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Improving Customer Service with Chat using Live Agent

Across the Customer Service industry web chat is becoming an even more popular channel to engage with your customers (and prospects). According to Forrester’s Top 15 trends for Customer Service in 2013, there was a 24% rise in usage of chat as a support channel over the past 3 year (second only to community usage which grew 25%). In a terrific session at Dreamforce 2013 – Delivering Superior Customer Experience with Live Chat – Jon Aniano, the Director of Product Management for Live Agent gave some compelling reasons why*:

  • 43% of consumers said they will use live chat as a support a option if it’s available to them
  • The overall Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) rating for live chat was 63%. This is a close second to phone which was 69%
  • On average the cost of a live chat interaction is 1/3 the cost of a phone interaction

Now, those three numbers combined don’t mean that chat should be the only support channel a company offers, but they certainly present a compelling case as to why chat should be in the channel mix – especially if you are already offering email support. In a 2011 study, Live Chat Use Rising, 18% of users listed live chat as their preferred channel to interact with companies. Based on the trend, this has only increased over the past two years. Chat allows consumers to interact with customer service while multi-tasking and when using the phone simply isn’t an option, but with the instant interaction that email can not provide. From the consumer side, there is clearly a demand for chat and the CSAT stands up nicely to the highest CSAT channel of phone. From the customer service side, chat is cheaper simply because an agent can handle multiple chats at once – where that is impossible via the phone. Most chat agents can handle 2 – 4 chats at a time (we’ve even seen up to 5) depending on the complexity of the questions being addressed – which simply put, means you can handle more interactions with less people.

So, that’s the “why” you would want to use live chat. Let’s talk a little about how Live Agent with Salesforce can be the “how” to implement live chat. Back in 2010, salesforce acquired Activa Live which was a stand-alone leader in the chat industry. Since that acquisition – and in particular the past 4 or 5 salesforce releases – salesforce has fully integrated Live Agent into the Service Cloud offering, and extended its capabilities. Below, I’m going to go over some of the key points about Live Agent. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of features (possibly a future post though), more of an overview of how Live Agent fits into Service Cloud and how it can be leveraged to deliver chat as a service channel.

Agent Experience

  • Cross Channel Consistency – One of the big complaints we see with other companies using chat is typically they are on one platform for chat, and then email and phone are on another platform. This makes it very tough on the agents to learn two different systems, but also to be able to flip between channels in an agile manner to handle hourly demands. It also makes it tougher on management to figure out capacity and availability of their agents as they are spread across two systems. Live Agent leverages the Service Console, appearing as a panel in the left hand side (see image below). By leveraging the Service Console, agents of any channel – Phone, Email, Chat or even Social are using the same UI to manage their interactions. This consistency makes it much easier to train agents and have agents switch between channels as needed.
    Live Agent within Service Console
    Live Agent within Service Console
  • 360 degree view of all interactions – Along with simply having a consistent UI for all agents, it is a critical need to have these interactions all logged within the same system and at your agent’s fingertips. Live Agent leverages the Case object as its core object – just like the rest of Service Cloud. There are a few new objects – such as the Chat Transcripts – that Live Agent uses, but these link to the Case automatically. This means that all of your service interactions with a customer are captured on the same object – giving you full 360 degree views of your customer interactions. This not only allows for consolidated reporting of all support channels, but also gives your agents the ability to research prior interactions with a customer while remaining on the same platform. In addition to full 360 customer visibility, this also gives you 360 degree Case visibility. If the Case needs to be escalated to Tier 2 or another department or maybe to another Tier 1 support channel, the transcript for the Chat the interaction is linked to the case allowing any other user to review the chat dialogue in order to better serve the customer. Having all of your support channels on the same platform is a powerful tool for management and agents – and a big advantage in providing better customer service.
  • Knowledge integration – Being part of the Service Cloud, Live Agent is also integrated with Knowledge. The interface is a little different, where the integration is optimized for a chat experience. In the image above, the Knowledge integration is below the chat dialogue to maximize real estate vs. putting it on the right hand panel like standard Service Console. In addition, articles can have a “chat” version of the article which is text only and ideally scaled down text that would allow the agent to present the article content itself within the chat instead of chat giving a link to the customer within the chat.
  • Handling Multiple Chats – The Service Console with Live Agent – with its tabbed approach – is a perfect UI experience to be able to handle multiple interactions at once. Each incoming chat pops a new primary tab, and anything the agent views to support the interaction are sub-tabs below that primary. It’s common practice to have chat agents working on the email queue if they have downtime. The agent could be in the middle of resolving that email case when the new chat pops. Not a problem with Service Console as once they resolve the chat interaction, they just click back to the tab for the email case and all of their records are maintained within the tab cluster. Live Agent also provides some nice aids to the agents to allow them to better manage multiple chats. One of the critical aids is the use of color-coding of the chat tabs. As you’ll see in the image below, this agent is handling 3 different chats (each with their own tab). When a customer responds to your chat, the tab immediately turns yellow to let the agent know the customer is now waiting for a response. You also have the ability to prompt the agent that the wait time has reached a critical point – the amount of time is configurable by you – but once it hits that point, the tab will turn red, letting the agent know the customer is still waiting and they’ve been waiting too long. Without these color prompts, and agent would be forced to flip through their chats over and over to see if the customer have responded yet.
    Live Agent with Multiple Chats
    Live Agent with Multiple Chats

