Customers are very comfortable using chat for customer service. Usage rates have risen in the past three years — from 30% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 — and we see this increase in all consumer demographics. Chat also has excellent satisfaction ratings, as it allows customers to quickly get answers to questions with a streamlined agent interaction.

Companies have embraced chat because it delivers quantitative cost savings and better customer satisfaction numbers. Chat also helps optimize agent utilization, improve the consistency of service delivered, and can be used to to selectively target customers for increased sales.

The chat vendor landscape is crowded. We surveyed 20 chat customer service vendors for a recent report, and the number of chat vendors is easily triple this number. Vendor categories span from standalone chat vendors, to online engagement solutions who use chat to personalize interactions, to multichannel customer service vendors and CRM vendors who offer chat as a component of their engagement solutions, to unified queuing and routing vendors which manage chat interactions inline with voice, digital, and social interactions. In addition, different vendors target different deployment sizes, industry verticals, and engagement models. In order to choose the right chat solution for your business, you should ask questions like:

  • What is your agent staffing model? Some organizations dedicate agents to a single communication channel, some dedicate agents to digital-only channels, while others support a blended agent model. Your agent staffing model will dictate your reporting and workforce management needs — and ultimately the best vendor for your needs.
  • What organization will be purchasing and managing chat? eBusiness and marketing leaders are often the primary purchasers of digital engagement technologies, which include chat. Forrester data shows that these groups typically don’t deeply integrate purchased technologies into customer management or product databases and may be more apt at choosing standalone solutions.
  • What is your chat engagement model — reactive or proactive? Decide whether you want to focus on offering reactive chat or whether you also want to offer proactive chat and whether proactive chat will be a cornerstone of your customer engagement strategy.
  • What is the end-to-end customer journey that you want to facilitate? You must decide whether to support a discrete customer chat journey or whether chat will be part of a broader customer engagement journey.
  • What end goal are you supporting? It is imperative to define up front what usage scenarios you will focus on, such as offering chat to decrease customer service operational costs, increase revenue by decreasing shopping cart abandonment rates, or better target customers for increased upsell and cross-sell opportunities. You must then define the critical capabilities to support your end goal.

Read our report for a detailed profile of customer service chat vendors.