• 09:24:00 pm on March 4, 2009 | 3
    Tags: , , , , , ,

    Chat? Again? Are You Serious?

    Ladies and Gents, it it time again to revive a tool or technology I gave up for dead some time ago. You see, back in 2005 while updating a hype cycle for Gartner I said that Chat and Email where both going to become obsolete before they reached the plateau of productivity.  That meant that some other technology or tool would replace them or they would cease to exist.  In this case, I was deeply involved in the Customer Interaction Hub (CIH) and thought it was going to be the replacement for all stand-alone channel tools.  The prediction on chat caused some stir (about 15% of my 2005-2006 calls were related to it) since lots of people were using chat and wanted to know what to do.  My advise back then, just because it will disappear from the hype cycle does not mean it is not useful – keep using it and getting benefits out of it.

    There were two reasons I declared it obsolete: lack of innovation, and lack of adoption.  In other words, nothing new was being produced or planned, and not many people were using it anyways (still today, adoption for Chat is circa 10%, not what you would call critical mass).  Among adopters of chat, they were mostly using it as a two-way conversation tool, as a cheap (if well done) alternative to phone for real-time escalation for their self-service sites.  I know of several technical support implementations, and some ecommerce sites, that have been successful with it – but for the most part it was an expensive (when done incorrectly), low use, and complicated tool to understand.

    Fast forward some 3-4 years, and I am sauteing the crow to eat it – again (for the record, the best way to eat crow is sauteed with kosher salt, covered with a Marsala wine reduction sauce – delicious).  Yes, I was wrong.  Not only it did not become obsolete, it actually became useful.  In my defense, the model that works is the one I espoused for the CIH – but I did not think it was going to be done on an channel-by-channel basis as opposed to a single framework as the CIH proposes.  Further to my defense, although I was wrong in declaring it obsolete, the way it has come back and works is as an integrated components in a contact center, working in conjunction with business rules and knowledge management (almost a CIH, but not exactly).

    Why am I bringing this up?  No, I don’t like to admit when I am wrong (although I will gladly do it if necessary), but because I want you to take another look at Chat.  Yes, Chat – I am serious.  The power of chat as an escalation channel for real-time communications is unparalleled (even call-back cannot accomplish the same, and I already talked about that), and if you do it right (you know, integrated with business rules, automate it with chat bots, tie it to your KM deployment to help you agents, offer it at the right time and the right place) you can certainly see many benefits.

    Have you taken another look at Chat lately? What are your thoughts?



  • tboehm30 2:38 pm on March 5, 2009 | # | Reply

    Chat is important, even if it is incredibly annoying.
    When I worked in the call center as programming support for the CRM product, I was required to have my IM on if I was on-line working.

    I got interrupted constantly by support questions. How was I supposed to get my new developments done, if everyone kept asking about the current problems?

    That aside, these are the people who had customers on the line. They shouldn’t have to put someone on hold to find out how something internal works. IM was the fantastic tool for communication within the call center. (I still didn’t like it though.)

  • Haim Toeg 12:18 am on March 9, 2009 | # | Reply

    Esteban – thanks for a great post — interesting how chat keeps being the tool that never took off but still refuses to go away.

    I never found a way to make chat work in my world, enterprise software support. What I can’t figure out is that common wisdom says that a single agent can handle multiple chat sessions but only a single phone session at any given time. However, I believe that the greater the technical complexity of the discussions the less likely it is for this benefit to materialize efficiently. Also, even under ideal circumstances, customers will use chat in addition to doing other things, but when they are on the phone they will be a lot more focused on the dialog, making the discussion faster and more effective. This leads me to think that efficiency benefits introduced by chat are marginal at best in a high complexity environment. Therefore my preference will be to ditch chat in favor of e-mail and phone service where the combined benefits of both will more than make up for the lack of chat.

    I’d think that if done right chat may have a place in lower complexity environments with less back-end processing time than enterprise software. The key challenge is possibly locating an operation on a scale between a call center environment (high volume, low complexity and short back-end processing times) and a ‘specialty center’ which will have the opposing characteristics. I think the choice of tools and processes will largely depend on where you are on that scale.

    I am curious if anybody ever has considered this type of classification and what the conclusions were?

    • Esteban Kolsky 7:49 pm on March 9, 2009 | # | Reply


      Thanks for your comments and I agree with you in how important it is. The specific application you mention, Talent Directories, are incredibly useful for shortening time to resolve – all the way upto 50% in some cases! – and increasing customer satisfaction. I see your point from the programmer’s side (I, like you, started in High School programming) – but this is something that if more businesses were to understand, they would actually increase their performance relative to customer service.


      Thanks for reading, as always great comment! I did some of what you suggest… looking into what type of transactions are better for what type of channel, while I was at Gartner. I was debating over the weekend whether to repurpose it here or send it over private email. If you don’t get an email from me later today, look for that post to be here tomorrow.

      As for the other comment you made, the benefits introduced by chat are taken away by the complexity, there is some truth to what you say. The second best practice I beat my customers into submission with (I mean I advocate) is to make sure that they use chat for the right purpose, at the right time. For example, opening a chat session to handle an entire technical support incident is not the best use of the tool – leverage self-service first and use chat as an escalation tool – but doing a portion of it with it may be advisable for certain customers. That would also take care of the multi-tasking problem since you can have your agents better focused if they have fewer sessions. And the entire deal with customers paying attention comes down to latency of answering… thus, if you agent is focused and has the right tools at their fingertips (KM, integration, workflows and business rules, etc.) the latency decreases and the customer pays more attention.

      Thanks for reading and for some great comments!

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