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The Future of Customer Experience in Live Chat

Pardeep Kullar
Pardeep Kullar

How much is live chat growing in use? Why is it growing? What challenges to do companies have in maintaining a good customer experience within live chat? Based on the answers to these questions, what's going to happen next?

Contents

  • Sources
  • The new generation prefers self-help or live chat
  • How much is live chat growing?
  • What challenges do live chat teams have?
  • What are the consequences?

Some of the sources we've used for this post

Essential live chat statistics, analysis of data and market share by Finances online

Live chat statistics by Techjury

The state of customer service by Hubspot

Customer experience trends by Conversocial

Global live chat statistics by Whoson

Live chat installation statistics by Builtwith

Customer service stats by Hubspot

Millennials and the future of customer service by RetailMinded

Millennials prefer live chat to phone calls but above all like to do things themselves

Do a quick survey in your office or among your friends. Ask people if they prefer to speak to someone on the phone when they have a problem with a product they've purchased or use live chat. See what happens.

The millennial answer in our office was that they definitely prefer live chat.

People who spend time across Messenger, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other apps either texting friends, commenting or tweeting are going to be fairly comfortable with that form of communication.

However, even more than live chat, millennials prefer to do things themselves and this could well be true of most people.

"Customers prefer knowledge bases over all other self-service channels" Hubspot

"Instead of calling customer representatives, the digitally savvy generation prefers to do things themselves" RetailMinded

"According to research, 69% of millennials claim to feel good about themselves and the brand when they can solve a problem on their own."

Why?

Do you really want to spend 10 minutes waiting for an answer on live chat when you expect to see the answer in the FAQ or knowledge base by doing a search? Probably not.

However, if the FAQ is not yet up to date or if it's a complex query that requires context and expertise then live chat becomes a viable next step.

If live chat does not suffice then the last resort is to use the phone.

Here's a great summary of the key drivers taken from Forrester:

"Voice increasingly evolves as an escalation – not a primary – service channel. Phone use for customer service has steadily decreased and we predict it will dip even further as customers increasingly adopt digital channels. Today, customers resolve straight-forward customer service interactions via self- service, leaving complex issues like account closure, booking a complex multi-city set of flights, or an explanation of smart metering billing policies for phone conversations. These questions often take longer to resolve and are opportunities to build positive customer relationships with an end-goal of increased customer loyalty. They also demand a higher caliber of agent for effective issue resolution"

How much is live chat growing?

The following statistics on live chat growth are taken from Whoson:

"By 2023, it is projected to reach $997 million."

"The market will grow at a CAGR of 7.5% from 2017 to 2023."

"A typical business now handles 978 chats per month and it rises year-on-year."

"56% of organisations adopt live chat with less than 100 customers."

What numbers does Builtwith show for live chat installations?

You can use a service like Builtwith, which scans websites for the technology they use, to see how many websites have a live chat service provider installed.

It will miss many installs which are hidden behind a login but below are the numbers where the live chat is visible on publicly scannable pages.

Also note that some installs might be dead but the developer left part of the code on the page. I view these numbers as the likely minimum number of active installs considering how many might be behind a login.

82,851 installs for Intercom

208,781 installs for Zopim. Zendesk purchased Zopim a while back and Zopim currently has 208,781 installs. Separately, Zendesk itself has 189,205 though it's hard to figure out how many are live chat or for ticketing as I assume they changed their name in time but the older Zopim installs still show up as Zopim until they change their code

40,737 for Drift

39,985 for Olark

45,653 for Pure Chat

211,523 for Tidio

Each chat integration can be for a 1 person company or for 20+ agents at a medium or large organisation. If there are 100,000s of live chat installations then there will be millions of agents supporting customers on those installations.

LiveChat.com alone has 155,000 agents using it across its installations.

There are 100s more providers and plenty more have numbers in this range.

At Upscope we have a co-browsing integration that works with live chat tools. We get requests for creating new live chat integrations regularly. At first there were a handful of integrations to create and then it became a flood.

When talking about 'live chat' on Builtwith we're not including:

  1. Larger omnichannel solution providers like Five9 or Genesys that provide solutions for the largest companies out there with an enormous number of support agents. There are a million people in the UK working in contact centers and they use a variety of systems that are increasingly moving away from voice calls to digital.
  2. Use of Facebook messenger, Whatsapp or Slack channels for support on many smaller websites or services.

In short it's growing and we'd expect live chat to be a default channel on most business websites in the near future.

What challenges do live chat teams have?

"40% of customers are not confident that they’ll get the needed support from live chat"

"70% of the customer's journey is based on how the customer feels they are being treated"

"In last year’s study we found that customer service teams overwhelmingly agreed that customers are more informed, more likely to share their experiences, and had higher expectations than ever before. This year’s data showed the trend only increased. Service teams think customers are even smarter (86% agree) and have higher expectations than they did last year."

"29% of consumers find it frustrating to receive scripted and impersonal responses."

