A print catalog served as the only offline sales channel for Backcountry.com, a hiking and skiing products site. Sam Bruni, Director Customer Experience, needed more ways to maximize the traffic coming from costly paid search campaigns.
“If someone had technical gear-oriented questions that couldn’t be answered on the site, they couldn’t ever be approached by a brand rep in a store,” Bruni says. “We wanted to find a way of providing help to customers without them having to ask for it.”
Bruni and his team also had grown tired of their customer service department being viewed internally as an ROI downer and wanted to prove that they could actively pursue customers who were still in the deciding stage. Like many sites, they had a “chat now” button on their homepage, but consumers pretty much ignored it. Bruni wondered if the chat feature could be used to reach out to consumers instead of the other way around.CAMPAIGN
Bruni and his team didn’t want the chat pop-up to scare away visitors, so they set out to devise a system to present it with a permission-based invitation.
Here are the five steps they followed:
-> Step #1. Hire specialists for chat personnel
Before they deployed the new system, Bruni and his team lobbied to get more call center seats added to the ones already in place to handle the traffic coming from consumers who they expected would use the new system. These “Gear Experts,” as they were named, were trained to handle both proactive and static chat.
Because they wanted chat personnel who had passion for the products, they focused on hiring outdoor types who had already purchased at the site. To weed out non-enthusiasts, they simply added a straightforward screening question to the application process.
-> Step #2. Decide on triggers to initiate chat
Next, they needed to determine what user activities should trigger an invitation to chat. Based on their Web analytics, they decided on five triggers:
- Allow the chat rep to view keywords used by consumers submitted to a major search engine. For example: if a user searched for “Salomon Skis” and then stayed for a few seconds on the landing page but didn’t click on anything else.
- When consumers compared two or more items. Example: continuous page views for two different snowboards.
- When consumers accessed the site’s Help Center.
- When consumers abandoned their shopping cart after passing the ZIP Code page but not entering any information.
- When consumers remained on any page for two minutes without clicking on anything, including the homepage.
If a consumer declined the invitation to chat, Bruni and his team set up the system so it wouldn’t initiate another chat message during that browsing session. Additionally, if the IP address was from a country that the site did not serve, the system wouldn’t initiate a chat session.
-> Step #3. Train the chat team
Bruni knew that bolstering the sales and service skills of his Gear Experts team was necessary. For instance, the reps were going to see customer data before the chat application popped up on the consumer's screen, so they had to be trained to react to the information in a timely fashion.
During a weeklong training period, they addressed three areas:
- Chat etiquette: They taught a bevy of chat tips to use the medium in a respectful manner. Bruni wanted each chat conversation to start and end as quickly as possible and not have customers waiting on the Gear Expert. “I think there’s a misconception that you can let them wait for you to get back to them,” he says. “Another thing we told them was not to go crazy with lingo like ‘bro,’ ‘killer’ and ‘sick.’ … even though we thought of ourselves as a young, hip brand.”
- Concurrent chat: Because the job entailed simultaneously communicating with multiple visitors, they required candidates to show they were able to type accurately and keyboard to a fast-paced chat conversation.
- Sales: Here, the in-training chat specialists learned to ask targeted questions, such as, “What kind of skiing do you like to do?” They were also taught how to cross-sell accessories (ski boots, goggles, etc.) for different types of shoppers.
-> Step #4. Create chat pop-up window
Once the system was activated with the five trigger mechanisms, the chat feature popped up with the greeting, “CHAT LIVE WITH A GEAR EXPERT.” Visitors could either press a “chat now” button or click on “no thanks.”
-> Step #5. Survey chat customers
Bruni wanted to quantitatively judge the performance of the application and his Gear Experts, so they included a pop-up survey to all customers who used the chat service. Questions included:
- “How satisfied were you with this live chat session?” A drill-down menu allowed the customer to answer with: Excellent, Great, Good, Fair or Poor.
- “Did this chat session increase the likelihood that you will purchase?” Below that appeared clickable field buttons for Yes or No.
- “My chat session helped me (please choose all that apply):”
o Decide to purchase
o Determine the best products for my needs
o Complete the ordering process
o Find useful information on the Web site
o Answer a question for which I could not answer on the Web site
o This chat did not answer my question
The team’s idea to recruit outdoor enthusiasts as Gear Experts has paid off handsomely. Overall sales are up dramatically because of the new chat system, and they’ve had to increase their chat team from two to 40.
Even better, customers have taken to the proactive application as the average order value of customers who use the system is 61% higher than those who don’t use it. 14% of those who accept an invitation to chat convert to sale, which is 820% than the overall site average of 1.7%.
Regarding the survey:
o 53.4% of the chat users have opted to complete the survey
o 89.6% rated the proactive chat experience as “Good” or better
o 84% said the session increased their likelihood to purchase
o 31% said the chat experience helped “answer a question for which I could not on the Web site”
o Only 3.4% chose the option: “This chat did not answer my question”
The sales training, the choice of triggers and the invitation style that went into the feature has been well worth it, Bruni says.
Just as important, the program has allowed him to transform the in-company perception for his department from an ROI hinderer to an important marketing channel. “Well, it’s a lot of money being made. There’s no question that it’s been a huge win for our customer service department.” Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Backcountry.com’s chat system:
LivePerson Inc. - provided the chat feature and helped with chat specialists training: