Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Usability of live chats on B2C website By Amulya Gururaj Siddavanahalli

Live chats are available on many websites nowadays. In the last few months I have seen a live chat option in all business-to-consumer(B2C) websites I have visited. It is particularly prominent in a few websites which I use regularly, such as clothing brands like Hollister and Forever , postal services like Purolator and UPS and technical websites like Dell and HP. Clothing brands and postal services have had recently incorporated this service while technical websites have this feature for a while now.

Live chats are means of interaction or customer support that can be provided by the websites to their customers regarding their products. It is basically a means of contacting just like telephone call, email or social media which are the other means of customer support which usually provided by websites nowadays.

The topic to be discussed here is the usability of these chats, since they are becoming an essential means of communication in B2C websites after telephone and email.

Some websites have structured and sophisticated live chats like Dell and HP, while clothing brands and postal services have less-sophisticated live chats. My concern is with less sophisticated live chats which need a lot of improvements including the icon look , placement and better service from the customer representatives. Also I was able to identify a few glitches in the more sophisticated websites like Dell.

1.Hollister live chat - I was using the Hollister clothing website to purchase clothes from the website. I completed my purchase and got an email with the order number and confirmation. The email had the order number which is required to get any information regarding my purchase. This is the general nature of all the online websites which sell their product. They associate each purchase with a purchase/order number.
  • This is the order confirmation email that I got from Hollister after I making a purchase. It has the order number from which I can get additional information about the order that I have placed. The order number is available at 2 places in the email, one on the subject line and the other in the body.

  • Once I got the email I wanted some additional information regarding the order hence I wanted to contact the customer care service regarding the information. I had 3 options by which I can contact the customer care, Phone. email and live chat. Phone number and live chat link are available on email itself. I can use of the means of contact for any queries that I have regarding my order.

  • Once I clicked on the live chat link I am taken to a page which asks me to enter my first name,

  • Once I enter my first name the chat starts and I ask for the information regarding my order using the order number. Then I get the all the required information. I have to provide my email address after giving my order number. After that the customer care representative asks me if I have any other things I want to be assisted with and when I say no Thank you there is an abrupt end to the chat window. I did not like this impolite way of abruptly ending the chat. it would have been nice if the representative said have a great day, or have a good day as the last reply which indicates that the chat is over.
  • Also I feel that the chat log must be sent to my email so I need not have to worry about recalling the chat or having to ask the same question again if I forgot the information I got from the previous chat.
  • There is also another place from where the live chat works. This is for general enquires regarding the product on the Hollister website or even the more specific regarding orders already placed. This is available on the website itself. This is a very bad design of live chats and is in the form of a very weird looking icon on the right hand side of the page. This is not clearly visible at first even for normal users.

  • This icon is in a very weird position on the right hand corner of the website floating. I would suggest that the live chat button be placed on the top right hand corner so that everyone can see it. This button is particularly not favorable to visually impaired as it is a very small icon and hard to locate as it keeps floating on the right hand side abruptly. This is the similar case with Forever 21 live chat. I would request them to change the look and placement of the live chat as it as a very effective customer care solution.

2. Postal service live chat - Next I would like to take a look at a more sophisticated design of live chats which have been incorporated in Purolator and UPS. I used these services to track my shipment and found them to be more effective and phone calls or emails. if we want to track a shipment and directly speak to a customer representative it is a tedious process as most of the messages are automated. And if you figure your way to the customer representative you are on hold for awhile till you get some customer representative to get free. This is very time consuming hence live chats are a more immediate way to get help as you get to speak to a customer representative within seconds which is now the fastest way and for free.

2.1 Purolator live chat - Firstly I will be looking at the design of Purolator which I came to use after I shopped at Hollister as they send out the shipment with this postal service.
  • Purolator has the live chat options under "Contact Us" which is a more clear way of using live chat than Hollister and Forever 21. In order to access the live chats firstly we need to click on Contact us button the top right hand.

  • Once we click on the contact us button it takes us to a page where all the means of contact is given, from this there is a clear alignment with the live chat on the left hand side and email in the middle and phone on the right hand side. I consider this to be a very good design as all the 3 means of contact are separated on the page and Live chat and send are highlighted in different colors to attract the attention the user. This is also a good design as it can be understood by all kinds of users, it is also a good design for the visually impaired as the live chat is on the left hand side in a good color visible to all.