"38% of companies struggle to provide excellent customer service because of the lack of cross-department collaboration"

"50% of shoppers believe their feedback doesn't go to anyone who can actually act on it"

Looking at a lot of the live chat problems you'd have to say that "giving a damn" is a requirement for good customer service.

Another quick survey around our team suggests that many of their live chat experiences are sub-optimal.

I can personally say that Amazon's live chat support was extraordinarily good. They gave a damn.

However, with many live chat conversations, there's an expectation that you'll reach a bot or someone will give an incorrect pre-saved answer because they did not read your question properly.

Below are 3 key paragraphs from Hubspots State of Customer Service in 2020 report

Read the full report here: "The state of customer service in 2020"

"Saying it simply - you won’t be able to get to a customer first culture without also putting your employees first. Remember that customer retention is a two-sided long game, and requires a strategic balance between delivering delight and efficiency. Your challenge, as a growing organization, is to scale both employee AND customer delight"

"But at the same time challenges still exist. Many service teams are spread too thin, understaffed, and continue to be viewed as a cost center, instead of what they truly are —an engine for growth"

"For that reason we hope more service teams realize the power of investing in
an amazing knowledge base."

This reasoning falls in line with trends like EX (Employee experience) and Operational Excellence which are getting more time in board room discussions. If companies with similar products at similar prices want to compete then they can do so in customer experience and internal improvements.

Customer support is not a cost center.

With regards to service teams being a cost center, I've worked across 3 companies using live chat solutions and it's shocking that anyone would view it as a cost center. In all 3 companies I worked in "helping is sales" and there's no clean cut difference between a support query and a sales, upsell or retention opportunity.

The intelligence and care of the support agent during each conversation is critical and that's why we are focused on training the equivalent of mini-entrepreneurs to handle live chat. They need to be aware of not only the query but how it connects to every other function.

Support agents are the home page now. They are the store front.

We expect that support agents will, as bots and AI take care of routine queries, increasingly become super agents. They'll be mini-entrepreneurs who will drive growth through the quality of their responses to customers.

Invest in the knowledge base?

Even in a small company, if customers are looking to solve problems themselves, we need an extensive and up to date help section.

Overall I find it takes a great deal of skill to get the knowledge base right. A question could require a one line answer for a simple customer support query or take a whole page up to explain a concept to a potential buyer. The analysis and interpretation over time taken to build both knowledge base pages and pre-saved answers along with FAQs is a skill. It requires structure, empathy, writing skills, and more.

In conclusion it's going to be bots, bases and brains

Here's a summary of what's happening as I understand it.

  1. Live chat is growing because everyone is comfortable typing a message and going off to drink coffee or whatever. It's even convenient with friends let alone with a business you're a customer of.
  2. People prefer to fix their problem themselves and that may be because it's faster than asking an agent and the agent might not answer correctly anyway.
  3. Companies are trying to help these customers help themselves. They're doing this by building bots and knowledge bases that quickly surface the answer to a query.
  4. Companies are also trying to improve their employee experience as they've realised it impacts customer service. They'll likely look at onboarding, incentives, motivation, wellness, feedback, recognition and more.

What is the likely evolution given these trends?

  1. Knowledge bases and automated answers will become smarter and more accurate because it's the fastest way for a customer to get a response to their query.
  2. As the bots and knowledge bases become smarter, the support agents will handle the most complex cross-functional or contextual queries. From my experience, these are either customers who need the greatest support or queries that relate to sales, high value items, deeper technical issues, complete misunderstanding or cross-functional queries.
  3. Support agents will need to be super agents. They'll be either specialists in each area or cross-functional mini-entrepreneurs. Mini-entrepreneurs need financial incentives along with flexibility to act.
  4. These super agents will need more training, they'll demand better software and resources, they'll need recognition for their work and incentives.
  5. The combination of knowledge base and super agent will impact both conversion and retention and have a net positive impact on revenue so they'll be recognised at a board level for being essential revenue drivers and not a cost center. Customer satisfaction will be important but watch for revenue and retention rising up the rankings as measure of that departments progress.

What does this mean for Upscope's plans?

The road map looks good. Upscope's mission is to help develop 1 million of these super agents by giving them the services they need to provide a super customer service.

This is done via 3 main modules for super agents:

Past

Help super agents see the customer's past journey so they understand the customer's problem or the context behind their purchasing need without asking the customer questions they'll find frustrating. Instead, tell the customer what they need in advance and how you're going to handle it while they sit back and drink coffee while reading.

Present

Help super agents see the customer's present screen without downloads and fix the problem by reaching across the internet with their mouse to appear on the customer's screen and click for them as they sit back and drink coffee while watching.

Future

Help super agents guide create guidance the customer they can use themselves. It's a unique new evolution in the knowledge base because you should not need to go to a help article to get help on the page you're on!  Then they can sit back and learn while drinking coffee.

It's all about the coffee.

Pardeep Kullar

Pardeep overlooks growth at Upscope cobrowsing and loves writing about SaaS companies, customer success and customer experience.