How the Pandemic Exposes the Limitations of Live Chat

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Customer service organizations once looked to live chat as a state-of-the-art solution to serving customers better and more quickly. Where a phone call has typically been between one customer and one agent, agents can help multiple customers at once over live chat. It also lowers the barrier to contact for customers already on a website or who simply feel more comfortable typing a quick message than talking on the phone.

But live chat didn’t turn out to be the end-all-be-all of customer service. For one thing, agents could still typically only handle two customers at a time — definitely more than one, but not that many more.

Now that Covid-19 has upended business for so many companies, the limitations of live chat are becoming more apparent. In a time of crisis, when customer service is particularly important, live chat simply can’t keep up.

Agents are faced with a trifecta of challenges to conquer

A lot of customer service organizations have had to shift from in-person operations to remote operations on the fly. In addition, some are experiencing agent absenteeism due to coronavirus outbreaks. So already, they’re handicapped by circumstance. Then comes the third challenge: an unpredictable influx of support requests.

In the wake of this pandemic, with life drastically altered and so many people conducting business from home, everyone has questions about everything, from service availability to e-commerce products to healthcare coverage. Customer service organizations bear the brunt of customers’ confusion. Across industries, agents are handling a deluge of calls and incoming chat requests. 

It’s not just that there are more requests coming in. With tensions running high, people are likely to be stressed and irritable. A lot of customer service organizations are struggling to provide a high quality of support in an uncertain time — a time when that support is more important than ever. 

Live chat is showing its cracks

Even with live chat, customers are now waiting on hold for hours, just like with phone support. One advantage phone support has over live chat, though, is that most phone agents are in the habit of asking “If we get disconnected, is this the best number to call you back on?” But with live chat, if a customer gets distracted and neglects to answer in the chat window quickly enough, the chat will simply end. The customer must start all over. 

Actual disconnects are one thing. But with both phone and live chat, despite the synchronous nature of conversation — meaning that it happens in real time — there can be emotional disconnects, too. If the customer has to be transferred to another agent or manager, or start the conversation from scratch, they typically have to repeat their story, if not all their information. Their frustration increases and their alienation expands as they get bounced around.

Through all this, live chat turns out to be under-scalable and limited in terms of what it can deliver. 

It’s time to switch to asynchronous messaging 

Any time communication has to happen in a synchronous manner, it means the agent and customer must be available at the same time. Asynchronous communication, on the other hand, happens at the convenience of both parties. While it’s not always “instant,” it’s more akin to how people are used to communicating in today’s digital world — with messaging conversations that unfold over time. 

For instance, with in-app messaging, a customer can contact a company, then close the app or move on to another task. When the agent responds, they’re notified to jump back into the conversation at their convenience. It’s a more intuitive, organic way of conversing, with a persistent conversation history, even if multiple agents become involved over time. There’s one consistent thread, visible to everyone.

Adding asynchronous messaging as a channel enables customer support organizations to distribute resources more intelligently. Critical conversations can still be handled “live,” while not-so-pressing conversations unfold more naturally over time. 

Asynchronous messaging also becomes important when support organizations are handicapped by crisis and cannot provide 24/7 live support. This is also where automation becomes critical. 

Automation is the key to scaling and managing wild fluctuations in demand

The other key to managing customer support in uncertain times is automation. Helpshift has found that using AI and automation makes it possible for organizations to automate over 50 percent of customer service interactions.

By putting in place a robust knowledge base and the mechanism to share it automatically with customers, usually in the form of QuickSearch Bots, you can respond to customers’ most common questions much more quickly, without having to engage a human agent. In fact, this self-service functionality is wildly popular with consumers, and 73% say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good online customer service.

Automation and AI-enabled routing also help direct incoming customer queries to the right place. With Intelligent Routing, you can route or assign issues to certain agents or groups at certain times, which can be highly efficient for companies operating in more than one time zone as well as those with multiple specialized departments. 

A strategic shift to a more intelligent customer service model

While a lot of companies are in reactive mode, scrambling to keep up with demand while also putting their customer’s minds at ease, now’s definitely the time to put a foundation in place for the future. If there’s one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s that we have to be prepared for anything. A resilient customer service organization requires versatile technology in place to better manage the customer and agent experience — anywhere, anytime. 

Published May 1, 2020
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