  • Once I click on the Live chat option , a popup appears as follows, This popup is usually not available if you are Google chrome and have the ad blocker. Make sure you allow pop ups for this website so you can get to the Live chat of the Purolator Once you have allowed the popups from ad blocker you will see the popup asking for your name, email address and Topic. The topic dropdown is placed to narrow down your information to a specific task that you wanted to be helped with rather than a broad range where during the chat you need to narrowed down. This is a good practice which will direct you to the customer care representative who has expertise in the domain you are looking for like tracking inquires or billing & invoice inquires or Technical support with finally having room for general inquires as well.

  • Once you enter all the required information and click on chat now you will be directed to the customer care representative immediately.

2.2 UPS live chat - Secondly I will be looking at another postal service website called UPS. This is another postal service which I came to use when I placed my order on a apparel website called Guess. Mostly different brands make use of different postal services to send out their parcels. Hollister makes use of Purolator and Guess makes use of UPS. This is how I became aware of these to websites and their services. Hence once you place an order on Hollister you are bound to look at the Purolator website to track your order and similarly when you make an order with Guess online you look at UPS for tracking your parcel.
  • The live chat is available on the UPS website once we click on Contact UPS tab which has a drop-down. From the drop-down we can select any means of contact.

  • Once we click on the Contact UPS tab we get the following drop-down, From this we can either go for live chat or email or call the customer care for help. This is also an effective design of Live chats being placed at the right place from where customers can easily figure out how to contact the customer care and live chats are clearly visible. Visually disabled will not have a problem finding this as it is clearly visible in the right section along the flow of contacting the customer care.

  • Now when I click on the Live Chat it directly takes me to a new tab with UPS Tracking assistance. Here I have 2 options, If I have a Tracking, Info Notice or Reference number I can type it and click on continue with a tracking number or if I do not have any of the numbers then I can click on I Do not have a Number.

  • When I have a tracking number I enter the tracking number I get the following, since my shipment is already delivered I get the information regarding the delivery and also a note that clearly says that chat assistance is unavailable for this international shipment. There is clear information in red box telling us that services outside the U.S., please contact your local customer service representative.

  • When I view the important shipment information on the right hand side it shows a click to expand, when I click on that it clearly lets me know that for information outside of U.S. I need to find a local customer representative. In order to find contact information about the local contact information they have provided a link.

  • Once I click on that link I am taken to a page where there are all the continents in alphabetical order with contact information.

  • On clicking on any of the continents you are taken to the region directory with all the regions and the homepage. Further we have links for the country homepage in English or French from which you can find the required information.

  • Now if we do not have the tracking number and would like to use the chat then there is an option which says I do not have a number, when we click on that option we are taken to a page with certain frequently asked questions which can solve our problem along with not finding what you need at the bottom with a wait time for the chat window to open. If you did not find your answers in the chat window then you can click on chat window on the bottom as marked.

  • Once you click on the chat box it opens up the following page on the bottom allowing for chats, We are asked to enter mandatory information like First Name, email and Questions. Once we enter all these information and click on start chat it takes us to the chat window where we can ask our queries. There is also an estimated waiting time for chat along with timings for the live chat feature to be available.

    3. Dell live chat - Now I would like to take a look at what I think is a very sophisticated way of live chats. These are the live chats implemented by Dell and HP websites which are technical websites. The best part about this is that they have got the placement of live chats right and also put a drop-down based on which kind of  chat so that we can further narrow down to customer care representatives expertise.I would like to talk about Dell which users live chats for customer support, The live chats is located in the Support section of the Dell website.
  • I would like to talk about Dell which users live chats for customer support, The live chats is located in the Support section of the Dell website.

  • In support when we click on contact us it takes us to the following page, Here we will need to click on customer support.

  • Once we click on customer Support we are provided with a page which gives us a list of ways we can contact the customer care out of which once of the options is Customer support chat.

