Chat for Better Service—But Not SavingsBy Elizabeth Bennett | Posted 2002-06-17 Print
Unlike e-mail, which can cost up to 85% less than a phone call, chat doesn't save much. According to Forrester Research, the average contact-center phone call costs about 75 cents per minute, including labor, technology and telecom services.
"So far, I don't think there's any evidence that chat can beat that figure," says Bob Chatham, a principal analyst at Forrester. Chat still requires the time of a service representative—labor makes up 70% of a contact center's expenses—almost all of the infrastructure, plus additional training.
But vendors and integrators still believe return on investment (ROI) can be a goal—and an immediately achievable one.
"The savings are measured in people time," says Lawrence Byrd, telecom vendor Avaya's customer relationship management evangelist. Byrd and others say that service reps can handle multiple chat windows, increasing productivity. Most analysts and user companies, however, agree that reps generally do not or cannot handle more than one or two concurrent chat conversations.
Vendors also point to administrative savings. Chat conversations are easier and faster to "code" and analyze than phone calls. More-accurate coding supports better analysis, which can improve service and marketing. But having the data is different from using it.
"Our customers would like to mine the data, but they just don't have the resources," says Mark Wollen, director of Web service products for Siebel Systems.
Most companies that are using chat view its impact on customer relations as much more relevant than its possible ROI. Currently, fewer than 3% of contact-center interactions are via chat; a Frost & Sullivan study predicts that that figure will reach 8% by 2007. The numbers are small, but customer reaction is surprisingly positive: One study found that whereas 46% of customers are satisfied with telephone service, 62% are happy with chat.
"We're committed to chat, but we're taking it slowly," says Lee Valenti, director of service center operations for auto insurer Amica Mutual, which added chat to its Web site about six months ago. "You have to think about providing it from a service standpoint."
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