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The Dismal State Of Web-Based Customer Service

Take a second to think about all of the things in your everyday life that are better thanks to technology. Now think about customer service. Would it be at or near the top of your list? Would it be on your list at all?

According to a study by Forrester Research, 19% of U.S. online consumers have used live chat to attempt to resolve a customer-service issue in a given year. In theory, technology should allow companies to assist those customers at scale. But does it really?

Powerful technology, same old wait

To evaluate the effectiveness of online customer service, the folks at Next IT (click here to enlarge infographic), a technology company that provides user-friendly, human-like customer service, conducted 34 Live Chat secret shopper sessions, randomly selecting four Fortune 500 companies (a national home entertainment provider, a car rental business, a national retailer, and a home improvement retailer).

The average wait time for a first response was 5.6 minutes. Not bad when you consider the average time you might spend trying to reach a company by phone. But when you add 18.5 minutes, the length of an average chat session, that means each interaction lasted more than 24 minutes.

Time well spent? Not so much

Secret shoppers reported the information they received was only accurate 60% of the time with noticeable fluctuations based on the time of day they contacted each company (9 a.m., 5 p.m. or 10 p.m. PST). This is could be an indication of the difficulty of training and managing a large staff who are working a number of different shifts.

In addition to accuracy concerns, 55% of all questions escalated to a phone call. That means these companies would not only be paying the cost of live chat support (which Next IT values at $5+ per chat) but also the cost of additional phone support—a double hit.

Missed opportunities

Only a quarter of secret shoppers indicated they had a positive experience. The remaining 75% fell somewhere less than positive—and that’s not good. "Customers want accuracy and speed. It’s frustrating to wait: said Jeff Brown, executive vice president of sales for Next IT. "Customers don’t want to have to call customer support as much as companies don’t want them to call. That requires a better user experience—one that’s both cost effective and scalable."

Although Next IT limited its sample size to four companies, it’s likely the results they uncovered can be found at many others. One thing is for sure, whether it’s telephone support or online chats, the longer customers have to wait, the more frustrated they become—and that frustration is only compounded when they don’t receive accurate information.

Managing customer experience

To keep your customers happy and also increase the likelihood they’ll remain your customers for the long haul, think about their experiences from the moment they decide to contact you with a question or concern. What can you do to make sure those experiences are truly great—and not doubly aggravating?

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