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Why you should give your SMB ecommerce website the human touch

With your business, have you found that shoppers sometimes need to be guided? Maybe they have questions about products or return policies. Maybe they know what they’re after, but don't know which product can meet that need the best. In a brick-and-mortar shop, they would flag down a sales assistant, or the assistant would approach them and ask if they had any questions.

At an online store, this same type of personalised customer support is possible through a live chat service.

Without a live chat service, customers with questions can be particularly difficult to sell to through a website. Heck, some may even need technical support with using your website or ecommerce system. The online shopping process can be hard enough, depending on the customer and the goods or services sold, but when a shopper has questions, he or she may simply walk (or surf, rather) away.

Of course, good site design is the first step towards avoiding customer frustration. It's a necessary part of running a successful ecommerce site. Site visitors should be able to find products and information, as well as your privacy policy, their own previous orders (if any), and ways to contact you, without having to dig.

"May I help you?"

Once your site is well designed and well organised, you can focus on live chat options from providers such as LivePerson and Boldchat. These services provide a link customers can click to chat with a representative. They promise rapid deployment and ease of use.

Look for real-time website monitoring and proactive chat invitations that let your customer service reps say, "Hello, how can I help you?" at just the right moment. A service such as this monitors user activity and, when a user has been on a page for a predetermined time, automatically pops up a box offering live assistance. A good service lets you set time thresholds for individual pages or categories of pages. For example, a site visitor can be invited to chat after 1 minute on your home page, or after 15 seconds during the checkout process.

Some services offer the option for someone to click a link on your website and enter a phone number for a callback. This takes the old "Questions? Call our free number" strategy a step further. Customers are more likely to have you call them than they are to call you because they fear having to navigate a time-wasting voice menu system (and with good reason).

One level up from simple live chat services is integration with knowledge bases and CRM systems. A sophisticated customer support chat application links relevant words in the chat window directly to your internal knowledge base, meaning that answers to product-related questions are at the support representative's fingers. In addition, the ability to see all interactions (including chat, phone calls, email, quotes, and orders) with a particular customer in one place can be very powerful.

Can live chat help your site?

Before purchasing any of these services, look for a free trial so you can determine whether what's being offered fits into your sales process. Also, perform a quick ROI calculation to make sure that the benefits are worth the expense to you: Use your web analytics solutions to determine how many abandoned transactions you've had in a representative period of time. Multiply your abandoned transactions by your average sale price and now you've got a rough estimate of the sales you can help reach fruition by using live chat. Does that number exceed the cost of providing live customer support? Remember to account for the cost of integrating the service with your website, the cost of the service itself, and the employee time required to provide the chat.