  • When I click on the customer support chat option I am taken to the following page, here there is a clear message that chat is available for Canada Home customers only. This is where the mess is created, I need to see that there are 2 bullet options in which one of them says order and/or Technical Support for Home users, this is the option which takes us to the live chat. It is not that easy to figure out if you are in a hurry you might miss this part or if you are not very much aware of technology then also you will face this problem. This is mainly made for technically advanced audience.

  • Now I select Order and/or Technical Support for Home users option I get a How can we help you: appear with a list of options.

  • The drop-down consists of the following options which according to me is a neat segregation of the tasks that one can have questions regarding. This form of selection helps to give customer support in a neater way as we can be directly transferred to experts in the region we are seeking help. This gives us a clear understanding of what our problem is and we can put our problem in that section and seek help accordingly.

  • Now I have selected Sales option , which will help me choose or place an order which would be duty of a technician if I were in a shop. This design is very much appreciated by me. But I was disheartened as I clicked on sales to see that there was no response from the page. It was just stuck on the page with all the options disappeared,

  • But then I noticed the URL on the top which had already navigated me to the page but there was a problem with the loading,
  • Then I refreshed the page and it took me the subsequent page, Hence this is one other problem which needs to be fixed as it will cause a confusion in normal users and many might not refresh the page and think it is an error on the website or that the option does not work,
  • Then I tried all the other options and they all worked except the sales hence it is a small glitch which needs to be fixed by dell as many customers want to enquire about the products or need help selecting a device.
  • Now after I refreshed the page I was navigated to the following page which is again a good design. I am further narrowed down to what kind of product I want answers regarding and also technical support option is available where we can get answers from already purchased products.

  • Now I selected Alienware as product that I want to purchase and got the following option,

  • Here I am asked to give my name and email address so that the chat transcript can be sent to my email so I do not need to remember the chat as the transcript of the email will be sent to my email address and I can use it for reference.
  • Below is the page for the live chat and it looks good, I am very happy with the large screen with clear visibility and the options on the right regarding Copy, Print and Exit. I have the option to Copy the chat or print it and also have the choice to exit the chat at any point of time if I do not find it informative.

  • After I exited the chat immediately an email was on the address that I had provided with a chat log.

  • Once I opened the email the whole chat log was available with a link if I needed any further assistance. This is a very good design as the user has a copy of the chat for reference.

Nevertheless I have given my feedback on the experience of using 4 kinds of live chats from the least sophisticated such as Hollister to the highly sophisticated such as Dell. But even dell is not perfect and there is scope for improvement by fixing the minor bugs which I encountered during my experience of live chats.
I am very much favorable for live chats to be used in more websites as the other 2 common means of customer care namely Phone and email are time consuming as emails might not get an immediate reply and Phone usually has us waiting for minutes before a customer representative is free to assist us. Sometimes phone conversations may be hard for international people , as not all accents are well understood by customer care representatives on the phone.
Live chats are an efficient way if a person knows how to write in English and form simple sentences by means of which they can get help. Since it is typed and not spoken it saves the hassle of repeating ourselves regarding the questions we want answers for along with using alphabets if the representative does not understand. I being an international student have personally had experiences where customer representatives have found it hard to understand my accent. I find chats an easier means of communication as my written English is more understandable than my spoken English.
There is one more thing that the live chats can incorporate which is internationalization , i.e. provide live chats in multiple languages allowing the user to choose the language they are most comfortable with.

My top suggestions for improving chats in websites are
     1.Place the live chats in "Contact Us" section.      
     2. Before entering the live chat let there be a drop-down to narrow the support further so customers can be               better assisted as in the case of Dell.      
    3. Internationalization of chats need to be implemented so that people can get support in their native language.     
    4. The live chats icon should be placed in such a place where users can clearly find the option as implemented         Purolator, UPS and Dell.      
    5.The chat log must be emailed to the personal email so that a copy of the chat with all the information is                   available so that we need not have to repeat our questions if we forget the answers.


  1. Thanks for sharing this post! It's useful. I have also used Joleado's Live chat software for website which helps the human beings to add to the website to solve customer issues quickly. Joleado has all the features to keep the customer happy with his efforts.

  2. Informative Post! Free Live Chat System is very useful for customer support chat.Try with joleado system. It comes free because of its negligible installation charges and almost no operational charges upon the company.