How House of Fraser is making live chat a key pillar of customer engagement

At eDelivery Expo 2016 in Birmingham, House of Fraser’s Stephen Brennan and François Hotte of iAdvize discussed how and why live chat has grown to become a key pillar of the customer engagement strategy at House of Fraser.

House of Fraser makes 20% of its global sales online, so as a brand, delivering prompt and useful customer service for its online channels is extremely important.

In 2012, the company noticed that while satisfaction rates for most of its customer service channels were high, email had the lowest rate of satisfaction, as well as a particularly high Cost per Channel. Having customer service representatives answer emails was expensive, time-consuming and didn’t deliver the results the company wanted.

House of Fraser decided to trial live web chat as a way of delivering faster, better customer service and bringing down the cost of other, more expensive channels. So how did the company go about implementing the new service, and what results did it see?

A screenshot of the 'Contact Us' page on House of Fraser, with a large box at the top offering live webchat. Underneath it are two smaller boxes, one with a phone contact number and hours, and the other with an address for postal queries.

Conversational commerce                                              

House of Fraser established a partnership with iAdvize, “the conversational commerce platform”, to bring web chat to the business. iAdvize sets out to help companies tackle the “ubiquity challenge” – the fact that customers increasingly expect businesses to respond to their queries at any time, in real time.

Their immediate goals in implementing live web chat were to reduce the load handled by more expensive channels like email and telephone, while improving overall customer satisfaction. And, over time, House of Fraser hoped to increase its online sales in the process.

A 'contact us' banner inviting customers to use House of Fraser's live web chat service.

The company observed that 90% of email queries were coming from the website’s ‘Contact Us’ email form, one of the least effective methods of handling a query and a last resort for when no other channels were available. Therefore, they initially focused web chat on the pages they were receiving the most queries about.

House of Fraser implemented fixed web chat buttons on different pages, with bigger pop-ups on pages on which they’d received a particularly high level of requests. The pop-ups are programmed to appear after a customer spends a certain amount of time on the page, indicating that they might have a problem.

Most of the web chat queries, explained Stephen Brennan, who is Contact Centre Support Services Manager at House of Fraser, are very straightforward issues. “It’s about being there when the customer needs you.”

A screenshot of a customer service email contact form.

House of Fraser found that email forms were an ineffective and expensive way of
handling customer queries

The results

To begin with, House of Fraser had just a couple of customer service representatives working on the chat at a time. They now have 14, handling an average of eight chats per hour, though this can hit 20-25 chats an hour during peak times.

Where possible, the live chat team will focus their efforts on high-value visitors in order to ensure that they have as smooth an experience as possible with their purchase. In keeping with the huge and overwhelming trend towards shopping on mobile, House of Fraser’s web chat is also designed for mobile, where the chatbox expands to take up the entire screen, making the experience of using it similar to using a messaging app.

A screenshot of the House of Fraser mobile webchat box, which resembles a messaging app in appearance.

So far, the results seem to speak for themselves. The company now deals with 20% of all its customer service queries through live web chat, while the volume of email requests is down 15-20%, saving House of Fraser a great deal of time and money in the process. It predicts that web chat contacts will make up 30% of its customer service queries by the end of 2016.

House of Fraser has found that where web chat is present on a webpage, 29% of customers will take it up. On top of this, when a web chat completes, the average value of a customer’s basket will go up by 20% – indicating that many customers want to make sure that everything is in place before they complete their order.

A miniature shopping cart parked in front of a laptop computer screen.

Of course, there is still plenty of room to improve. The company has managed to achieve an 88% satisfaction rate for its queries handled by web chat, but Stephen Brennan is adamant that House of Fraser will push this higher: the goal is 95% satisfaction, which the company feels is appropriate for a high-end retail brand.

He also acknowledged that there had been some challenges involved in working with a third party (iAdvize) to provide web chat, trying to find a middle ground between what both companies thought was best and wanted to implement with the service.

François Hotte, who is a Customer Engagement Specialist at iAdvize, explained how the team carries out in-house testing for different methods of initiating web chat across the site, running various different experiments side-by-side to try and find the best recipe. They also measure ‘missed opportunities’ for web chat when customer service representatives are offline or busy, and try to gauge the peak times when more agents might be needed, in order to ensure that live chat is well-staffed around the clock.

Plans for the future

House of Fraser is already a leader in multi-channel innovation when it comes to ecommerce, and it is determined to take that further. It is aiming to be the first major retail brand to launch in Facebook Messenger, using it as another alternative channel to email which is less real-time, but still cheaper and more efficient. Brennan stated that the company hopes to eventually phase out email altogether and replace it with Messenger.

House of Fraser also has its eye on Instagram as a possible new area of expansion, and plans to integrate SMS as well.

The logo for Facebook Messenger, next to the logo for Instagram and a speech bubble with the letters SMS, depicting text messaging.

House of Fraser plans to expand its customer engagement into channels such as Facebook Messenger and Instagram

Chatbots are currently a hot topic in the world of digital marketing, and talk of Facebook Messenger begs the question of whether House of Fraser sees chatbots as a possible alternative to using human representatives to answer customer service queries.

Stephen Brennan replied that currently, chatbot technology isn’t at a high enough standard to substitute for human agents, as bots are mostly suited to answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ queries and can’t handle the nuances of a specific problem. However, House of Fraser is considering using dynamic FAQs, a more complex type of FAQ that can be navigated via chat to serve the most relevant answer to a user’s question, combined with its existing customer service to better handle the simplest queries.

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