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Apr 21, 2021

Don't be Fooled: Live Chat isn't Sales

Live Chats are an important part of any e-commerce experience, but don't mistake what they do for sales.

By Leigh Sevin, Co-Founder @ Endear

What is Live Chat

Live Chat platforms enable website visitors to message back and forth with a company representative or agent directly on a webpage in order to get questions answered more quickly. Live Chat has become a quintessential, if not table-stakes, element of most e-commerce experiences today. Whether you're b2b or b2c, most companies now offer a way for their traffic to reach out and speak with someone around the clock.

While companies may offer other methods of getting in touch, Live Chat delivers the highest satisfaction rates over all other forms of communication (including email, voice, or social media platforms). In fact, according to one Live Chat option, livechat.com, the number of conversations that took place over Live Chat in 2020 reached over 4M, a 56% increase over the previous year, with only a negligible drop (less than 1%) in customer satisfaction.

While some Live Chat solutions, like Intercom or Drift, are geared more toward software sales, others like Tidio and Kustomer are focused on helping e-commerce brands. As the market continues to grow, Live Chat platforms will also continue to differentiate themselves through various verticals, complexities, and of course, pricing. But overall, Live Chat has become a mainstay in the world of online shopping.

The Benefits of Live Chat

There's no doubt that providing a real-time lifeline to customers is a good business practice. But many companies also report that adding Live Chat to their sites has dramatically helped to improve conversion rates and increase revenue. Overall, While every company should want to offer top-notch service, the fact that companies are seeing a return on their Live Chat solutions has certainly helped to keep this channel around and grow the market.

On top of pure revenue increase, Live Chats have also become more sophisticated, and therefore more helpful to the companies that use them. They can pinpoint areas of friction on your site, aggregate data around common customer complaints, and of course bring down the cost of actual customer success labor through automation and smart responses.

All of this is great - huge strides for e-commerce! But with all these strengths in mind, let's get one thing straight:

Live Chat is not sales.

What's Different About Sales

If you've ever sold software, ran a lemonade stand, or worked in a retail store - heck, if you've ever walked into a retail store - you know that the salespeople who wait for customer attention don't fare too well - in fact, other salespeople would say those folks are proactively bad at their jobs.

While Live Chat is great for the customers who are shopping, most companies will tell you that the majority of customers writing into their Live Chats have actually already made a purchase. While the customers that interact with a Live Chat before making a purchase have 10% increase in their average order value (AOV) and an average 40% conversion rate, the truth is that 50% of buyers see customer support channels as almost exclusively reserved for post-purchase communication.

That means that Live Chats are serving as a channel either for those customers who have nearly made up their minds to buy anyway, or those who have already bought. But what about those customers who don't reach out? The ones who are casually browsing or not sure about what it is they should be buying from your site in the first place? The large majority of people will opt to save their money rather than buy that product they're not totally confident about if it requires extra leg work.

Sales in any industry is all about proactively reaching out to current and potential customers on a human level to check-in, understand what their current needs or pain points are, and help them overcome those challenges using your company's products or services.

Put Sales Front and Center

Don't let problems and tickets stand in the way of sales. Learn how Endear can help you prioritize sales across all your customer touchpoints.

Why Live Chat needs a sales makeover

We've written before about why salespeople should exist in the e-commerce world - this labor force might even serve e-commerce better than it serves brick-and-mortar! But let's talk about where Live Chat falls short compared to a sales-driven approach to customer engagement.

The Curse of the FAQ

If you think about the department name alone, "customer success" or "support", it becomes immediately clear that these teams are not optimized for sales. They are typically rated and assessed based on how quickly they can put out fires, close tickets, or avoid a negative review. And if Away is an example of anything, customer service teams barely have time to manage complaints, let alone think about actually turning a question into a sale - if the matter is resolved, they have to get to their next ticket.

Most companies view their customer support department as a cost center more than a revenue generator because they focus on answering post-purchase questions, such as "Where is my order" and "How do I return this".

Only now, through COVID-19, have some e-commerce companies started to demonstrate an interest in bringing sales online, and so far it's mostly been in cases where either the brand currently or previously operated physical retail.

