Live Chat: Forward to the Past

In the unfolding history of the art of persuasion, we’re in the midst of one of those all-encompassing seismic shifts with considerable implications for sales and marketing efforts: a growing trend back to the written word.

The verbal versus written dynamic has been a story rich in cyclical communication cycles ever since Moses first came off the mountain with those famous rules etched in stone. Later, the Middle Ages saw minstrels and peddlers wandering around conducting commerce with the spoken word. Enter Guttenberg and the first mass market, written word epoch came into dominance. Alexander Graham Bell swung the trend back again to talk with reinforcements from radio, and later TV came with its visual twist.

The age of the computer with its byproducts of email, social media, and online chat has ushered in another written word cycle, one that began reversing or at least competing with the verbal/visual age while also introducing the era of immediacy. And most recently, smartphones brought us large-scale texting—two-thirds of all Americans text per a recent Pew study—and that, ironically, sealed the deal for a full migration back to the written word. A smartphone may be smart but it is hardly a phone or at least just a phone. Try finding someone under 30 who’d rather talk than text. And while the more mature population might be late adopters to texting, they are getting there, make no mistake. Texting, the written word writ large, is here to stay—at last until the next big shift.

While the supremacy of the most effective channel for commerce has yet to be settled and likely never will be, these recent trends in the way we communicate are ones marketers are compelled to deal with. While “marketing” and “sales” continue to sort all this out and sometimes fight it out, smart marketers are doing their best to adapt to the changes this era provides. The goal, according to John Adams, chairman and CEO of The Martin Agency (and my former boss), is not integrated communications, but unified communications.

And that brings us to websites today.

All too often, the complaint heard is that sales sees marketing’s nice looking websites as merely colorful and occasionally dynamic brochures. Dynamic, yes—but interactive, no. Social media options are fine if you want to commune, kvetch, and converse but they don’t close deals. Emails are a plodding way to transact. Face-to-face? Expensive and time consuming. Inquiry forms? So yesterday.

That leaves live chat, the seamless website unifier of marketing and sales. It’s human, it’s interactive, it’s online texting, it’s immediate, it’s probing, it’s solving, it’s transacting—and it’s working. It’s the final spoke in the sales and marketing wheel.

A website is marketing. A website with live chat is marketing ­and sales.

Companies will spend hundreds or even thousands a month to drive traffic to a site, but then won’t expend more than a hundred a month inviting that traffic in for a chat, a.k.a. a sales discussion. Without live chat, one hears crickets chirping, akin to a retail store without a clerk. It’s estimated that 50% of web visitors—your best prospects—abandon a website without live chat, and for good reason. When arriving at a site consumers are faced with four choices:

  • Poke around until, hopefully, some desired piece of information is discovered.
  • Call the 800 number on the website and face mind-numbing VRU options.
  • Fill out an inquiry form and wait 24 hours to be contacted.
  • Abandon the site in frustration without making contact.

Adding live chat transforms a website into a two-way conversation, one well-suited to meet and greet web visitors, answer FAQs, help the visitor better navigate the site, build good rapport, and encourage the next step toward buying—all the while collecting the prospect contact and content information so crucial to conducing commerce. This powerful unification of the written word and immediacy makes live chat no longer just ‘a nice to have’ feature, but a must have if companies are to effectively compete in the 21st-century.

Paul Glancy is sales manager at WebsiteAlive.

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