Chat Is Not Replacing the Voice Channel for Customer Service
By Donna Fluss
Every once in a while an idea comes around that captures the public’s imagination, even though it may fly in the face of common sense and practical realities. Case in point: For a while now, vendors that sell chat solutions have touted their offerings as replacements for voice-based customer service. After eight years of these claims, the chat revolution has not occurred. Chat is an excellent communication channel for certain types of interactions, but in most cases, chat remains a valuable complement to, not a replacement for, the voice channel for customer service.
CHAT IS A MUST-HAVE CHANNEL
It’s easy to see why the chat revolution has been long predicted: It’s an effective channel for facilitating communications between two or more parties, and its benefits are numerous. Customers and prospects like the convenience of using chat when they’re in noisy environments or they lack privacy. Chat features allow customers or prospects to contact a company without having to engage verbally with anyone. Customers or prospects can obtain assistance while avoiding the intimacy inherent in a voice conversation.
Internally, chat is a highly effective way for two or more employees to communicate with each other. Increasingly, contact center infrastructure vendors provide chat as a means to allow agents to contact a supervisor or another employee for assistance while they are on a call or handling an inquiry. (Chat is also being included in other types of systems, for similar reasons.)
It is also a channel that Millennials are comfortable with as it allows them to multitask. In addition, lots of people consider chat to be less intrusive and disruptive than a phone call. And it can simply be faster to send a chat than to call.
YET VOICE CALLS ARE STILL NECESSARY
Despite chat’s many advantages and strong following, it cannot be viewed as a replacement for phone calls. DMG research has shown that in times of need, when emotions run high or time is short, people of all generations (Millennials, Generation Xers, and Baby Boomers) prefer to call a company. No matter how good a chat agent is, it’s much easier to pick up subtle cues and personalize a “conversation” when you’re actually speaking with someone. It is one thing to type assurances and another to demonstrate empathy in a phone conversation. It’s also easier and typically quicker to describe complex situations out loud than to write out a lengthy explanation in a chat interaction.
CHAT AGENTS NEED TO BE VERSATILE
A skilled chat agent can easily handle four conversations at a time. Chatting does not require a great deal of training, as it’s an everyday skill that most employees bring with them to the job. It’s a mode of communication that agents like to use because it’s harder for customers to “yell” at them via chat. It’s also nice that chat is a self-documenting channel. In specific situations, chat can even improve agent productivity and enhance the customer and employee experience.
DMG recommends that agents who handle chat inquiries also spend time responding to phone calls so that they are well rounded and have a better perspective and understanding of customer needs. Handling phone calls will also help them remain sensitive to nuances in customer communication, which can be lost in a chat session.
Lastly, companies that offer chat must perform quality assurance on these interactions, just as they do on phone calls. It is essential for agents to know that there is always a chance they are being monitored, which will improve the customer experience.
Customers and prospects should be encouraged to interact with a company in their channels of choice and be able to communicate in two channels concurrently, a growing trend that is expected to pick up momentum. Companies should make chat capabilities available to their customers and prospects, as well as to facilitate communications between employees. It should be viewed as a complementary channel, not as a substitute for customer service and support over the phone.
Donna Fluss is president of DMG Consulting. For more than two decades she has helped emerging and established companies develop and deliver outstanding customer experiences. A recognized visionary author and speaker, Fluss drives strategic transformation and innovation throughout the service industry. She provides strategic and practical counsel for enterprises, solution providers, and the investment community.