Customer Experience

  • Personalized Experience – From a customer’s stand-point, most chat acts the same way – which is a good thing. You want customers comfortable with the medium as a whole vs. having to learn a different UI just to chat with you. That said, Live Agent allows you to personalize your experience to the customer. Agents / Buttons can have personalized greeting messages including merge fields introducing the agent or re-affirming which chat channel they are in, without the agent having to type them out. Each chat window can be branded – and leveraging visualforce, can be branded to look however you’d like. Have a chat channel that is dedicated to a specific strategic customer? You can skin their chat button to look like their brand and welcome them to their own chat, while your other chat buttons match your corporate look and feel.
  • Mobile Enabled – Just like everything on salesforce with salesforce1, customers can use Live Agent from their mobile device. Out of the box, Live Agent is integrated into Salesforce’s Public Knowledge Base product, allowing customers to launch a chat from any knowledge article directly from their smartphone or tablet. In addition, with the API toolkit that comes with Live Agent, this can be extended to any part of a company’s product or website. If chat is increasing in usage, mobile is simply exploding. Service needs to offer mobile alternatives, and live chat with Live Agent is a perfect option.
  • Live Agent from a mobile device
    Live Agent from a mobile device

Management Experience

  • Real Time Monitoring – Live Agent has what is called the “Live Agent Supervisor” page which gives users and managers the ability to monitor all chat users and queues real time. Managers are able to view their agent’s online status, how many chats an agent is engaged in, how many requests were re-assigned from that agent for not answering, and the amount of time since logging in and the last chat accept. In addition, for the ongoing chats, they can quickly view how long those chats have been going on. This page provides a powerful view into the chat activity, allowing managers to see if they have a capacity issue, but also to see if they potentially have an issue with an agent. Unproductive agents can game the system by letting a chat stay open that is clearly ended – thereby blocking additional chats from coming in – or putting themselves Away when they should be online. A manager can see these types of behaviors at a glance – all in real time.
    Live Agent Supervisor Page
    Live Agent Supervisor Page

    In addition to being able to view the overall chat picture, a manager can peek into a chat itself. Perfect for training new agents, or quality control, a manager can view a chat without the customer being aware. They can also “whisper” to the agent to help them out, without the customer seeing the interaction. Again, a perfect tool for training new agents – being able to guide them through tough questions in a real life service interaction.

    Live Agent Supervisor Peek & Whisper
    Live Agent Supervisor Peek & Whisper
  • Consolidated Reporting – As we discussed with the 360 degree view of a customer or case, for management this provides the ability to report across all channels in a single report or dashboard. Managers can look at agent performance – across multiple channels – or their full team’s performance all from the same platform and reports. All of Live Agent’s object and any custom fields you add for your own process are available using the standard salesforce reports and dashboard builders.

