As part of my investigation into real life usage of chat in the contact centre, I reached out to some executives to discuss how they were using it in a real life scenario. The companies that I spoke with have integrated chat directly into their contact centre environment and have made a commitment in technology and in agent training and processes. In speaking with two organizations, I got two very different takes on what technology was in place and how it was being used. But in both cases, I found strong similarities.
Driven by a perceived customer need, both organizations implemented a chat program 'on spec' so to speak - they leapt in with both feet based on a gut feeling that, in the words of Wade Clark, Director of Contact Centres at Permanent General Companies, "it was the right thing to do for our customers".
While ROI was not an upfront requirement for PGC, or "The General" as it's known across the US, they have seen an increase in customer satisfaction metrics from the chat channel, which has stayed consistently higher than the phone or email channels they use.
PGC is still in its infancy with chat - the program was rolled out about 18 months ago using hosted technology from Live Person. "Our volumes are still pretty low", says Clark, "with about 200 chats a day requested, and another 3 to 400 done through fishing". Fishing is the 'proactive chat' model that we’ve discussed previously in our blog series - PGC has specific web pages that they consider to be decision points - customers sitting too long on a payments page, or on coverage information will be asked if they would like some help.
To meet the demand, PGC staffs chat-only agents - or 'chatters' - through the business day of the contact centre. With only three dedicated staff members, each agent will handle up to five simultaneous chats - or occasionally up to ten depending on the volume, experience, and the type of chats that are ongoing. But it is a contact centre function, so at night when the lights go out at the PGC call centre, so does the chat. To keep a consistent customer experience, PGC automatically offers an email when offline and chatters can respond first thing in the morning.
I asked about supporting at home agents for chat to extend the hours, as the technology would easily support it. But Clark told me that PGC agents require an available supervisor to be working at all times in case of escalations, and that wouldn't fly for supporting longer chat hours, even though they felt that due to the nature of the web, there was an implied need to provide extended chat hours.
It was an interesting discussion, but I think the most surprising bit of information I heard from Clark during our conversation was related to the skills that they look for in their chatters. Clark said they initially thought chat would require a similar set of skills to email. And while industry dogma tells us that phone agents and email agents will often require a different set of skills for a call centre, PGC found very quickly that this wasn't true for chat. They found, in fact, that although still written and not verbal - chat skills were much more aligned with the skills found in great phone agents.
This same finding was borne out - not by any statements made - but by the way chat is used by another company I spoke with in Utah. But that's next time!
Rob McDougall, President, Upstream Works Software Ltd.