Intelligent Chat Strategy for Customer Service and Sales

When instant messaging first burst into people’s lives in the 90s, the technology didn’t necessarily inspire excitement from the business and sales worlds. Fast-forward a few decades and instant messaging, originally an informal way of keeping in touch with friends, is now a fixture in customer service and sales. Visit any website, and odds are you’ll see a small chat window pop up almost immediately. Chat has rebranded itself as a powerful tool for interacting with customers, however unlikely that might have seemed in its early years.

As chat technology improves, companies are taking advantage of the medium to elevate both the customer experience and their bottom line. At Clearlink, chat serves our business in two ways: as a service and solution tool and as a sales tool. Since answering customer service queries through chat requires different skills and considerations than completing a sale via chat, Clearlink’s chat strategy is similarly segmented.

As we continue to grow our chat presence at Clearlink, our strategies are always evolving, aiming to better serve customer and brand needs and take advantage of the changing technology available to us. Here are a few key areas we have focused on as we’ve built and shaped our intelligent chat strategy.

Implementing Chat at Clearlink

Like many good strategies, chat initially began as an experiment at Clearlink.

About two and a half years ago, Clearlink realized that chat had become an important part of sales and customer service, so we decided to explore what it could do for us and our brand partners. The only way to do that was to actually start a fledgling chat program and design a test to measure its effectiveness. At that time, call deflection was seen as the most important metric to our business needs, so we designed the test to tell us how well chat could do that for us.

From experiment to core customer service strategy, chat serves an important role in creating intelligent customer experiences by meeting customers where and when they need us most.

The initial test tracked sales over a set period of time both with and without the option to chat first, looking for how many non-sales calls our chats were able to deflect. In the end, chats managed to eliminate 5% of overall calls.

Almost immediately, Clearlink had the financial justification needed to start a small chat department, along with the trust of a few of our brand partners who wanted to try it. Initially made up of just two agents for two brands, the chat team is expected to answer over 50,000 chats during the month of September of this year for eight of our brand partners. Our current deflection rate sits at about 5%, with no degradation on sales rates.

Chat as Intelligent Support Tool: Deflecting Calls

Call deflection continues to be the most efficient way for chat to make a measurable difference to our business. Our cost is much higher for a phone conversation than it is for a chat, so we use chat to answer questions or redirect customers who aren’t looking to make a purchase. Even so, our agents are trained to sell for at least two brands, and they’re trained as much as phone agents to deliver all of the information a customer would need to make a future purchase decision.

We know that customers using chat want answers quickly. They may be typing a question on their phone in the middle of their child’s soccer game or using their tablet to make an inquiry while they’re watching TV at night. People using chat as a support tool are doing so because it takes less time than a phone call, and that’s the most important thing we can keep in mind as we train our chat agents.

Downward view of a chat screen on a cell phone, held buy hands with pink fingernail polish.

 

We strive to give short, succinct answers, and we mirror the language customers use, from highly casual to more formal. We also use chat to direct customers to the phone agent that will best solve their needs if we can’t solve them over chat.

As we look ahead, chatbots will help do that faster by sorting chats as they come in. With a few quick questions, chatbots can deliver customers to live chat or phone agents who have already been told why the customer is contacting us. This means customers won’t have to spend time giving personal information or explaining themselves repeatedly, which is key to providing them with a better experience.

Chat as Intelligent Sales Tool: Expanding Chat’s Focus

While chat is more often used as a support tool, call-through clients who start sales conversations via chat but complete them over the phone are also a large part of our sales strategy. In fact, 22% of chat conversations lead to a call-in, and 50% of those calls lead directly to a sale.

Via chat, we provide those call-through customers who want to complete a sale with priority phone numbers that are unique and assigned only to them so they can call in and reach an agent seamlessly. The success of this intelligent chat strategy has shown us that chat isn’t only an effective call deflection tool—it’s an effective sales tool as well.

