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It's the Customer's Way - Or No Way!

Credit: FreeImages.com/Sigurd Decroos
Today’s customers are impatient. They want – and have the right to – get answers to their questions and concerns about a company’s products and services without being in the need to preform lengthy searches or to dig around. This holds true for pre-purchase questions as well as to post-purchase questions.
We regularly see or read statistics that tell us that customers are not very forgiving in cases of poor customer service, but on the contrary are inclined to leave when encountering a single instance of poor service. If customers do not get the answers to their questions without difficulties they are moving on, no matter of the company or its size. This meanwhile has become a kind of public domain knowledge.
The only way for a company to avoid customers leaving with the first bad experience is by building up and maintaining a good and credible history of helping a customer with solutions to address their needs (aka jobs-to-be-done) and by regularly providing good customer service.
At all stations of the customer journey.
An important part of this good service is being available to help the customers on their preferred channels, at the time of their choosing, and at their pace.
Theirs, not the company’s!
This includes that a customer initiating a conversation, or engaging in a conversation that is initiated by a company, may not respond in a while, or chooses to continue using another device, or both. On the other side a customer will not accept the company being unresponsive or losing information during handovers between different service agents.
The conversation between a company and a customer is both, asynchronous and asymmetric. Asymmetric no more in favor of the company, but in favor of the customer.

Deal with asymmetric Conversations

It transpires more and more that an important channel this conversation will happen in is chat; in adding on to my recent article on omnichannel, and whereto I see this poorly named concept move, businesses are well advised to closely inspect how they can help themselves by helping their customers with a useful and consistent chat offering.
This chat offering needs to be available in-app, on the mobile web site or on the same web site delivered to a desktop/laptop computer. Increasingly also in generic chat services like WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Slack, …
And companies should not forget to offer a chat button in e-mails. Although I think that the importance of e-mail will degrade it is still an important communications channel for companies.
An integrated, intelligent, efficient chat offer is a good way to help customers getting to the information that they want at their pace. Efficient, integrated and intelligent are the key words here. The chat equivalent of holding music is not an option.

Efficient

A reaction to a chat request must be near instantaneous, with an appropriate response that takes into account all relevant contextual information. And the system must be able to scale. As said: ‘Holding music’ will not be tolerated. Neither will the need to repeatedly supply the same information. This takes both, a suitable number of trained human operators – human touch will stay important – and a bot-infrastructure that is supported by machine-learning.

Intelligent

A proactive chat initiation must come at a sensible point of time, with an opening that is appropriate for the customer’s current situation and context. Responses to a customer initiated chat must be useful right from the outset, giving helpful information based upon the given context and the information at hand.

Integrated

The context can for example be identified through the current interaction with the site or app, and previous interactions with the company, if the customer is willing to be identified; and if the chat system is connected to or part of the CRM and analytics infrastructure. Integrating chat with CRM and with advanced analytics allows for efficient and intelligent customer engagement, regardless whether it is a marketing-, sales- or a service scenario.
With these three concepts in place and tied into each other the chat can and must go on at the customer’s speed – not at the speed of business (pun at SAP intended; sorry, folks, I couldn’t resist that one).
The customer’s speed, along with the possibility of automation via bots, backed by a learning system, is an opportunity for the business, as operators can scale beyond one conversation at a time. This is important for companies of all sizes. But again, the chat itself proceeds asymmetrically at the customer’s pace. The company needs to offer fast and useful reactions at all times.

To Sum It Up

As said before, it is important that the trained(!) operator who picks up the chat already has good information about the customer and her intent. This way the conduct of the chat is immediately positive for the customer. To enable this the customer must be identifiable and her interactions with the site or the app need to be tracked and past interactions need to be usable to the service. As past interactions can include more than just a chat history, the chat service itself needs to be part of the CRM infrastructure.  This way data it generates becomes searchable, ideally also covered by a sentiment analysis, and other data, like purchasing history, personal information, etc. becomes available to the chat session.
Tracking of the interactions also allows for two additional, yet important, functionalities.
1.     A chat request by the customer can be routed to the right operator. This avoids lengthy Q&A and helps keeping the customer happy. Depending on the sophistication of the implementation and the maturity of the organization the first contact very well can be a chat bot, which enquires missing information and is able to answer initially simple, with growing maturity increasingly complicated requests.
2.     A chat session can be proactively initiated in the right context. This allows the assigned operator to come from the right angle, be helpful right away, and to even allow for cross-, and upsell activities. Even more interestingly, this data is useful for future marketing activities.
Some side effects of tracking of the interactions are that it enables the company to identify issues with site or app and to push corresponding information to customers, and to additionally perform automated prospecting, which helps to present the right offers and prepare cross- and upselling scenarios.

And remember, although more and more customers are not working from laptops but from tablets and mobile phones the solution must still be able to cover a wide variety of platforms, without adding to implementation cost. Simplicity in installation and usage, as well as interoperability with a wide range of technologies, are key to an adoption in businesses of all sizes.

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