Over just the last few years, technology and the rise of digital transformation have completely changed how organizations and their contact centers interact with customers. Where once consumers were only able to connect with a customer service agent via phone, or face to face in store, today the adoption of omnichannel strategies and new technologies have enabled companies to offer multiple engagement channels, from email, to SMS, social media, online chat and more giving customers the choice of which selecting a channel that suits them at the time of engagement.

This shift towards the omnichannel approach is deeply connected to today’s increasingly digitally savvy consumer. According to a recent Global Consumer Pulse survey by Accenture, 58% of consumers now expect more digital options for obtaining service and support, and 55% expect companies to communicate and respond to them via their preferred channels.

Along with wanting to engage through the channel of their choosing, 70% of consumers also want a seamless process when they interact with a company’s customer service representatives. As the lines between multiple channels become increasingly blurred, customers expect to be able to start a conversation in one channel and move on to another channel of their choice without delay and without having to continually repeat their reason for contacting customer service to begin with.

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In today’s ever more competitive business landscape, delivering a unified and seamless omnichannel customer experience is essential. Yet, according to the analyst firm Gartner, Inc., the omnichannel approach has left a whopping 85% of organizations with fragmented customer engagement channels, thus leading to inconsistent customer experience. Having a fragmented customer experience is definitely not ideal for the customer, but also not ideal for the organization. When an interaction with a customer starts on a social media channel for example, and then needs to continue on to the organization’s website, time and money can be wasted if there is no continuity or visibility into the actions that the customer has already taken.

Fortunately, online chat solutions can provide a way to bridge the gap between all the different, fragmented channels and allow customers to have a live, quick and seamless interaction with a company and its customer service representatives.

How Online Chat Can Improve Customer Experience

According to research by HubSpot58% of consumers now expect more digital options for obtaining service and support, and 55% expect companies to communicate and respond to them via their preferred channels., two-thirds of customers expect a response to their customer service, sales or marketing inquiry within 10 minutes or less. One of the best ways for businesses to meet this expectation is to provide an online chat function on the company website. Consumers flock to online chat because it is quick and convenient, enabling them to get what they need almost instantaneously. In fact, consumers are turning to online chat in such a big way that Gartner predicts 25 percent of customer service and support operations will incorporate virtual customer assistants or chatbot technology this year– a significant leap from the just two percent using it as recently as 2017.

Whether it is staffed by live agents or artificial intelligence (AI)-powered chatbots, having an online chat function on the company’s website can greatly reduce fragmentation and improve customer experience. Online chat can help customers get their problems resolved more quickly and reduce the cost of service by leveraging chatbots to answer common questions or resolve routine requests. Additionally, online chat helps businesses handle a greater volume of customer interactions, as customer service representatives can have multiple chat windows open at once and be helping more than one customer at a time.

Online chat can also help businesses discover previously unidentified customer pain points by reviewing chat histories to see what issues customers are having or what questions they are asking most often. And, if used in the context of enabling payment transactions, online chat can help increase sales by converting more website visitors to leads and helping move leads further through the sales funnel to purchase.

How to Choose an Online Chat Solution

Businesses should first make sure that the online chat solution can do everything their organization needs. One of the most important considerations is whether the online chat function will be used for accepting payments and purchases. Given today’s consumer expectations, businesses must be able to meet customers in the channel of their choice and quickly complete their payment transaction without sending them to another channel. When it comes to online chat, that means the solution must be able to securely accept payments in a way that is fast and easy for the customer, while also remaining compliant with the Payment Card Industry’s Data Security Standard (PCI DSS).

In addition to enabling secure payments through online chat, solutions that can provide real-time progress updates on when payment information has been collected, indicate whether that payment has been approved by the payment service provider (PSP), on top of other critical steps in the customers’ purchasing journey that can also enable a better customer experience. If the customer has trouble at any point, the online chat agent can see this and offer help, leading to increased conversion rates. When combined with website analytics, real-time payments progress updates can provide businesses with powerful insights into the motivation and behaviors of website visitors and customers, the status of collected payments, and the effectiveness of marketing programs.

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The Online Chat Customer Experience Starts With Security

As with any new technology, having strong data security and compliance with the PCI DSS and other industry regulations must always be top priority. Failure to protect customers’ sensitive information can result in a brand-damaging data breach and hefty fines, as well as undue hassle for a business’s consumers.

As customers increasingly embrace and demand more digital engagement options, businesses must provide and optimize every channel to continually meet and exceed customer expectations. However, failure to create a seamless and secure customer journey can introduce undesired fragmentation that can lead to loss of customer satisfaction and retention. Businesses that want to be positioned for success both now and in the future will not only look to adopt online chat as part of their overall omnichannel strategy, but will also utilize this channel for secure payment transactions. Doing so can increase sales, protect customer data, and help businesses meet compliance, all while delivering a superior customer experience.

How Contact Centers Can Use Online Chat to Rebuild a Fragmented Customer Experience

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