Some Best Practices with Live Agent

  • Leverage Pre-Chat forms – Live agent supports the ability to create pre-chat forms that allow you to ask the customer questions prior to the chat. These forms can be customized by chat button to have a more granular approach. The answers to these questions can be used in multiple ways. First, the can enable routing based on the answers. Have multiple product lines, or inquiry types? Ask which type of question they have and then route to the appropriate chat queue based on that answer. Second, the answers are visibly to the agent as the chat comes in. This allows the agent to get a jump start on what the interaction is about. Third, these answers can be passed directly to the case record. If your Case requires certain fields such as Product, why have the agent ask that question and then have to fill out that field in the Case record? Simply pass the answer directly from the customer to the Case and give the agent one less question to have to ask and fill out. All of these combined will shave seconds off of every chat interaction – and those seconds will add up when you take all of the interactions you receive through-out the day.
  • Use Quick-text (but don’t overuse it) – Live Agent has the ability to store pre-canned text snippets – called Quick Text – that allows agents to post regularly used expressions or questions without having to type them each time. A big time saver for chatters, as common issues typically have standard responses or question that are needed to resolve them. That said, don’t go overboard with your quick text. If everything is a canned response, the customer quickly feels like they are speaking to a robot instead of a person on the other end of the chat. Each customer thinks their problem is unique, so don’t try to automate the responses so much that you remove the personal touch. You still might resolve their issue, but you want them to feel as if they have a personal experience so they use chat next time.
  • Use Sneak Peek – Sneak peek allows you to see what the customer is typing before they hit enter. Creepy? Maybe a little. Effective in allowing an agent to respond faster? Absolutely. (Potential for some funny sneak peeks? Definitely.) If the customer is typing out their issue, or answering a question, by seeing this typing as it’s happening, the agent can already be finding the article to provide to the customer or start preparing their own response. Again, this saves seconds – and those seconds add up.
  • Know when to leave chat – Finally, one of the critical training items for chat agents is to teach them when to have the customer leave chat and engage from another channel. There are some problems that are simply too complicated – or urgent – to be handling with chat. If the user needs to send reams of back-up material to show the problem, or if there is a long step by step process an agent needs to walk the consumer though, chat is not the medium to use. That doesn’t mean your customer won’t try to use chat for these issues. I’m sure everyone has the smack your hand in your face story about the customer that continually emails about their Sev 1 / Critical downtime issues. Chat isn’t any different. Train your agents that it’s ok to realize an interaction isn’t ideal for chat and guide the customer into a more suitable channel. Even though the customer will need to re-engage, as long as your leveraging all of the above, the next agent can be prepped with all of the details from the chat by reading the transcript and case – and the customer will receive better service.

I hope this gives you a quick overview on how Live Agent – and chat in general – can be a powerful tool for customer service in both allowing a service team to increase their capacity while providing a channel of support preferred by an increasing number of consumers and at the same time being a more cost effective channel. Each salesforce release has included new features to Live Agent which we have detailed in past blog posts and will continue to do so (Winter 14 and Summer 13 write-ups if you’re interested). Spring 14 is coming out in early February 2014, and will include even more new features for Live Agent further strengthening it as a market leader in the space.

* The stats from the Dreamforce presentation are from a Forrester Report – Live Chat Market Overview 2012

Harry Radenberg

Harry is the CEO and founder of GearsCRM, with more than 18 years of experience working with the Salesforce platform. Outside of Gears, Harry enjoys debating Star Wars and Marvel with his son and sharing music and videos with his daughter. He is an avid racquetball player, bleeds Dodger blue, cries Jets green and always tries to find spare time to read a good fiction novel.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Hey Harry! Thanks for this detailed guide on how to improve chat based customer service. Customer service continuously evolves as customer behavior continues to change. Customers are more adept with technology and servicing them using this platform is the best way to move forward in the help desk services industry. The numbers should be enough reason for companies to get into the action.

    The Future Of Chat-Based Customer Service:

  2. We are trying to determine how many agents per day we should have staffed on LIVE Chat. I can’t seem to find a formula or definitive answer. Does anyone have a suggestion on how can determine this?

    1. Hi Christian,

      Some of this does depend on the complexity of your product, but rule of thumb is a chatter can handle 3 – 5 simultaneous chats at once once they get experience handling chats. (New chatters in training shouldn’t do more than 2). If your product is fairly straight forward to support, 4 – 5 chats at a time won’t be a problem. If it’s more complex, where you will have long sessions with a lot of back and forth, I’d keep it closer to 3 at a time. Hope that helps.


      1. Thanks for the reply. How many chat sessions would you predict per 100k unique visitors to a site?

        1. Hard to predict, because a lot is driven by your customer base and also your product. The way salesforce does the Offline/Online message is perfect to experiment with this though. Basically, you can control how big you want your queue to be before it flips to offline mode. That will ensure you don’t get flooded as you determine your volume. Our clients will make the offline message a message showing the normal phone/email channels, so when it flips offline, new visitors aren’t even aware chat was an option. As a chat closes, the next visitor will see chat as an option as you flip back to online mode. With the real time reporting on the Supervisor page, you can start slow and monitor your volume and then begin to scale up as needed.

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