Should Your Agency Be Offering Chat Service?

Computer mouse connected to the word SOS

Live Web chat is an important component of good customer service. People like having the option of talking with an agent in real-time without having to pick up the phone. While live chat is not widespread, several agencies have shown great success in serving the public through this alternative channel. At a recent Government Contact Center Council meeting, colleagues from HHS (cancer.gov), Education (StudentAid.gov), and GSA (USA.gov) shared their challenges and successes in implementing and managing Web chat. Some agencies have 10 years experience in this field!

Why did you choose to offer Web chat?

Agencies offered Web chat in response to requests from customers who wanted to talk to customer service representatives immediately, while they were browsing an agency’s site. Web chat is especially appealing to younger audiences as well as customers who are trying to complete a task on the site, such as filling out an electronic form.

Are there special requirements for chat agents?

Education and GSA start agents on phones, and when they are more experienced, move them to chat. Other requirements include advanced typing skills, good grammar, quick browsing skills, proof reading and superior writing skills.

What content do the chat agents use?

The panelists said their agents have a bank of preformatted responses, use their knowledgebases and websites. USA.gov provides a link to the relevant FAQs on the topic, or the URL to an agency’s page, but also provides context and an explanation of why they’re providing the link.

How do the customer satisfaction scores for chat inquiries compare to those of email/phone?

At GSA, for USA.gov, the Chat channel consistently receives higher customer satisfaction scores than email. Chat scores a bit lower than phone. Since both chat and phone allow quick back-and-forth dialogue to better understand the question and issue, the agent is able to provide a more substantial and useful answer.

What are some Chat Best Practices?

  • Beautiful smiling businesswoman using futuristic interface showing applications
    Capture inquiry topic to identify trends. Drop-down menus help categorize the conversations.
    • Cross-utilize agents by having them work on email responses between chat sessions.
    • Use a standard closing to sign off the chat and to reinforce agency branding.
    • Design a Quality Assurance form that is specific to Web chat. Include components such as assessment, solution, communication (grammar, spelling, politeness).
    • Offer customers a transcript of their sessions.
    • Use timestamps to show each back-and-forth interaction.

What are some typical metrics/key performance indicators?

  • Average Wait Time (for initial agent response)
  • <5% Abandonment Rate (customer disconnects or drops while waiting in queue)
  • >85% Customer Satisfaction Score
  • >85% Quality Assurance Score

How do you promote the chat channel?

The greatest driver of Web chat volume is how prominently the service is featured and visible on your website. Also, Web chat volume is greatly impacted by promotions such as listserv subscriptions, Twitter and Facebook.

Do you limit the number of simultaneous chats per agent?

Some panelists limited the number of simultaneous chats to two or three per representative. Industry experts recommend that the complexity of the chat drive the allowable number of simultaneous chats.

Are you using proactive chat (where a chat window will pop-up on user’s screen offering chat assistance)?

None of the panelists is using proactive chat right now, but several are looking into it as a possibility for the future.

Other tips

  • Since volume is unknown at the start, dedicate agents to this channel.
  • Watch & track your Average Handle Time, but do not hold your agents to a certain standard. They may “rush” through an interaction to meet the standard.

This article is part of this month’s editorial theme on our DigitalGov Communities. Check out more articles related to this theme.

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