Customers today simply want efficient, effortless service, and are increasingly using chat as a way to get to the information that they are seeking. Chat usage rates have risen in the past three years — from 38% in 2009 to 43% in 2012 to 58% in 2014. We find that all demographics – young and old – are comfortable with chat. Chat can cost less than a voice call, especially for organizations that allow their agents to handle multiple chat sessions simultaneously. Its no wonder that there are hundreds of case studies that showcase the power of chat.

The chat vendor landscape is crowded, and recently I profiled the capabililties of 21 vendors. Because of the wealth of vendors in this space, you have to be clear about your chat strategy, and your core requirements. Here are 5 questions to help you articulate your goals for chat.

  • 1. What is your agent staffing model? Some organizations dedicate agents to a single communication channel, such as chat. Some restrict agents to working on a subset of communication channels that require similar skill sets. Others embrace the blended agent model, where agents manage interactions over the breadth of channels. You must carefully choose your staffing model, which will dictate historical reporting, unified queuing and routing requirements, workforce management needs, as well as the types of agent desktops supported.

  • 2. What organization is purchasing and managing chat? eBusiness and eCommerce are often the primary purchasers of digital engagement technologies, which include chat.These groups typically don't deeply integrate chat into customer management or product databases. They standardize business processes and measures of success across the digital channels that they own but they don't necessarily align them with processes and success measures defined for the voice channel, which the contact center manages.

  • 3. What is your chat engagement model — reactive or proactive? Decide whether you want to offer reactive chat or whether you will use proactive chat as a cornerstone to your customer engagement strategy.If so, focus on vendors that use analytics to determine when to present chat invitations at the right time of a customer's journey, based on segmentation and analysis of prior chat interactions. These vendors also have the know-how to best manage proactive invitations based on industry vertical to yield quantifiable revenue increases.

  • 4. What is the end-to-end customer journey that you want to facilitate? Decide whether you will support a discrete customer chat journey or whether chat will be part of a broader customer engagement journey. For example, determine if chat is offered as a natural escalation point to failed  virtual agent interaction. Decide as well what type of information you need to pass to the chat agent during an escalation to preserve the context of the customer journey.

  • 5. What end goal are you supporting? What usage scenarios you will focus on? Will you use chat to decrease customer service operational costs, to increase revenue by decreasing shopping cart abandonment rates, or to better target customers for increased upsell and cross-sell opportunities? You must then define the capabilities to support your end goal. 

  • Answering these questions will go a long way to pinpointing a category of vendor that you want to investigate. Read more about the chat vendor landscape here.