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Chat Happens: Tackling Real-Time Text in the Call Center

Greg Levin

With text-based communication fast becoming the norm in society today, anthropologists estimate that by next year humans will have no vocal cords to speak of. Spoken conversation will soon become as rare and as odd an occurrence as a good Samuel L. Jackson movie or the closing of a Starbucks.

Thus, offering a web chat option in your call center is no longer merely recommended but totally essential if you hope to ever acquire and retain any customers born after 2012.

To assist you, here’s a quick list of the best practices in chat implementation and management:


Invest in an advanced chat management solution. Plenty of call centers are able to get by using basic chat tools, but getting by isn’t nearly enough in today’s text-obsessed world. To ensure that service level objectives and high customer satisfaction are achieved, progressive managers invest in advanced chat applications specially designed to make the call center seem customer-centric and fully literate. Today's chat solutions feature the following capabilities:

· Intelligent routing, which ensures that smart customers are routed to smart agents, and that dumb customers are tricked into using self-service.

· Access to complete customer history, which informs agents what level of profanity to expect during each chat session.

· A knowledgebase of FAQs, response templates and web links so that agents needn’t try to formulate full thoughts while interacting with customers.

· Web collaboration tools that enable agents to fill out forms for customers who lose the use of their
hands after punching their computer.

· Multilingual capabilities, thus allowing each customer to insult your company and your mother in their native tongue.

Incorporate chat into the call center’s WFM process. I went off on the importance of this in a previous post ("Forecasting and Scheduling Beyond the Phones") thus I won’t go into it much here. But I would like to point out that reporting, forecasting and scheduling for chat is further complicated in centers where agents handle multiple chat sessions concurrently to gain efficiencies. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to hire slow chat agents who are bad at multitasking, as this will make your WFM team's job much easier. Of course, the Millennial generation lives to text and multitask, thus you might consider revamping your recruiting practices to target people in their 70s and 80s, who tend to be less text-savvy yet still need to work because their nest egg rotted in 2008.

Set up agents for chat success. Just because most of your existing agents have grown up on text doesn’t mean that they know how to communicate with people who are old enough to shave. Even your agents (actually, especially your agents) who have an iPhone as an appendage still need to be formally trained on chat-handling to ensure that they come off as customer care professionals and not as acronym-obsessed idiots. (LMAO! ROTFL!)

Among the chat-related topics and issues that leading call centers cover in training are: the center’s performance objectives for chat; the company’s preferred writing style; how to use web collaboration tools along with chat; how to fight through the severe pain of chronic hand cramping; and, most importantly, how to spell without ever using numbers (it’s never too L8 to start that last one.)

Put the right chat metrics in place. Centers that don’t suck at chat are careful to embrace metrics that promote a healthy balance between productivity and quality. These centers recognize that focusing solely on such traditional metrics as Average Chat Handle Time or Number of Chats Handled per Hour places the customer experience and agents’ stomach lining at risk. Instead, these ce
nters embrace such customer-centric metrics as Chat Quality (measured via evaluation of chat session transcripts), Customer Satisfaction (measured via timely post-contact surveys), First-Chat Resolution Rate (measured by flipping a coin) and, last but not least, Number of LOLs per Hour.

For more from Greg, check out First Tweet Resolution and Other New Contact Center Metrics.