Web chat, a tool before its time in the 90s, is making a comeback, now offering contact centres a useful alternative channel with a broad range of functionality, says Karl Reed, chief marketing and solutions officer at Elingo.
When Web chat emerged in the late 90s/early 2000s, it did not see mainstream uptake, mainly because the market was not ready for it. Internet users were not well-versed in the benefits of instant messaging, and businesses had yet to embrace the concept of multi-channel customer communications.

But times have changed, and businesses around the world are starting to see new value in Web chat as a customer service platform.

While contact centres may be the first to revive Web chat as a channel, we are also seeing interest in it from individual business departments such as finance and accounts, as a means to interact with customers, as well as from businesses adopting Web chat as a tool for internal communications and training.

Because Web chat is presented as a real time chat forum, it lends itself to immediate resolution of queries and problems. And because the customer may take some time to respond or to act on a recommendation from the agent during the interaction, the agent is able to manage multiple customer interactions simultaneously – unlike with a voice call.

Depending on the agent’s capacity to multitask and text quickly, this could mean an agent is now able to manage up to four interactions simultaneously, enhancing cost effectiveness and efficiency in the contact centre.

Web chat is text based, and allows for very clear communications, with little chance of a misunderstanding. It also lends itself to easy storage and analysis of the interaction, and it is possible to automate the mailing of a copy of the interaction to the customer.

In the case of a complex query where an agent guided a customer through the steps of a process for example, this means the customer can refer to the record of the interaction in future, and does not have to call the contact centre again.

A particularly useful component of Web chat is the ability for the agent to co-browse with the customer. Without any security risks, agents are able to view on their screen what the customer is seeing, and so can direct the customer through the steps needed to solve his problem.

In cases of customers who are not tech literate, this could extend so far as to allowing the agent to complete forms, push links to them or step in to resolve browser problems for them. The potential applications for co-browsing in Web chats extend to demonstrations, training and the sharing of visual material.

With advanced contact centres constantly looking to expand their channels, control costs and improve the customer experience, Web chat presents a highly useful and cost-effective additional channel, with a rapid return on investment. As with all technologies, it may not be suited for every business or department, and depends on a company having a well-designed Web site at the outset.

But in contact centres equipped to manage texts and other channels, with a suitable Website in place, Web chat functionality can be rolled out in under a month and show benefits almost immediately.

Importantly, it adds one more way for businesses to interact with customers immediately, on any device customers choose. If Web chat is implemented well, integrated into the overall contact centre systems, and interactions via Web chat are kept personal – avoiding scripted responses – Web chat can contribute significantly to the overall customer experience.