Offering Web site visitors the ability to chat—at the time of their choosing–is something that is valuable (But please, don’t have your chat window pop up on the screen without the visitor asking—it is annoying and disruptive). And at least one company, Needle, is providing a way to take this to the next level.
The typical chat option on a Web site is often promoted with a simple link somewhere on the page, like this:
This is nice, but some browsers may be cautious about doing this. They may want help, but aren’t ready to talk to someone in sales. Why? Because buyers, in general, don’t have a high degree of trust for the companies they do business with or their sales representatives. (Check out the Edelman Trust Barometer for more details on this trust gap.)
There may be another option that more buyers will find of interest. For example, if you visit Norwegian Cruise Lines site, you might (depending on your activity) see an option on your page like this:
This looks a little different, and it is. Norwegian works with Needle to take a different approach to chat. Instead of Norwegian personnel on the other side of the connection, buyers are able to talk to “real” people–advocates that love Norwegian cruises so much that they want to share their experience with others and help them choose the best possible cruise experience for them. I actually blogged about a similar approach, but for in-store usage, early in 2013.
They are not employees. They are customers. I’ve talked about Advocacy Marketing before, and recently saw an interesting infographic on the statistical argument for Customer Advocacy. The approach that Needle is enabling is taking this to another level.
It is truly Just-in-Time advocacy marketing. You have someone looking at your products and services, what could be better than offering them the ability to talk to someone like them–someone they are more likely to trust–to get ideas, suggestions, and answer their questions.
This approach could work for any company, including B2B sellers, provided the following is true:
- You have a strong base of customers that are truly fans—they love your company, products, and services so much that they want others to know about it.
- Within that group of customers, there are people, by the nature of their work or geographic location, that could make themselves available to accept chat requests during key time periods for visits to your Web site.
- Your target customers use your Web site as a key part of their buying process, to learn and/or to purchase.
That’s really it. If those three things are true, this is something I’d highly encourage you to explore. The second requirement makes this more tricky for B2B companies, but when you think about time zone differences, it could work.
But with that in mind, how do you do it right? First, promote in prominently on your Web site (making sure it’s only visible when you have advocates available to chat). This has a dual impact. Even for visitors that don’t want to chat, they will see that you offer this, and it will increase their confidence in your company (“Wow, if they have customers who will take their time to chat with me, their stuff must be good.”). You are building up trust just by offering the option.
Second, and most importantly, make it very clear that these are not employees–they are “real people” just like your buyers. (I’m bolding that, because I think it is so important) Norwegian does a decent job of this, but I think they could go further, it could say “Chat with a Happy Norwegian Cruise Customer” (or something more creative than that). Remember, buyers trust people like them more than your employees. A generic promotion like “Chat with an expert” is likely to be viewed by a visitor as an invitation to talk with an employee–with some level of skepticism about their real expertise (“if they were really an expert, would they be spending their time responding to chats? I doubt a real expert will be on the other end of the line.”).
You may still want to have chat options with employees, particularly for service issues (and if you could easily transfer a customer from an advocate to a company representative, that would be cool).
Third, monitor, measure, and coach. The beauty (and some of the fear) of advocates is that you can’t control them. You really don’t want to put words in their mouth, since that will cause them to start to sound like employees. But you can coach them on ways to be most effective. All advocacy programs succeed by integrating gamification elements, with points, leader boards, and rewards (both tangible and intangible) that help participants “see where they stand.” Use this data to help guide advocates toward more effective interactions.
At the same time, you can also track if advocates are behaving in ways that are detrimental to your business. I’d posit that any advocate that denigrates your business is not an advocate (and you should remove them from the pool). The risk of bad advocate behavior is very low—it is almost an oxymoron, so don’t let that fear stop you. If you really have that concern, I’d suggest you need to evaluate the passion of your fans–it may not be to the level you need to have an effective advocacy marketing program.
But the positives of Advocate Marketing far outweigh any risks. And it says a lot about your company to potential customers. It says you trust your customers enough that you’ll let them share their experiences and ideas (good, bad, and in between) with your prospects. You are increasing the likelihood that a visitor will trust you more just by doing this.
The power of Advocacy Marketing is undeniable and the Just-in-Time approach makes it even easier for buyers to engage with people who love your brand. If your business fits the criteria above, I highly encourage you to explore the impact it could have on your business. And, if you do move forward with it, whether on your Web site or even in your stores, do it transparently and prominently. This is so important, I will say it again: make it very clear that you are offering visitors the opportunity to talk with someone just like them, not just another employee sitting in a call center somewhere in the world.