Note: This post is based on the Forrester report “Use These Three Principles To Drive A Successful Chat Program” prepared by an experienced analyst. Download the full report here.
Chat channels can elevate the customer service experience, offering a method of communication that is both convenient and efficient for both the customer and the agent. What’s more, the broad market offering means that it’s possible to launch a chat channel with very little effort.
However, running a successful chat program requires much more than simply deploying the software and sitting back. For customer service leaders in financial services institutions, it requires following a concerted, strategic approach to realize the technology’s full capabilities and offer customers the experience they expect.
In a recent Forrester report prepared by an analyst with over 10 years’ experience, Christina McAllister drew upon insights from leading customer-first organizations to distill the three most important decisions that leaders must make to ensure the success of their chat program initiative.
Launching a chat channel shouldn’t be a spur-of-the-moment decision that is made to simply follow best practices or keep up with industry trends. Instead, it’s important to know exactly what your goals are for the channel and how it will benefit your customers.
Before choosing a software or educating your staff, you need to have answers to the three following questions:
- What are your channel goals?
- What does “good” look like?
- What experience are you trying to drive for your customers?
This is an essential step to take as all of the decisions you make from here on out will be tied to these goals. Once you have answered these questions, you can begin the process by choosing the right platform for your specific context.
Decision 1: Choosing the right platform
While a platform should have all the features you need, choosing a platform based solely on its features is often the wrong approach. The reason for this is because of context. A feature-rich platform may be perfect in one situation, but not up for the task in yours.
Instead, before looking at the platform, go back to your own end goals. For a sales program, you will need a platform that specializes in proactive engagement. For customer service, you’ll need robust self-service capabilities and Co-Browsing software. Choose the platform based on your needs, rather than what’s the popular industry tool at that moment in time.
Here’s what you should keep in mind when choosing a platform.
Consider your current ecosystem
While they have exceptional capabilities, complex end-to-end platforms can be difficult to incorporate into your current ecosystem. When deciding on the right platform, it’s important to strike a balance between having the ability to grow to meet future needs and investing in a platform that requires too much change. It doesn’t make sense to adopt an advanced system if it isn’t compatible with your existing CRM.
Automation doesn’t replace chat; it simply augments its ability and improves efficiency. For this reason, all chat programs should include automation to a greater or lesser extent. This means deploying chatbots to manage conversational triage, in other words to identify the issue, provide an answer, or escalate as needed. When done well, conversational AI will be present before, during, and after any customer interaction, seamlessly intertwined with real interactions to produce a smooth overall experience.
Provide agents with context and training
With an inbound call, it’s difficult for agents to get context outside what the customer shares on that specific call. This isn’t the case with chat as it’s easier for agents to see where customers are in their journey and any steps they’ve previously taken. Of course, information is useful to a point and if you overload your agent it may prove detrimental as it takes too long to find out what is relevant for the conversation at hand. A good platform will make it easy to gain context and identify the most important points to shape the conversation as necessary. Likewise, the first time agents use the platform shouldn’t be with a real customer. Ensure that everyone has time from day one to learn how the platform works so they can hit the ground running and provide an excellent service.
Decision 2: Hiring the right agents
Chat technology cannot operate in isolation. It is an effective tool to support agents, but human knowledge is essential to provide the desired experience. For this reason, success or failure of a new chat channel often rests upon the human talent available to you.
If you need to hire new agents, this is what you should look out for.
An ability to multitask
One phone call, one customer. This is the reality of call centers, where undivided attention on one individual is the only way to operate. Chat, on the other hand, empowers agents to hold multiple conversations at the same time. When hiring, assessing an individual’s ability to multitask is required in a chat context. One way to do this is to hold two concurrent interviews with the applicant via chat. The questions should be similar but distinct to see if the candidate can keep both conversations straight.
Quick, accurate typing skills
Chat is an instantaneous channel. Unlike email communications or asynchronous messaging, replies need to be offered promptly, accurately, and with as much brevity as possible. What’s more, it also needs to be conversational in nature, incorporating emojis or other informal elements. That said, a certain amount of professionalism is still required, particularly with regard to spelling and grammar.
Text-based communications can be dry, but there’s no reason they need to be. Conveying emotion is essential to build a rapport, communicate empathy, and build trust. While emojis are tools in achieving this, it goes beyond this. The best agents will have a high emotional intelligence and be able to naturally come across in a positive manner even through text.
Critical thinking skills
The nature of chat communications means that customers have little patience for slow responses. In fact Aircall reports that if an agent doesn’t reply within one minute, 49% of customers will leave the chat. Unlike phone calls, there’s less wiggle room to engage in small talk while searching for an answer, so individuals who are able to assess situations well and quickly come up with resolutions are needed.
When all’s said and done, the right agent needs to naturally enjoy talking on chat channels. After all, they will be engaging in multiple conversations for up to eight hours a day and if they don’t have this natural ability, it will quickly become draining – and later unsustainable.
Decision 3: Building the right launch strategy
You are confident that you have the right platform and the right people. Now’s the time to get your new chat channel up and running. But what’s the best way to do this?
Slow and steady
With all the background work taken care of, it’s tempting to dive right in. This, however, will likely lead to problems as a number of teething issues come to light. The fact is, you don’t have engagement data yet and so a huge amount of your approach will be guesswork. To overcome this, it’s recommended that you take a slow and steady approach, beginning small and planning for multiple iterations. It’s also a good idea to set up an A/B test that gives a small percentage of your audience access to the chat button. Over time, you then increase this percentage and are better able to gauge the difference it makes.
Choose a pilot team
Begin with a select group of agents before expanding to include the whole team. Ideally, these should be the individuals who best fit the profile and have demonstrated the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Keeping the team small will allow you to limit the impact on customer service as you test, and identify key areas of improvement.
Get the agents on board
Your agents are vital to the success of your initiative. If they aren’t convinced on the value of chat, then it’s going to be difficult for them to provide the service that customers expect. Often, businesses simply explain how to use the platform and let the agents get on with it. This is skipping an important step because, until they see the value of the channel for both them and the customer, they are likely to prefer the methods they’re already used to. For this reason, make sure to outline the strategic reasons you have decided to implement a new chat channel and point out the value they will also gain.
Gradually introduce concurrency
Familiarity is a large factor in efficiency. While chat technology allows agents to hold multiple conversations at once, if you ask them to do this from the get go, it can easily become overwhelming. For new agents, it’s best to begin with one concurrency and once they’ve mastered the basics, they can move to two chats, then three, depending on their efficiency and experience scores.
Introduce automation from the beginning
When everything is new, automation can add an extra layer of complexity to the task of mastering the platform. This leads many companies to introduce the chatbot or other automation tools afterwards. However, without automation, it can prove challenging or even impossible for the team to keep up with the requests. The answer is to introduce automation from the beginning – but with a plan to scale up its development and dependency as you go.
Chat channels are valuable tools in the customer service arsenal, provided they are properly deployed. If you’d like more in-depth information on launching a channel – from developing the right mindset to avoiding common pitfalls – download the full Forrester report here.
Unblu is a leading Conversational Engagement Platform that’s fine-tuned for the financial services industry. Centered around three pillars – texting, video & voice, and collaboration – we help retail banks, wealth management firms, and insurance companies to provide faster, more secure customer service experiences.