Inbound vs Outbound

Improvements in Live Chat typically revolve around automation, efficiencies, and "let it run" features. While we've seen here and there people use their Live Chat systems to prompt a conversation with their customers, those types of messages are actually more common on SaaS and b2b marketing sites than they are in the world of consumer e-commerce. While a few e-commerce sites will now encourage online shoppers to "chat with a stylist", most of these experiences can leave a lot to be desired when the person on the other side either isn't available or isn't actually an expert on product but instead an expert on de-escalating conflict.

The biggest missed opportunity in e-commerce is the online equivalent of a store salesperson asking, "Can I help you today?" Especially given all the data about an online shopper that websites can collect, online salespeople can ask much more pertinent questions with confidence, compared to their in-person counterparts, who are basically flying blind. There is tremendous opportunity in outbound e-commerce selling, but Live Chats are not designed to facilitate this type of interaction.

Syncronous vs Asyncronous Conversations

There is nothing more frustrating than initiating a conversation with a Live Chat widet, only to have it go either unanswered, or accidentally end by a close of a tab or the need to leave the computer. The only experience that's worse is when you do remember to return to the window to be greeted by, "Are you still there? No? Okay bye! See you never again! Next time you'll start from scratch!" (Yes, most systems have improved, but there are still versions of this problem running around.)

The truth is that especially for e-commerce, Live Chats and the teams that run them should prioritize the conversations that have the potential to generate sales, which just so happen to also be the most at risk of dropping off. These customers are also often in the biggest rush to get an answer on their items. If someone has placed an order and wants to return it, they will take the time to figure out how to make that happen. But if someone needs to know the in-seam of a pair of jeans, time is of the essence for both you and your consumer.

Especially if you are selling high-ticket items, you should be particularly sensitive to your reliance on a chat window on a website. You cannot always expect to close a sale after one conversation. If you're in this camp, the Live Chat platform you use should enable you first determine who is in the market to purchase and give you have a way to stay in touch - not another agent, not the company, but you specifically. The average customer now uses ten different channels to communicate with companies, including text, email, Whatsapp, or facebook. By reserving your Live Chat for finding out which one he or she prefers, you're more likely to keep this customer engaged.

How Endear helps your Live Chat drive sales

Many e-commerce brands have done a tremendous job of hacking bits and pieces of their chosen Live Chat solution to create a mini sales engine. But if you're ready to dedicate yourself to cause, then it might be time to introduce Endear into your overall sales strategy. That does not mean abandoning your Live Chat (no one likes re-platforming), but it does mean re-thinking how to make your chosen software work harder for you on the sales side.

  1. Make sure there is someone on your team dedicated to selling. Only two of the six most frequently asked questions in a Live Chat are actually post-purchase. Don't miss out on maximizing the opportunities that come from the other four. If you already have sales associates who typically work in your retail store, consider dedicating one of their shifts to e-commerce. Alternatively, consider giving one customer success person an Endear account so that they can start clienteling with loyal e-commerce customers. But this person is not responsible for answering questions related to the post-purchase experience.
  2. Give your customer service team the tools to collect contact info from customers interested in speaking to a salesperson. They can use Endear to add these details to a customer's profile and even leave notes with context from the conversation.
  3. Let customers know that they have the option to speak to a salesperson at any point, and provide them with your salesperson's contact info (provided by Endear). Letting customers know that there is a real human who they can forever reference when they have questions or need advice will capture a large chunk of customers who won't reach out on their own.
  4. Pepper your website with your sales contact info - if a customer wants to get in touch, don't require it to be through a Live Chat that isn't set up for sales. With Endear, you can give online customers a way to email or text your sales team so that the conversation flows organically.
  5. Endear also provides a way to forward conversations into outside inboxes, so if a salesperson does receive a more traditional FAQ, he or she can easily send this inquiry back to a Live Chat inbox.

We spend a lot of time talking about the need for innovation in retail, but when it comes to sales, there's a lot that e-commerce can learn from brick-and-mortar. As brands move to become more omnichannel, the strongest strategy will incorporate both sales and marketing in-store and online in order to increase conversions but to also increase loyalty and improve the customer shopping experience overall.