4 Rules for Chatting up Customers

Implement proactive chat in a way that engages consumers and the result is increased sales.

Like a salesperson approaching a customer walking a retail floor, a proactive chat invitation may or may not be welcome as visitors peruse a website. More and more, however, proactive chat done right is not only welcome, but a source of customer engagement. In fact, our recent study, "The Effectiveness of Live Chat Technology," which surveyed more than 1,000 regular Internet shoppers, affirmed that proactive chat is on the minds of shoppers today.

Proactive chat is the automated issuance of invitation images or other messages in an attempt to engage a website visitor in a live chat interaction. While a common fear among many online retailers is that proactively inviting visitors to chat will so greatly annoy them that they will leave the site, the majority of survey respondents indicated they welcome being invited into a chat in greater numbers than last year. From 2010 to 2011, the overall increase in receptiveness is 20 percent.

Those customers who do chat often are more likely to buy and less likely to call customer service. According to Forrester Research's Total Economic Impact analysis "Making Proactive Chat Work," proactive chat can produce an incremental 105 percent in ROI for a typical B2C organization. This presents a great opportunity for retailers that use live chat to communicate with visitors.

Beware, however. Proactive chat done wrong can drive away customers. In fact, close to 20 percent of survey respondents said that they've left websites because of poor invitation practices. Those included the invitation interfering with the visitor's shopping experience, being repeatedly invited to chat (even after the visitor had already chatted), invitations seeming to appear and disappear randomly as the visitor moves around the website, and being invited when the visitor was not ready to chat.

So what can you do to effectively implement and optimize proactive chat to encourage successful interactions?

  • Don't interrupt. Proactive chat that "interferes" with a shopper's experience is largely caused by certain types of invitation technology that interrupt the shopping experience and force the visitor to acknowledge the invitation, either receptively or negatively, before the visitor can resume whatever it is they were doing before the invitation appeared. Ensure that your live chat solution is helpful without being intrusive.
  • Ask once; then be easily available. Repeated invitations and those deployed after a visitor has already chatted are caused by either the inability of some live chat software to distinguish between an "already invited/chatted visitor" or the failure of an administrator to take advantage of such a feature. While it is possible a shopper who has already chatted with you may want to be invited to chat again, a solid closing to the chat and a well-crafted chat button might be a better approach. It is critical to the success of a proactive chat initiative that this functionality be available and leveraged effectively.
  • Be timely. Customers "not being ready" to chat is a function of inviting them at the wrong time. Assuming the software can accommodate different time settings-which most can-this is really an implementation, testing, and reporting issue. The tool should be used to help you drive the art out of how you invite and allow you to apply what you are learning about the behaviors of your shoppers. Ongoing testing and tweaking are best practices to ensure you are getting the best results.
  • Retain branding. Don't forget the look and feel of your invitations. They should reflect the voice of your company and visually reinforce your brand strategies.

Proactive chat, when done well, can deliver a rapid ROI to businesses and a great experience to their customers. Inviting at the optimal time in a shopping cart can not only reduce abandonment, it can be the beginning of an upsell or cross-sell conversation. Timely inviting when a visitor arrives from a paid keyword search on a specific landing page can be the start of significant improvements to paid SEM conversions.

If you have live chat and are considering implementing proactive invitations, keep those four guidelines in mind as you open the door to better online interactions with your customers. With the benefits proactive chat affords, you can be one step ahead of your competition.