As long as a customer prefers to stay on chat, however, we want to give our chat agents the tools to address sales-related questions. Many customers don’t actually want to complete a sale entirely via chat, but they may want more information about a product or service they’re considering. Our chat agents are trained to talk about customers’ options and answer any questions they have, just like a phone agent.

22% of chat conversations lead to a call-in, and 50% of those calls lead directly to a sale, making chat an extremely effective sales tool.

Many customers aren’t used to having the opportunity to make a purchase over chat, so we want to give them a positive experience whether they’re calling in for more information or are ready to buy. Customers’ contact with us, in whatever initial capacity it occurs, has the potential to affect future opportunities for sales. In that way, chat can act as a more modern version of a lead form, or at the very least as a positive interaction with our brand partners.

Still, because chat is so new, some brands and companies have concerns about exchanging secure information entirely through chat. That’s meant that some of our brands remain hesitant to trust chat as a sales channel on its own. Brand sentiments impact our strategy significantly, so we shift our focus depending on what they’re comfortable with.

Adapting our intelligent chat strategy to a brand’s overall sales strategy lets our clients see chat’s potential without making radical changes to their sales process. Right now, we allow brands to choose whether they’d like us to do sell-through or call-through chat sales. Sell-through brands give us permission to complete an entire transaction entirely through chat, while call-through brands have sales agents available via chat to answer questions and prepare customers to make a purchase, but that final transaction occurs over the phone.

Early adopters are seeing benefits from chat already, but each brand we work with has the chance to be positively affected by chat sales.

Creating Intelligent Customer Experiences

Now, as we move past our initial implementation of chat and grow its presence across the sales side of the business, we’re using it to further our company-wide goal to create more intelligent customer experiences. One of the challenges of chat is gathering and tracking data, so we’re working with our data science and decision science teams to do that better.

Ultimately, data is one of the best tools we can use to refine our chat experience and understand which demographics are using chat most. From there, we can better understand which customers are more likely to use chat repeatedly, for what reasons, and why. The more we know, the better we can tweak our language and strategy to deliver the best experience to our customers.

We’re also fine-tuning a customer database that displays any prior information we have about a customer for agents to see in real time as they chat. Previous queries, which pages a customer visited on our website prior to initiating a chat, and what services they’ve purchased from us before are all available for agents to use to deliver a more efficient, friction-free customer experience. Eventually, chatbots will have that information as well, and the database will continue to grow.

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Right now, we’re displaying the chat button to all of the customers we can, but that may change as our chat strategy evolves. We’re starting to test proactive chat invites, where we pop an overlay image for customers based on their demographics, user behaviors, and other factors.

We make agents available during the hours demand is highest, but we don’t have round-the-clock availability. When we don’t have available agents, the chat button simply isn’t available on the website, so we don’t have frustrated customers not getting the help they need. Ultimately, we want to give customers the option to interact with us in whatever way they prefer most.

The Future of Intelligent Chat Strategy

As live chatting with agents has evolved, so has AI, and many companies have combined the two to create chatbots that provide round-the-clock support to customers. At Clearlink, we’ve begun working toward having chatbots assist, rather than replace, our sales agents in the coming years. Blending AI-generated phrases and words with a high success rate with human agents’ unparalleled communication skills gives customers superior, more consistent experiences.

Chatbots will allow our agents to answer more qualified chats, lower handle time, increase concurrency, and increase conversion. We can develop chatbots to answer the simple questions customers have, freeing up agents to handle more complex queries and the sales portion of the conversation. This part of the business is new, but it stands to make a real impact over the next several years. Chat at Clearlink is a growing field, and it’s one we’re actively learning from every day.

Stick around for more news and updates on how we’re using technology to directly impact the experiences customers have with our brands.

Tara McGarry

Tara’s been telling stories since she could hold a pencil, and she’s found a way to keep telling them as an adult—first for outdoor companies and now as a senior copywriter at Clearlink, where she writes anything from headlines to blog posts in a given day. Outside the office, she can be found reading the New York Times, playing outside, and talking to her plants.

 

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