More and more these days, websites are adopting plugins that allow visitors to connect directly to a web-based live chat agent. This agent is there to answer questions, ranging from customer support to sales. A skilled live chat agent can dramatically increase your conversion rates just by being available to answer questions without the delay of email or the hassle of a phone call. On the other hand, a “live” chat agent that’s really a mask for an Indian call center worker or a sophisticated software program can drive people away when they realize they’re being lied to.
The problem with a live chat operator is, well, it needs to be a live chat operator. You need a real person on the other end of the line, available to answer any questions that may come up. If you’re hiring people to do this internally, you’re going to be paying for 24/7 coverage through several people, which can get very expensive. The cheapest options, those Indian agents, typically hurt more than they help despite the savings. So where is the middle ground? How can you manage a live chat that’s both cheap and effective? The solution, as you may have guessed, is careful outsourcing.
There are a number of great reasons to outsource your live chat, most of which are great reasons to have live chat in the first place.
So what makes a live chat agent successful?
You have three options when it comes to hiring a chat operator. The first is to hire staff for your existing customer service team. Do not make the mistake of implementing live chat with your current team, unless your current team is incredibly under-worked. One skilled chat operator working full time will be able to handle approximately 800 support chats in a month. Whether or not your service volume will be that high or much higher depends on your customer volume. You don’t want to stick an over-worked customer service team on the task of trying to handle that kind of volume with their other duties. It will be neglected, 100%.
The second option is to hire American freelancers. You can use sites like Freelancer, Elance or ODesk to find freelancers who are willing to do customer support. Live chat is easier to set up than phone support on a remote basis, so you have that advantage in cost savings. Freelancers will run a wide range of prices, however, from cheap to highly expensive. The difference in price will, to some extent, indicate the level of skill and experience the freelancer has.
The best, and consequently highest paid, freelance chat support agents will be those with years of experience as well as the sales experience necessary to really make your chat shine. These agents are worth the money, if you can afford them, but they somewhat defeat the purpose of a cheap outsourcing.
Avoid the cheapest freelancers; while some may be excellent but simply don’t know their value, most will be low effort and low quality.
The third option is to hire in a country that has a low cost of living, but high standards for outsourced business. I mentioned this before, but right now, one of the best options is the Philippines. The people there speak and type fluent English, they are well versed in American outsourcing and they accept low paychecks due to the extremely cheap nature of living in the country.
Always give your potential freelancer a test or two. Give them documentation and access to a source of better information, and then have a co-worker pose as a customer to give them a few sample questions. Decide if their responses are good enough, and make sure to give them a question that would require coming to you for more information. Make sure they do so, rather than making up an answer or pleading ignorance. If they pass the test, you may have a good hire on your hands.
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