For all of its advantages, including convenience, product research and customer reviews at your fingertips, e-commerce still misses one of most persuasive sales tools used in traditional retailing: a live sales clerk who says hello and offers help.
Enter LivePerson, an application service provider (ASP) that develops and offers on a subscription basis chat tool that allows live operators to interact with Web shoppers in real time. LivePerson reports that it has provided chat tools for more than 3,400 online retailers, and includes a version geared for small businesses: LivePerson Pro.
Live chat has become a useful customer-service tool, especially since small e-commerce businesses must continually compete with the big boys for a share of the digital dollar. Using LivePerson Pro, a customer can have questions answered instantaneously via interactive dialog with a service agent in one click.
LivePerson Pro also provides a total customer relationship management (CRM) solution by incorporating its live chat tool with e-mail, FAQ and document-management tools, allowing customers to find information quickly.
To see how a real e-commerce business is implementing LivePerson Pro, Ecommerce-Guide.com spoke with Oney Seal, CEO of Databazaar.com, a computer supplies retailer that recently began using the live chat tool.
Who Is Databazaar?
The Databazaar group of companies, consisting of Databazaar.com (USA), Databazaar India Pvt. Ltd. (India), and Databazaar Hong Kong, deals in printer, fax, copier and computer supplies. Databazaar is a company with a unique business model in that it caters to all three customer segments retail, corporate and wholesale/export.
The Databazaar.com Web site is the Internet retail portion of the business. Databazaar India houses the Web development, business process outsourcing, and customer care divisions of Databazaar.com and is therefore also the place that interacts with LivePerson the most. All three global offices are connected over virtual private networks (VPN) and dedicated VoIP lines allowing 24-hour work shifts and perfect inter-transferablility of work.
Internet retail sales alone, over the Databazaar.com Web site, have crossed the $1 million per month mark and more than 700 Internet orders per day are shipped out from Databazaar's Miami warehouse. With that kind of volume, Databazaar needed to provide multi-tiered customer service options to its rapidly growing customer base including telephone support, e-mail support, online order tracking, and live chat. When they began their search for a customer support service, the company had just finished setting up a 12-person Customer Support Center (CSC), and needed a robust live chat platform.
L.R.: Were there explicit goals that you were trying to attain (e.g. higher customer satisfaction, reduced product returns, reduced charge-backs, etc.)?
O.S.: Precisely all of the above. Computer supplies come in varying and complex models necessitating last-minute technical clarifications at the point of check out. Also, the industry is rife with merchants trying to sell compatible or remanufactured products as original. Live chat is therefore a very convenient point-of-sale tool to increase conversion.
L.R.: How and why did you decide to go with LivePerson?
O.S.: Based on initial research, we had narrowed down to evaluating PHPLive, HumanClick and LivePerson. We realized LivePerson had acquired HumanClick, so it really boiled down to PHP vs. LivePerson. We found LivePerson to be expensive by a very wide margin, but it had the robustness and features we needed the most. It also had the built-in redundancy that we required. It also had the KnowledgeBase option, which allows us to progressively build a searchable FAQ base on our site thereby further helping customers find quick answers.
L.R.: How did LivePerson win the business? What clinched the deal?
O.S.: We did have reservations up until the last minute about the high per user cost of LivePerson, but the very extensive free training that LivePerson promised to provide to all our future users helped us make up our mind. This was especially important for us since our entire Level 1 customer service is out of our Indian office.
L.R.: Was Databazaar at all skeptical of a hosted, ASP-delivered service? Was the subscription model pricing a particular attraction?
O.S.: We actually preferred the fact that LivePerson used an ASP model thereby eliminating maintenance and reliability issues and making deployment rapid. The high subscription model pricing does remain a concern as we add more users in our CSC, and we are therefore in talks with LivePerson on finding a better-suited multi-user pricing option.
L.R.: Did LivePerson customize the solution based on any specific needs?
O.S.: Other than customizing the graphics on the chat buttons, no customization was required. Although LivePerson offered help on that, since we had substantial in-house talent in that area, we did it ourselves.
L.R.: What's Databazaar's timeframe for evaluating competitive products? That is, how locked in are you to LivePerson?
O.S.: While our research is by no means exhaustive on this, it is our understanding that options are quite limited in the live chat arena. Especially so on higher-end solutions. We are therefore at this point not actively researching any other product. We also have no contract with LivePerson.
L.R.: Is LivePerson readily available to support and troubleshoot for you?
O.S.: We are happy with the robustness of the LivePerson platform that has required very few support calls and LivePerson's response has always been quick and adequate.
L.R.: Who was involved in the decision-making process and how many departments/divisions were impacted?
O.S.: Our chief of e-commerce and I were the only persons involved in evaluation, negotiation and implementation. LivePerson is used only on our Web site for our Internet retail customers. Therefore only our Internet division is impacted.
L.R.: How long did LivePerson take to deploy and what glitches were encountered?
O.S.: Activation was instantaneous. Customization of graphics took about two hours. Initial training another two hours. And then we went live.
L.R.: What benefits were immediately apparent? (For example, increased sales, increased consumer satisfaction, decrease in the volume of phone calls/e-mail to customer support.)
O.S.: Every day we convert about three to four chat sessions into orders. Our customer satisfaction ratings on BizRate.com have improved, too. And given the fact that our operators take on an average 30 - 40 chat sessions per day, that is so many less phone calls per day.
L.R.: How many visitors can an operator service at once?
O.S.: Four customers at once - a quadrangle screen is possible.
L.R.: What, so far, has been the return on investment?
O.S.: We have not specifically analyzed figures of orders from LivePerson chats, nor have we calculated savings on phone calls. Our thinking is that it is a convenience we need to provide our customers at a reasonable cost, irrespective of additional revenue generated.
L.R.: What have been your customers' reactions to the changes?
O.S.: We have been seeing a few e-mails and reviews on our many referral sites mentioning the convenience of our live chat facility.
L.R.:: Has it been all positive, or have you had any negative feedback or complaints?
O.S.: Yes, they were all positive comments on BizRate about how the chat facility made it possible to get quick questions answered right before checkout. An interesting anecdote: When I was conducting our first live trial, we converted a customer wanting to buy a $1100 printer, but was dilly-dallying because of a few technical questions. For me, that proved the effectiveness of this point-of-sale help.
L.R.: Is this Phase I of a larger deployment or initiative - if so, what comes next?
O.S. As our Internet order volume continues to grow, we will need to migrate to the enterprise edition of LivePerson that facilitates use by a large number of operators simultaneously. We also intend to further use the push HTML features of LivePerson to proactively push sales.
L.R.: How were Databazaar.com's employees trained to deal with the changes?
O.S.: All our customer service reps and their supervisors are trained in using LivePerson. Our supervisors are able to monitor multiple chats simultaneously, as well as intervene or escalate chats instantly. This therefore also makes it a great medium to train fresh recruits in our CSC before they start taking live phone calls.
L.R.: As a CEO, what would you change if you were to do it again?
O.S.: As with most software, getting the most out of it is directly related to user training. I feel a lot of the potential of LivePerson is not being used by us simply because we have been unable to get our operators trained enough on the more complex functions. I would love to see a much more exhaustive, hands-on and rigorous training to be offered by LivePerson as part of its offering.
Adapted from ECommerce-Guide.com.