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Call Center

Make Chat Availability a Priority

Make Customer Service a Distinguishing Factor for Your Organization

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Companies are increasingly offering chat services as a way for their customers and prospects to reach them. Not only is this an option that more and more people want to use, but many businesses find it’s a cost-effective customer service solution.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

As such, you’d think that customer-focused enterprises would make chat availability a priority. Yet in my experience as a customer, too many do not.

Avoid Turning Chat On and Off

I’ve experienced multiple companies that turn their chat option on and off throughout the day. Though their posted schedule says they’re available during business hours, their practice runs counter to that.

One site indicated that their chat was online. Excited, I begin typing my message, but before I could press enter, the chat availability indication turned from online to offline.

Hopeful it was a momentary glitch, I stared at the screen for the next several minutes, poised to press enter as soon as the chat availability changed back to online.

I got tired of waiting and went on to my next project. This was most frustrating because I needed to reach them, and chat was their only option.

I’ve seen this occur on other websites as well, with chat toggling between online and offline throughout the day. This is no way to serve customers. But it is a way to frustrate them.

Have a Schedule and Follow It

A retail operation would never open and close throughout the day; no self-respecting business would ever do that. When a customer shows up during regular business hours, they expect to come in and make a purchase. The same mentality should apply to chat service.

Make a schedule and staff accordingly to meet that schedule. Yes, when it’s difficult to hire and keep staff, meeting a desired schedule is problematic.

Yet it should be a priority for any company that cares about its customers. And every business that wants to stay in business must put their customers first.

If staffing levels drop too low to support chat in a reasonable time frame, don’t shut it down. Instead note what delay customers may encounter, apologize for the inconvenience, and offer an alternate solution.

One company I deal with boasted 24/7 chat availability. That didn’t last long. They soon scaled back to business hours availability. And a few months after that, they reconfigured their chat window to be a front end to email.

You type in your question is normal, and they tell you they’ll get back with you in a couple of hours. The answer comes by email, even if you leave the chat window open.

Offer Alternatives

In addition to chat, other common customer service options include the telephone and email.

Presumably if a company can’t staff their chat service, they can’t operate their call center either, which carries an even more time-critical expectation than chat. But many companies have cut their telephone support altogether.

That leaves email. Of the three communication options, it’s the most frustrating, with lengthy delays lasting days—or being ignored altogether.

With email, back-and-forth interaction, which happens with ease on chat and phone interaction, is difficult and time consuming. Imagine waiting two days for an email response and receiving a message that says, “What is your account number?”

Yes, there are also self-service options, with many companies offering FAQs, blog posts, and customer forums where users help each other.

FAQs and blog posts seldom address the more specific questions I have. And I try to avoid forums because I have no way of knowing if the help they’re offering is reliable or not. And too often no one ever responds to the questions I post.

Chat Solutions

Offering accessible and prompt customer service is even more critical today than ever before, where a business can lose a customer at the click of a button. Offering chat service is a common and cost-effective way to do this.

But to be successful, do it wisely. This means no turning on and off chat throughout the day, posting and adhering to a realistic schedule of chat availability, and offering customer service alternatives.

And if your staffing levels don’t allow for this to occur, look for a contact center you can outsource this to, either to back you up as needed, according to a set schedule, or around the clock.

This is the perfect solution to providing consistent chat availability to your customers.

Read more in Peter’s new book, Sticky Customer Service, to uncover helpful customer service tips, encouraging you to do better and celebrating what you do best.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his carer. Recurring themes included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management. He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insghts through his books and posts.

By Peter Lyle DeHaan

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, publishes books about business, customer service, the call center industry, and business and writing.