Graphic of customer acquisition cycle.

Customer Acquisition Best Practices: The Importance of a Proactive Chat Strategy

This article is part two of a four-part series. Here we’ll illustrate how Zappos, a reputable online retailer, tackles the Buy portion of the buying cycle. To learn more about the four stages of the customer acquisition journey, review our overview first.

The modern buying funnel is defined by immediate gratification: today’s customer expects a fast and frictionless experience. This expectation is dramatically altering the way people shop and the way companies sell. Customers want to find, buy, ask, and advocate via their channel of choice—and they want to do it now. Companies need to adopt their slower traditional selling methods to accommodate them.

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To that end, chat is emerging as an effective communication tool for customers and companies. While traditionally used as a customer service tool, savvy companies like Zappos are building a proactive chat strategy as a means to support the Buy portion of the funnel as well. In fact, customers who live chat with a company are 82% more likely to make a purchase.

When optimized properly, chat can effectively cater to customers’ immediate purchasing needs.

Chat Trends and the Future of Proactive Chat Strategy

Through chat, customers can get fast answers to questions regarding a potential or past purchase. More importantly, though, chat can be used to guide customers toward buying a product or service.

Consumers’ use of live chat is on the rise: nearly 42% of customers prefer live chat over phone because they don’t have to wait on hold before speaking with a representative. Throw into the mix the fact that customers who chat with a representative are three times more likely to be a return customer—and when they do return, their order size is likely to increase by 48%—and you can see why chat is worthy of attention as a conversion tool.

When optimized properly, chat can effectively cater to customers’ immediate purchasing needs.

Just because a company has a chat option, however, doesn’t mean it’s being used effectively and addressing customers’ needs. While Zappos prioritizes human connection (we’ll get into that more later), some companies are utilizing chatbots. Though the technology is impressive, chatbots can present a number of problems for customers looking to make a purchase.

AI, Chat, and Why Chat Needs the Human Touch

You’ve likely heard it before—AI is the future and The Robots are coming to take away our jobs. To some degree that statement is true. AI will play a significant role in the future of marketing and sales. However, robots can’t and won’t replace the workforce because humans have what AI doesn’t: logic, empathy, and an ability to ascertain what people need in the moment.

Take the AI-generated Harry Potter chapter as an example. The piece itself was entertaining and generally understandable. But in order to achieve that, writers had to comb through and piece together multiple AI-generated scripts. Without that human touch, the chapter would’ve been a strange and truly nonsensical document. The same concept applies to chat: companies must maintain an element of human touch in chat as it bridges the gap between a frictionless experience and conversion. In order for AI to be effective and relevant, robots need a human hand to guide them.

Humans have what AI doesn’t: logic, empathy, and an ability to ascertain what people need in the moment.

Reports show that 92% of customers feel satisfied after using a live chat option. With such a high rate of success, it may be tempting to cut out the intermediary and take a bot-only approach. But doing so would sell customers short with impersonal, unaccommodating solutions. Not only does this increase friction for the customer, but it drives frustrated customers to a call center, thus increasing call center costs.

Still, many companies continue to view chat as a means for query support rather than a means for conversion and optimization. This is a grave misstep. When given the right support, as demonstrated by Zappos’ human-first strategy, chat agents double as customers’ personal shoppers. Chat gives customers what they want, when they want it: it provides customers with immediate access, resources to aid decision-making, and a personalized shopping experience.

In other words, when done right, chat makes a customer feel special without forcing them to use a contact channel they don’t want to. The future is not homogenized customer service with robots. The future is empowered agents giving customers a truly unique and memorable experience. For Zappos, that future is now.

Zappos: A Customer Service Company That Sells Shoes

Since day one, Zappos has been in the business of making customers happy. Time and time again the company is nominated as one of the top customer service providers in its industry—and the company has a 75% customer retention rate to show for it.

But what makes Zappos’ customer experience so great? A customer-centric, agent-only live chat experience that builds off of a low-pressure, omni-channel strategy.

You need a proactive chat strategy for your business: Customers who live chat with a company are 82% more likely to make a purchase.

Zappos doesn’t use chatbots for good reason—because AI isn’t human. AI won’t pick up on social cues, human insights, or notable points of friction. A bot-only chat simply doesn’t effectively address customers’ needs or wants in the Buy portion of the funnel. So rather than outsource chat to artificial intelligence, Zappos uses chat as a tool to support an existing, customer-forward infrastructure.

Owning the Solution

Empowered agents are one of Zappos’ greatest strengths. The company’s customer service strategy is deeply rooted in its company core values, one of which is to “deliver WOW through service.” Due to this approach, Zappos delivers a world-class experience for its customers—whether a customer is contacting customer service over the phone, through chat, or via social media.

While Zappos’ primary channel driver is the phone department, chat is emerging as the second most popular way for customers to communicate—and Zappos makes chat easy to access. Upon visiting the home page, the Customer Service tab is readily available in the top left-hand corner, with Live Chat as the first option for contact.

chat dropdown on

And when a customer chats with a Zappos agent, the company applies the same empathetic strategy it has for its phone strategy: create an emotional, personal connection between the agent and customer to ensure an exceptional buying experience. Zappos views this as the key to keeping customers coming back time and time again.

We spoke to Rob Siefker, Senior Director of Customer Service at Zappos, about this proactive chat strategy:

“Our Customer Loyalty Team is able to help customers with nearly all types of requests, and it allows our customers a seamless way to communicate with us if they’d like to chat with us, but not over the phone. We’ve seen an incredible amount of customer engagement through Live Chat since we first started offering the communication channel.”

Maintaining service volume, emotional appeal, and relatability over chat can be challenging. Typing personalized responses takes time, and tone is difficult to convey and infer over chat. However, Zappos tackles such obstacles in stride by putting an emphasis on providing the best customer experience possible (no matter how long the interaction takes). Zappos empowers agents to make executive decisions, own the solution without needing to jump through hoops, and provide an immediate solution to the customer.

Companies must maintain an element of human touch in chat as it bridges the gap between a frictionless experience and conversion.

Instead of solely leaning on bots, AI can best be utilized as a means to make menial tasks, such as service or plan-related questions, less time-consuming for agents. This coexistence of artificial intelligence and human ingenuity allows companies to concentrate on providing customers with the best sales experience possible.

So whether companies are using chat as a support channel, a sales strategy, or a combination of both, chat as a technological system is proving to be a key component for customers in the midst of the purchasing process.

Monique Seitz-Davis

With ten years of professional marketing experience, Monique brings a passion for telling brand stories to her writing for Clearlink. Prior work includes collaborative projects with companies like Merrell, Backcountry, Cotopaxi, and Wit and Delight. When she’s not copywriting, you can find Monique trail running, rabble-rousing with her pups, or practicing her bird calls.


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