8 minute read

Live chat has become the communication method of choice for business enquiries during COVID-19.

With face to face customer service restricted, or on pause in some areas, and many large businesses’ phone lines struggling to cope with the huge call volumes, businesses have had to adapt their forms of communication for the lockdown, resulted in a big boost for live chat features. Even if the phones aren’t ringing off the hook right now for real estate businesses, many consumers are looking for live chat solutions on agency websites as a means of the initial touchpoint for their enquiry.

A study out of the UK found that at the peak of their lockdown, the most popular time was 1pm for live chats, lunchtime for many working from home.  However, in the week commencing the 11 May, after the Prime Minister’s announcement that some employees can return to work, the data shows an even higher increase in live chats at 10am, by 37 per cent and 1pm by 41 per cent.

The amount of time customers spent on the chat also saw an increase. With the average being around 491 seconds since the lockdown, chat times soon saw an increase to 508 seconds.

The figures showed a huge spike when it comes to enquiries around letting and property. This industry saw a massive increase in live chat messages, reaching a 94 per cent increase in usage during the lockdown.

Moving house and buying property has been on pause in the past few weeks, but with lockdown slowly easing up, it would appear that more people are starting to think about moving.

Letting agents transitioned to virtual viewings as lockdown rules were relaxed and in the week commencing 11 May, their was an increase in letting viewing enquiries by 210 per cent and sales viewings by 184 per cent.

Several years ago, Gartner predicted that, by 2020, businesses would manage 85% of customer interactions without involving a person. AI-powered chatbots were central to that prediction.

A more recent prediction from Gartner hedged on humanless customer service but nonetheless anticipates that, in just over a year, 25% of all customer service operations will be virtual.

Both live chat and chatbots create a unique customer experience for users who don’t want to call up a company or send them an email with a question or concern.

From a sales perspective, live chat and chatbots provide a non-intrusive method of communication for people who are considering a product or service but don’t want to speak to a salesperson just yet. They’re simply searching for more information to help them make that final purchasing decision.

How are chatbots and live chat different?

Live chat is a function on your website that allows users to connect with a sales rep or other employee from your company immediately.

A chatbot is an automated system of communication with users that requires building out chatbot workflows. A chatbot can answer questions, send users to specific pages on your site, or qualify them before sending them to an employee for further discussion.

Before you dive in and ask your web developers to install a chat feature on your website, it’s important to consider the difference between live chat and chatbots as well as the pros and cons of each.

Live Chat

Pro: Customers Receive the Instant Gratification They Want.

An Econsultancy article found that 79% of customers say they prefer live chat over other channels (e.g., email, phone calls) because of the immediacy it offers. Because of this, customers are more likely to head to your website to connect with an employee about questions or inquiries they may have.

Have you ever really enjoyed those 25 minutes on hold with scratchy elevator music blaring into the phone? I didn’t think so.

Con: Customers Have to Wait For an Agent to Come Online.

Although live chat offers a real-time connection with a business, someone from your team has to accept the chat. Therefore, depending on the time a user sends a message over live chat, they may have to wait.

Various time zones and after work hours could leave someone waiting hours (even days, if on the weekend) for a response. This contributes to a common pain point — 24% of consumers say their biggest frustration is long wait times.

Pro: It Can Boost Retention.

An Emarketer statistic shows that 63% of customers were more likely to return to a business website that had a live chat function.

People enjoy positive experiences, and they love sharing it — 29% of consumers have told others about a positive live chat experience. Live chat can encourage positive experiences if your team members are able to effectively answer questions or guide users in the right direction. More likely than not, they’ll come back for more.

Pro: Live Chat Can Boost Customer Loyalty.

Branching off of the pro above, 51% of consumers are more likely to stay with a company or buy from them again if their website offers live chat. Happy customers like happy experiences and might even buy from you again.

Con: Having to Monitor Live Chat Can Take Valuable Time Away From Day-to-Day Business.

Unfortunately, not everyone seems to understand the purpose of live chat. Businesses have received “hello” messages and other random messages that rarely relate to their business products or services.

Live chat is not useful when it takes time out of your employees’ day to answer unnecessary questions. You don’t want your live chat to become counterproductive for your team. However, if you have the right systems in place and the right team to manage live chat, there shouldn’t be a problem.

