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How SkiBig3 uses live chat to answer questions and convert visitors.

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The other day I posed a simple question on Twitter. I’d just had yet another dead-end, frustrating experience with a chat bot and I was curious about the experience others had had with these increasingly-common elements on websites.

SkiBig3’s Chris Lamothe replied to that survey with some of their experiences, so I followed up with him via email to get a bit more of the story about how they use chat widgets, what’s changed over time, and who is helping behind the scenes.

Alright, Chris, take us back 8 years. How did you get started with live chat?

The chat widget was in place when I joined SkiBig3, I believe Tim Bonnell and Tourism Whistler were doing the same thing at the same time (around 2012 or so) using LiveHelpNow. We’ve since moved on to using Zendesk, which does a lot more than just chat. Other popular chat platforms include LiveChat, Intercom (the darling of the tech industry), and CloudTalk.

Walk us through that initial setup. What pages were you showing the widget on and who was monitoring the chat for new conversations?

At first, we rolled out the chat across the entire website. Our call centre supported the chat when they could, but what we noticed is that our res agents were quickly inundated with general questions, the type that visitors could easily find the answer to themselves if they just looked a little harder.

It had become a search box and our res agents weren’t happy.

How did you finally make it work?

What really turned things around was deciding to stop including the chat on every page and instead focus on the cart. We are a destination with two towns and three ski resorts. Buying a ski vacation package online can be a complex endeavour that is sure to lead to questions along the way.

Having chat in the cart helped to lubricate the conversion funnel while avoiding the lazier types of questions we were previously seeing.

How did the agents feel about that change?

Agents were much happier because they were helping guests convert. What was interesting is that half the time they’d help explain things so the guest could complete the order themselves, while the other half they were able to finish the order, provide quotes for other lodging options, add-ons, etc.

At this point are you doing anything with bots and automation or is it purely live chat?

We still wanted to address the noisier questions, and sometimes it makes sense to have a speed-dial to support, but how to best filter the noise and let the agents focus on sales? There are two techniques that the chat world has offered to tackle this issue.

The first technique is to offer a knowledge base through the chat widget, a self-help where users can look up frequently asked questions or drill down into a specific area of knowledge. These are usually presented at first when the visitor opens the chat widget and helps intercept general knowledge questions.

How big of a lift is that approach?

That knowledge base is no small task to build or to manage, but likely already exists in the documentation and training that is provided to your res agents, as well as information on your website. It takes some coordination between your marketing team and res team to get it right and to make sure it reflects your brand, and it also takes effort to keep it up to date. Incorporate it into your downtime routines.

And the second approach?

The second technique is an extension of the first. Once you have a solid knowledge base, chat solutions offer chat bots which can either be programmed to direct to certain areas of knowledge based on keywords, or even escalate to an agent when it makes sense, or they might have an AI component that can both chat and respond using knowledge base data. The main point being that the bot or AI uses a conversational manner to create the illusion of dealing with a real person.

Have you had any success with bots? Which approach are you using?

Unfortunately, we haven’t had much luck with bots. The solutions can be expensive since they know you’re likely to save money on staffing and the conversation can be stilted, or downright frustrating to the customer at the other end. I have yet to see a bot solution that convinces me it’s the answer to our prayers, so for now we mostly rely on self-help intercept.

About Gregg & SlopeFillers
I've had more first-time visitors lately, so adding a quick "about" section. I started SlopeFillers in 2010 with the simple goal of sharing great resort marketing strategies. Today I run marketing for resort ecommerce and CRM provider Inntopia, my home mountain is the lovely Nordic Valley, and my favorite marketing campaign remains the Ski Utah TV show that sold me on skiing as a kid in the 90s.

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