It’s September and that means the holiday season is just around the corner. Like most smart businesses, yours is already full-steam ahead with holiday merchandise on order, online and in-store promotions being planned, and designs for the ho-ho-ho look and feel you want to convey undergoing refinement.
One area of holiday planning that sometimes gets overlooked until the last minute is online chat. While the rest of your operations are in the holiday swing, chat continues on its not-so-merry way with the same look and feel, messages and style of interactions that you use throughout the year.
Ignoring chat at the holidays can mean ignoring sales and disappointing customers. Customers have adopted chat in droves, and it has proven to be an effective sales tool. Forrester reports that customers who chat, purchase products at nearly 3.5 times the rate of those who do not; 38% of online consumers said they had made their purchase due to a chat session; businesses are seeing increases in shopping cart size of 20%; and 63% of online consumers said they were more likely to return to a web site that offers chat.
So, it’s time to add chat to your holiday prep to-do list. There are lots of ways you can bring the holiday spirit to your chat operation.
Decorate Chat For The Holidays
Start with the messages that are automatically generated by the chat system, such as when a site visitor has elected to chat. Instead of “One moment while we connect you with our agent,” reinforce your holiday theme by prefacing the message with “We wish you a joyous holiday!” Custom proactive chat offers can be used for proactive chat, and successfully encourages visitors to connect (and buy). For example, when a visitor is browsing a high-value item, a proactive invitation can specifically address the gift-buying need such as “Time to order to make sure your gift arrives in time for the holidays. We can help you select the perfect gift.”
The same holds true for the prepared frequent responses your agents use during chat sessions. Preface your canned opening of “My name is Jane. How can I help you today?” with your “Happy Holidays!” message. Frequently used messages are also a great way to quickly answer common questions. Use canned responses to provide customers with often requested information about shipping times such as, “Items ordered by this Friday will arrive in time for the holidays.” You can even create offers tied specifically to chat that encourage buying such as, “If you order this gift by the end of this chat session, we will custom wrap it for free.”
Just like your web site and your stores, chat needs to be dressed up for the holidays. Add a sprig of holly to your chat offer or add a chat button into the face of a snowman. Proactive invitations can gain a little sparkle with an image of a wrapped gift in the chat window. These will not only reinforce your holiday theme, but also help catch the consumer’s eye.
It’s important that system-generated messages, canned responses and chat imagery are all consistent with the holiday theme you are using throughout your business. If you are training store representatives to end each customer interaction with “Enjoy the holidays”; you have a “Let’s Make Merry Together” banner splashed across your web site; and red and gold are your holiday colors, reflect these in automated messages, frequent responses and imagery. As always, use canned message sparingly to keep the chat personal.
Mobilize For Holiday Chat
Since many consumers are now highly mobile, enabling mobile chat should be a priority. A recent survey found that 47% of Millennials said they regularly make purchases on their mobile devices.* The good news is that you don’t have to make changes to your chat experience in order to accommodate the small screen.
The thinking used to be that shorter communications and smaller amounts of information were necessary, but it turns out consumers see chat on a mobile phone as no different from chat at the desktop. They expect the same depth of information and the same length of chat time. The one place where you may need to make adjustments is in chat graphics so that they work well in the smaller formats.
Prepare Behind The Seasonal Scenes Too
Make sure the back end of your chat operation is ready for the holidays. This includes the rules or workflows that decide when to target site visitors. For example, if you expect heavier chat traffic but are not planning to increase the number of chat agents, you may want to tighten the rules so that the chat buttons are visible only on high-value product pages; or you can limit proactive invitations to cart with a specific number of items. Conversely, if you plan to bulk up staffing with seasonal chat agents, then you may want to relax the rules to target more visitors. You may even want to adjust designs and workflows to use such capabilities as geo-location to drive online visitors to one of your nearby stores.
Equally important is to prepare your chat agents; they are just as much on the front line as store representatives. In fact, they will face more questions than in-store staff given online customers cannot touch a product. One national retailer considers chat agents as no different from in-store staff. The chain provides these agents with the opportunity to see and touch products, thoroughly trains them on holiday themes and promotions, and makes sure they experience the brand just as a customer would. Make sure your chat agents have one-click access to product availability and shipping times. One of the most frequently asked chat questions is “When will it arrive?”
Winter Holidays Are Only The Beginning
The famous baseball player and coach Yogi Berra once said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Well, when it comes to online chat and the holidays, it ain’t ever over.
To start with, chat can be a great tool to help with post-holiday returns and exchanges, driving additional revenue and building customer loyalty. You may want to adjust your system and canned messages to aid this process. For example, if a customer is spending a long time on the returns page, extending a proactive chat invitation with information that answers a common question about returns can make the process easier and faster for the customer—and less costly for you.
As chat is now such a key sales tool, holiday preparation is something that needs to be considered year round, not just for the winter holidays. Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s and Father’s days, 4th of July, Halloween — these are all opportunities to leverage chat to drive holiday-related sales. By applying the techniques for boosting your chat presence during the winter holiday season throughout the year, you can reap the greatest benefit with increased sales and loyal customers — and have some fun in the process.
David Lowy is VP of Product Management at Moxie Software. Prior to that, Lowy was Director of Best Practices Consulting at Talisma Corporation and VP of Professional Services at eAssist Global Solutions, CRM software companies. He spent more than 20 years at Xerox Corporation in a variety of roles including Worldwide Manager of Product Marketing for Digital Systems Products, Marketing Operations Manager, Technical Operations Manager and Principal of the Document Consulting Group.