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Web chat service LiveChat has launched its annual Customer Service Efficiency Report, and the findings show a big change in some industries’ grasp of web-based customer service.

While the company has an obvious interest in the research, the data can’t be ignored. It monitored 8,400 companies across 22 industries, taking in data from 118 countries. In total, 65.6 million web chats were monitored to create the study, taking in over 6 billion page views.

Overall, customer satisfaction is slightly down on 2014, but that is likely due to the increased sample size. In this year’s study, the test group grew by almost 40 percent, which improves the accuracy of the results.

The big winners? Web hosting firms.

After taking fifth place in last year’s report, companies that offer web hosting services have jumped to the front of the pack with an average satisfaction rating of 94.95 percent. This is a considerable jump, considering the industry only managed to score 88.40 percent customer satisfaction in 2014. What’s interesting to note is that hosting companies are not the fastest to respond to a chat or a ticket. It seems that the customers of hosting companies value the quality of the response much higher than its speed.

I wondered why this was the case.

“I believe that hosting companies treat customer service as an added value to their offering,” Jacob Firuta, customer success manager at LiveChat, told me. “Since they are selling a non-physical product, it would be hard for them to beat the competition by only tweaking their server capabilities. Good customer service is as important for their customers as high uptime values. Since hosting companies use customer service to acquire and then retain their customers, they want to make it as good as possible.”

And why are those response times largely unimportant for web hosting companies?

“Although hosting companies don’t offer the fastest response or handle times, they yield good results,” Firuta said. “According to Robert C. Gregory, senior director of hosting support at GoDaddy, the customers are looking for resolution on first contact when coming to a web hosting company for support. This is why they don’t mind waiting and can perform other tasks while an agent or a technician finds a solution for them.”

At the other end of the ranking, the automotive industry is still in last place. Despite raising its average chat satisfaction score from last year’s 69.38 percent to 72.73 percent, it still wasn’t enough to rise in the ranks this year. Poor chat response times, with an average of 88 seconds, and average handle times of 16 minutes and 35 seconds seem like a big contributor to the industry’s lack of success.

“Automotive companies — for example, car dealerships — often lack dedicated agents whose only task would be to chat with customers online,” Firuta said. “The chat is usually handled by a salesman who prioritizes customers in the showroom over those online. The live chat customer service is also often outsourced to a third-party company that handles chats from multiple dealerships at the same time. This definitely doesn’t help with the speed of response or customer satisfaction.”

So what is the answer for those at the bottom of the live chat support ladder?

“A solution to this problem would be to hire a dedicated online customer service agent,” Firuta said. “Although it may seem like a bigger cost than having a salesperson chat part-time, it would allow for more efficient and faster customer service. Companies should treat it as an investment for which the return might be surprisingly high.”

My own research shows that brands aren’t listening on social media for complaints, and other recent research shows that eight out of ten retailers are ignoring social complaints. Yet here, with web-based chat solutions, we see that the response times and percentages are — on average — reasonably high. Other recent research I’ve conducted shows that “digital natives” prefer social solutions, whereas older users prefer web chat/forum/community solutions for support.

I wondered if LiveChat had data to reflect the age of the people using these systems, and whether they agreed that web-based chat systems appeal more to older consumers/customers?

“Although we don’t gather this kind of data, I’d agree that it is much easier for the younger customers to seek customer service on the social channels as they use them more extensively than the older customers,” Firuta said. “However, the poor satisfaction results of the social media channels when compared to chat may suggest that they may not be the best to handle the support cases.”

Advanced marketing and customer service teams will often use customer segments, paired with conversion optimization tools, to serve different support channels to a user, altering them based on the consumer’s age, preferences, or history. But that isn’t the only reason to personalize the website to provide the best service option.

“Companies offering support both on social media and via live chat will often ask the users to switch channels from social to chat as it will be much easier to handle the matter using one-to-one communication,” Firuta said. “Some personal details required to resolve a case — for example, a credit card number — can only be shared using direct communication without anyone else listening in. Although this is not a perfect solution, as the users need to switch from their preferred channel, they can get the matter handled much faster this way.”

The full customer service efficiency report is available today.


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