I openly confess that I hate chat windows on Web sites that pop-up, without me asking for them, to interrupt my browsing experience. They distract me from what I am viewing and reading, and ask me some inane question like “Can I help you with something?” A few weeks ago, this seemed to be happening on almost every site I visited, so I decided to do some research to see if others felt like I did.
Now, I’ve seen the studies that look at it from the provider perspective, talking about how many leads and deals come from people that use chat, but I always wondered about the other side of the coin. What about the people, like me, who hate those interruptions. Could the effort to offer help, before it is wanted, be turning off potential customers? Is the early interruption chat like the overzealous sales representative who accosts (and yes, to me it is accosts) you the minute you walk in a store and hovers around you the entire time you are just looking around? Is it doing more harm than good?
Here is what our “mini” survey revealed. We asked 51 technology buyers their opinion of chat services on technology provider Web sites. They were allowed to select multiple answers.
Tellingly, nearly half of them feel similar to me. Interrupting the browsing experience is not viewed positively. For casual browsers that may turn into interested buyers, you may be turning them away (as happens with me when I will leave stores quickly with overzealous sales people) before you have gained their interest and trust.
That being said, the survey also shows that buyers clearly value chat, when used appropriately. As they go deeper into the site and their buying process, engaging through chat can help them get answers to questions they can’t find on their own. With that approach, make sure the people servicing the chat requests are knowledgeable enough to answer questions that the Web site does not reveal. For technology companies, this may mean using system engineers or similarly skilled people for many requests.
With customer experience becoming more and more critical, I’d like to see more technology companies heed this advice. Yes, chat can increase conversions, but don’t think about it from that perspective only. It is that perspective that has resulted in more and more sites using interrupt-driven chat, often seconds after someone has reached the home page, thinking “those who engage are more likely to convert.” That may be true, but you may be pushing away 50% of your potential audience, in the worst case, or starting the engagement from a position of frustration in the best case.
Rather than interrupt, just make chat more prominent, so that visitors know it is there if they want it. Make it clear the type of resources that are available to answer questions. For example, customers of Needle, who use brand advocates, not employees, to answer customer questions, should make it clear that you can “chat with someone who uses this product” v. “chat with a sales rep” (as I discussed in this post). If you staff it with true product experts, tell people that—but make sure they truly are expert. Finally, if you really feel you must interrupt people to offer the option to chat, don’t do it on the home page. Use it on pages deeper into the site, where more detailed information on the product, or success stories and implementation approaches are covered.
Too often, we look at things through the eyes of our internal metrics and KPIs. In a customer centric world, those views have to be balanced, and even tilted, toward understanding the customer perspective and adapting approaches to appeal to them, while still doing what is good business.
What do you think?
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