Practical Ecommerce

Automated Chat Captures Prospects After They Leave A Site

UpSellit’s SMARTagent promises to automatically bring shoppers back to your site and close potential sales. It’s part user-engaged action, part automated chat, and part sales-floor closer. UpSellit CTO and president Chris Wampler said that e-retailers who add it to their sites could expect a 10 percent increase in conversions.

“We can’t turn bad traffic into great traffic,” said Wampler from UpSellit’s Camarillo, Calif., headquarters, “but if a merchant is consistently making 100 sales today, with our technology they’re making 110.”

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Hosted solution; commission-based fee

The SMARTagent is hosted on UpSellIt’s server and is added to an e-merchant’s site with a JavaScript tag. Shoppers leaving an ecommerce site without making a purchase are immediately prompted to either “chat with an agent” or take advantage of special promotions. Subsequent chat referrals are tracked using standard affiliate links or chat-specific discount codes. Merchants then pay UpSellit a negotiable commission on each sale that comes through the chat links or uses that discount code.

The “chat” itself features an artificial “agent” named “Jenny” by default. Jenny comes with standard prompts such as “Type hello and we can get started” and “Before you go, we’d like to give you free shipping just for chat users.” Merchants add answers to frequently asked questions, links to additional information, and in-person contact information. The chat agent’s programming then matches likely answers to consumers’ typed-in questions within a few seconds. Responses then are consistent with the e-merchant’s brand and, even if certain questions may not find an answer, Jenny continuously points users back to the retailer’s site for non-“basic” customer service and additional offers. “It’s really tapping into a previously untapped demographic: your non-customers,” Wopler said. “A lot of our merchants have made significant changes to their site based on their chat questions alone.”

Eric Karofsky, principal strategist at the interactive agency Molecular Inc. believes in products such as SMARTagent. “With this [SMARTagent], you can be right on target with messaging, capturing analytics, providing immediacy, and the longer you use it the more intelligent it becomes.”

It’s not a real person

Granted, the automated robot (or “bot” for short) concept has its detractors. While artificial intelligence may provide a cost effective and scalable solution for optimizing the after-shopping experience, it’s still a world away from chatting with a live representative.

“The concerns that I would have is that by stating that they’re a chat agent waiting to speak to you, and by calling that person out by name, you’re misguiding the consumer,” Karofsky said. “There’s an essential element of trust that’s being misrepresented. When you get into the world of social media, trust is of paramount importance. While there’s natural language processing that helps identify what the consumers are asking the bot, we as humans have the uncanny ability to know when we’re talking to a live person versus a recording.”

But when packaged as “chat,” the function indeed serves to optimize the after-shopping experience for retailers and their prospective customers. “We’ve tried other designs that look more like static coupons or rich media,” said Wampler. Hands down, “the chat box design works best at bringing customers back to the cart after they’ve left it.”

Meanwhile, UpSellit’s SMARTagent product appears in a second window as soon as a shopper moves on from the merchant’s site. It requires accepting one and sometimes two levels of browser-initiated prompts before the shopper can engage in the new window. It is a bit of a hassle, but in the end, customers end up clearly expressing their desire to either take advantage of the promotional offer or ask questions of the chat agent before even going into artificial-intelligence chat mode. And marketers know from experience that double opt-in approval is a good thing for creating affinity and trust in a site’s message.

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Jennifer D. Meacham

Jennifer D. Meacham

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