Nearly 45 percent of distributors’ customers we surveyed want the ability to request a chat with a customer service rep online (see Exhibit 1). We expect that number to grow as chat becomes more common and Millennials gain increased purchasing responsibility. Even now, many customers are more comfortable communicating via chat than on the phone – in part because it can be more efficient. It’s easier to get to the right person, it’s usually faster than calling, and they can keep working on other projects while they wait for their answer. It’s also more efficient for distributors, who can often handle three to four chats at a time vs. one with a phone.
Distributors should incorporate a chat function into their websites, but to avoid customer frustration, follow these best practices.
Respond quickly to chat requests.
If I start a chat on your website, but it takes you five minutes to get to me, I’ll be long gone. Just like with a call center where you expect your team to answer within two rings, set a standard for what’s expected. Take advantage of automated responses, as well, where the chat box asks “What can we help you with today?”, providing a customer with the feeling that they’ve already been heard. However, if there’s too long a pause between when a customer states their problem and the response, they will walk away, perhaps even moving to your competition.
Assign the right reps to the right questions.
If there are technical questions, you want your more experienced people handling those. If there are questions about invoices, you want CSRs or someone managing accounts receivable to take those on. Some chat platforms allow your customers to select a topic in a dropdown before initiating the chat to funnel the requests to the right rep. Even with simpler chat platforms, however, make sure the rep behind the chat has the power and expertise to help your customers resolve their issues or find and buy the right product. Or if they don’t, make sure they have immediate access to someone who can.
Pick the right chat platform.
Generally, with any technology, there are Cadillacs and there are more basic options. Some chat apps allow distributors the ability to follow the customer’s journey after each chat, for example. That can provide some valuable analytics for ongoing marketing efforts. But not every distributor wants or needs this kind of package. It just depends on what your goal is; if you just want to service your customers’ requests, simpler may be better.
Chat is one more tool that distributors can use to provide a seamless experience for their customers, who increasingly expect to be able to have the same experience online as they do in person or on the phone. When I, as a businessperson, want to interact with a company, I want the choice to pick up the phone and engage that way, or do everything via the website and chat. And that online experience needs to be as good as if I picked up the phone. It’s all about efficiency and creating a good experience for your customer no matter how they engage with you.