Working with an offshore/outsourcing team who are proficient in your systems and processes? Consider utilising this resource for live chat also.

If you decide to try live chat on your website, you need to go all-in and make it part of your business processes. ‘Switch it on and see what happens’ is not a strategy. Just like when staff were first trained on how to answer the phone and it became part of their daily routine, the same goes for live chat. If you can’t commit to this basic expectation, then live chat could do more harm than good.

Chatbots

Pro: They Work 24/7.

Unlike live chat, where an agent has to be online to chat with a customer, chatbots work all hours of the day. Chatbots don’t have lunch breaks or 9 to 5 work hours. They’re designed to answer the common questions a user visiting your website might have whenever they might have them.

Pro: They’re Fast, Accurate, and Customisable.

Chatbots can respond within seconds of a message. When you design your chatbot logic out, build out the answers to common questions. If you are using a more robust chatbot feature, like HubSpot’s chatbot, you can customise your chatbot however you like – from colours and appearance to the if/then logic of how your bot functions.

Con: Customers Could Get Frustrated.

If a customer is looking to speak with a rep from your company, they may get frustrated with an automated response of a chatbot. Because a chatbot only functions within the realms of its design – with specific if/then logic and flow – it may not properly answer questions or send people to the right place.

Luckily, some chatbot software can add the option to speak immediately to an employee, eliminating the need for bot functionality.

Pro: If Designed Correctly, Chatbots Can Qualify Leads.

Some chatbots can be uniquely created to qualify leads before directing customers to a rep. With this capability, your employees don’t have to stress about talking to customers who aren’t the right fit for your company’s services.

Con: They Aren’t Suitable For Every Business.

Unfortunately, chatbots aren’t best suited for every business. If your services are too robust or require thorough consultations, a chatbot probably won’t benefit your website functionality or lead-qualifying efforts.

Con: They Take Considerable Time To Create And Maintain

You will need to invest time creating the questions/answer logic for your chatbot, or work with a third-party to do this for (or with) you. There are many companies offering these services, however, you will certainly get what you pay for.

Working with the cheapest company could impact on your lead generation by implementing the wrong chatbot logic and annoying your potential clients. While other companies might charge many thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars to implement an effective chatbot for your business.

Be mindful of this point particularly. Chatbots are not ‘set and forget’. And you will need to do some work yourself in creating the question/answer logic for your bot. At the end of the day, nobody understands your business better than you.

So which one should we use?

It depends on the purpose you’re intending to use it for.

As with many technologies in real estate, there are a tonne of companies pitching real estate businesses every day to buy their new shiny tech. If that’s why live chat or chatbots is on your mind right now, then it pays to ask them to show you case studies of other real estate businesses who have achieved real results from their service.

From a sales perspective, the results in almost every test we’ve run for real estate businesses (and agents) are almost always in favour of live chat – both in terms of people’s interaction, their sentiment toward the service and ultimately conversion i.e. how many people converted into an enquiry.

When dealing with one of the most important assets in their lives, property, I believe people want to speak to real people. So my tip would be to resource your company for live chat over chatbots for the sales pages of your website. We may see in the very near future an increase in AI (artificial intelligence) capability for chatbots. But right now, we just haven’t seen any compelling case studies showing real results for the use of chatbots.

From a service perspective, such as property management repairs or application processes etc, chatbots give people the quick direction they need without much fuss. So programming a chatbot for these type of commonly asked questions may make sense to your business.

Author: Josh Cobb

Phone Number: 0427 184 183

Email Address: josh@stepps.com.au

Stepps was founded by Josh Cobb in 2014. Josh has advised more than 100 brands since starting the company and hundreds of agents who have attended his workshops. He is the host of the popular Real Estate Pros podcast, oversees digital strategy for top performing real estate agents and teams, and travels the globe with several international speaking engagements each year.

Josh was named as a finalist in the REB Awards for Industry Thought Leader of The Year in 2017, 2018 and the winner of  Brisbane Young Entrepreneur of The Year 2017 – Marketing, PR & Events and a finalist for the same award in 2020.

In addition to web development and digital strategy consulting, the company also runs Stepps Media, a fast-growing education company that produces an iTunes top-ranked podcasttraining events, email and webinars.