for a way to enhance its website and bring the in-store experience to its online environment. Three years ago Schuh turned to Vee24, which offers video, text, and voice service capabilities. The company launched its video offering in October 2011 with three video stations for its agents and quickly added 14 more video stations within two years.
When customers visit Schuh's website, they have the option of sending their questions to an agent through video or a text chat. Customers can also decide if they want to be visible to the service representative or just have a one-way video chat.
The video chat option is very popular with customers because it personalizes the online experience, according to Customer Service Manager Karyn Stevely. "After each video, we ask our customers for feedback and many have told us that it's great to be able to see who you're dealing with," she says. "It personalizes the experience and helps form a connection between our customers and employees."
Customers typically use the video option for help navigating the website or to see merchandise. Schuh's contact center, which has about 80 agents, is located next to a warehouse to give agents access to the merchandise. The agents receive the same training as in-store employees for interacting with customers as if they were in store. The company is also working with Vee24 on making video chat compatible with smartphones. The option is currently available on a desktop PC or tablet.
Within a few weeks after launching the video chat option, Schuh saw a lift in conversion rates that was four times higher than before the company added video to its services and customers who interacted with employees through video chat spent 10 percent more than those who didn't interact with agents.
Agents aren't trained to upsell products; Stevely attributes the increase in sales to the effectiveness of video as a service feature. "We don't try to push customers into buying more, but the person who wants to spend and just isn't sure about a certain shoe on our website, for example, can now have that piece of mind," she says.
See Through the Customer's Eyes.
Last year, Amazon launched "Mayday," a live tech support service for Kindle HD products that lets users see and talk to the service agent in a small window on the Kindle screen. The service agent can see the user's screen on his or her computer and take over the screen to guide users through the issue. The service is available on a 24 hour basis and representatives are supposed to respond to requests within 15 seconds. In June this year, Amazon added the Mayday service to its Fire Phone.
Salesforce.com offers a similar feature that clients can add to their own apps through the Service Cloud1 platform. Power tool maker Dewalt used the platform to create an app feature that lets customers upload a photo of a broken tool to show an agent on a video chat. The agent can see the customer and the photo and draw on the photo to further explain how to fix the tool. Dewalt is still experimenting with the app feature and hasn't issued a timeframe for rolling it out yet.
Video chat is most effective as a real-time visual tool, notes Brendan Read, Frost and Sullivan industry analyst for information and communication technologies. When deciding whether to invest in video, business owners should ask themselves, "What additional information can a video provide that text or a photo can't?" Read says. "Product repairs, furniture quality resolution, and insurance claims where you can show the agent the actual damage are some of the areas where video can enhance text."
John Ragsdale, vice president of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), agrees. "If you are chatting via Facetime with a customer, the customer can use his or her smartphone or tablet camera to show you the failing hardware component or whatever the issue is, basically allowing the support technician into the customer's home or office," Ragsdale comments. In addition, companies are offering video chat as a personal touch to high-value customers. For example, as a form of premier support, customers can pay for a dedicated technical account manager or assistant who they can call upon at any time. "Having a face-to-face connection," Ragsdale notes, "helps build that relationship without the technical account manager having to fly onsite for in-person meetings."
Interacting with people wherever they are, even when they're still wearing pajamas, is gaining a wider acceptance. Fashion magazine Elle took note of this trend in an article published last week with the cheeky title "10 Video Chat Appropriate PJs."
Keep Customer Preferences in Sight.
While face-to-face customer support is growing in popularity, some customers prefer not to be seen. Online retailer eBags.com offers a 24-hour live chat service and a library of videos displaying luggage, purses, and other bags, but it doesn't offer video chat. "We don't think our customers would like to be seen," says founder and Marketing EVP Peter Cobb. "This way they can shop and speak with our staff in the privacy of their homes."
Instead, eBags.com focuses on shooting and publishing videos using Liveclicker's VideoCommerce solution. Employees are filmed in three to four-minute videos demonstrating a bag's features, such as the storage compartments in a backpack. The company has created more than 1,500 videos, ranging from product demonstrations to special-offer videos and brand-sourced video content.
Cobb declined to comment on the videos' ROI results, but noted that "anecdotally the videos are a huge hit with our customers. We get feedback from customers who say they love watching the videos because it's like having an in-store sales associate educate them about our products."
Indeed, some companies are looking for service videos that don't include being seen by an agent or interacting directly with another person, says Jim Dicso, president and chief revenue officer at SundaySky. "We're seeing a demand from companies that want to create dynamic videos that can serve as a recap of a conversation a client had with a representative or remind them of a product that they haven't bought yet," he says.
SundaySky produces videos that are personalized for a client's customer based on profile, historical, or situational data and provide instructions for paying a bill, renewing a policy, signing up for a loyalty program, and other actions. The company's clients include AT&T, Dell, Office Depot, and Vodafone. At the same time, videos don't fit every situation.
Business owners, Dicso adds, should consider the following questions to determine if videos will enhance the customer experience: "Will the content [of the video] drive a specific outcome, like reducing churn and phone calls while driving upsells? Also, can you drive volume? Do you have a large customerbase or email database to deliver the videos to?"
Companies should also consider whether customers are inclined to use video chat and other emerging technologies. In a survey of about 1,200 people across the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., 45 percent indicated they don't use live chat on a website because they are more comfortable using other methods and 21 percent said they don't use it because they don't know how to access it, reported customer interaction management provider NICE.
Age may also be a factor in whether consumers expect companies to offer video service capabilities, Ragsdale suggests. "Younger customers and employees who are more comfortable with video chat from their personal lives just assume they can connect this way. Older demographics may find it a bit intrusive," Ragsdale notes.
However, convenience often overrides paranoia, he adds. "Once you try it, and see how much faster you can solve the problem, or just have a more personal interaction, I suspect even older customers will want to continue with video links."