How COVID-19 exposes the limitations of most live chat solutions

Amelia Carry

As a result of COVID-19, contact centers are coping with unpredictable call volumes, unhappy customers, high levels of agent absenteeism, and a shift towards home working that pushes the limits of traditional, centralized contact center environments. As a result, many organizations are pushing more inbound traffic to live chat in order to better support high volumes of concurrent conversations and to further deflect phone calls to remote agents. Meanwhile, providing good quality of service to customers was the #1 goal for contact centers this year, and that has only grown in importance.

The problem: many live chat deployments just aren’t up to the task

Live chat promises to deflect phone calls to a supposedly more efficient digital channel, but most live chat solutions are exactly the same as a phone conversation, just in written form. Consider the parallels:

Customers are still waiting on hold for too long

Initiate a chat on almost any large consumer brand website this week and you’ll likely get a message along the lines of “All our agents are busy, but we’ll be with you soon”. The only thing missing is tinny hold music. In our 2020 survey of over 1,000 consumers, chat had the highest expectations for quick responses of all digital channels, so waiting on hold isn't going to fly.

Customers are still being sent to a voicemail equivalent

To deal with increased chat volume, some brands are choosing to toggle live chat off — either entirely or intermittently. Instead, when a customer opens the chat box, they’re asked to submit a form to “send us a message” which is just like being sent to voicemail. And thanks to messaging, does anybody really leave voicemails anymore?

Chat sessions still have a defined beginning and end

Chat sessions replicate a phone call: you call, you talk, you hang up. They were designed primarily for the brand’s benefit - not the customers - so chat teams can manage their operations. Just like when you’re tied to your phone to complete a conversation, customers are tied to a chat window.

Chat sessions can still get disconnected or dropped

Many phone operators still begin conversations with something like “In case we get disconnected, what’s a good number I can reach you at?”. With live chat, if the customer is inactive for more than a few minutes or doesn't respond to a few chats, the chat automatically ends. Our survey showed that 69% of consumers find this frustrating. In times like COVID when dealing with the distractions of suddenly working from home, watching kids who are home from school, remembering to wash hands every twenty minutes, canceling trips (and the list goes on) — getting booted from a chat is just one more unnecessary annoyance.

Customers are still repeating their issues to multiple agents

Most live chat lacks history and context because once the session ends, it disappears. If a customer goes back to the chat or starts a new one, they have to repeat themselves just like they would if they called in again and got a new phone operator. Our research with Forrester last year reported that three out of four consumers find having to repeat their issue either frustrating or very frustrating.

Customers are still getting the infamous “let me transfer you…” message

Perhaps one of the biggest limitations of traditional live chat, especially during times of crisis, is that it isn’t designed to handle complex issues that may require hours or even days to resolve. In these scenarios many agents have no option but to ask the customer to call a phone support line, ask if they can call the customer once they have an update, or ask the customer to submit an email/ticket. This is the same experience of getting transferred to different departments on the phone, which seldom ends well and is often frustrating.

The common culprit: strict synchronicity

The common thread across all of these challenges is the fact that both live chat and phone are synchronous: both an agent and a customer have to be engaged at the same time. If one person leaves or takes longer than, say, ten minutes to respond, then the chat session is terminated forever.

Synchronous conversations aren’t necessarily a bad thing; in fact, our survey showed that 73% of consumers want to have the option to chat in real time with a customer service agent to resolve their issue immediately. But sometimes life gets in the way, and when a customer gets interrupted or distracted, 49% of consumers want the flexibility to pause the conversation and pick it back up later. Without that option, they’ll be left with no choice but to continue initiating new chats or calling the phone lines.

In times of increased volume, asynchronous interactions can drive efficiency

With modern chat solutions and messaging apps, conversations with customers are built around resolutions — not sessions. This allows brands to flexibly cater to customers’ demands, whether they need real-time help or they need extended help over several hours or days. Agents will be able to handle more concurrent conversations, fewer interactions will get transferred to the phone or ‘dropped’ entirely, and customer satisfaction will likely rise. Consider these stats:

  • 48% of consumers in our survey agree they would be more satisfied with customer service if their favorite brand replaced synchronous chat with asynchronous chat or messaging
  • Aberdeen reports brands that have adopted asynchronous messaging for customer service achieve 2.9x greater NPS compared others (12.3% vs. 4.3%)

If your traditional live chat isn’t living up to expectations and you’re struggling to handle call center volumes, now is the time to consider a shift to asynchronous - either on 3rd party digital channels or your own chat on the dot com. Sprint, for example, was able to reduce phone calls back to a customer by 77% after implementing a secure asynchronous messaging solution, and one of our telecom customers deflected 30,000 calls in 30 days after implementing Apple Messages for Business with Chat Suggest. Likewise, Rogers enabled customer contact through Facebook Messenger and increased their volume of handled conversations 4x while reducing wait times from 45 minutes to 15 minutes. Another customer of ours in the telecom space saw a 73% reduction in phone calls and an increase in c-sat after replacing live chat with asynchronous chat alongside other messaging channels like Apple Messages for Business and SMS.

Help more customers now

Digital channels can be activated in a matter of days, can scale quickly by using AI and bots as a first line of defense, and can easily be deployed to your newly-remote agent workforce. Web chat is an obvious channel to rely on for digital support, but make sure to find a modern solution that improves customer satisfaction and agent efficiency.

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