Many companies have implemented instant messaging as a way for coworkers to quickly connect with one another without picking up the phone or waiting for an e-mail, and now this instant communication tool is being passed on to customers.
IM has matured from its adolescent days of chatting with friends at home into an intelligent way to communicate in business. Instead of navigating a computerized phone system or waiting 24 hours for a question to be answered via e-mail, customers can instantly get answers to questions in an IM conversation on your Web site.
For example, if a potential customer is interested in buying your product in a specific shade of blue but your Web site only shows a picture of that product in white, the sale would probably be lost if the customer didn’t want to take the time to call your company or wait for an e-mail. By including IM in your customer service, your Web site visitors can have the same type of personalized service online that they would have if they walked into your store and were being helped by someone on the sales floor.
The following are some of the many benefits of providing IM to your customers:
More service equals more sales: Unlike phone operators, IM agents can reasonably handle up to three conversations at a time. This means more customers are being helped at once, and no one is lost on hold.
Instant access to more products: Let’s be honest, not everyone’s Web site is as clean and easy to navigate as it should be, including yours. The No. 1 way to lose customers is to make them dig through your Web site to find what they want. With IM, customers can ask you to direct them to exactly what they’re looking for. In addition, you can IM any visitor with information on sales and specials they may not be aware of.
Cheap and easy setup: There are two different ways to add IM to your Web site: You can use an application hosted through another company, which uses its own operators to field your instant messages, or you can run the application on your own Web server and have your own employees engage in live chat. Using a host company, such as LivePerson, usually comes with a small monthly fee, but the benefit is 24-hour customer support. If you prefer to have your own employees manning IM, sites such as Jabber.org and Meebo let you do it for free and with easy setup. Jabber and Meebo also allow you to communicate with visitors regardless of their IM platform (e.g., AIM, Yahoo Messenger, MSN Messenger, etc.).
Mobile access: Respond to any question anywhere by having messages sent to your mobile device. With customer service on the go, you won’t be tied to your computer 24 hours a day.
24-hour customer service: Not all customers shop between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Setting up an IM bot extends your hours of business, and your sales. Using a host company is the easiest way to provide 24-hour customer support. If you’re hosting the service yourself, there are programs available that will communicate with customers even when you’re unavailable; they can identify keywords in the customers’ questions and automatically generate a response, or they can simply tell the customer you’re unavailable. Either way, your customers won’t feel left in the dark.