Web chat transcends customer service generational differences: Fifth Quadrant



news Figures out of customer experience research house Fifth Quadrant suggest that older Australians, despite being less enthusiastic adopters of social media and smartphone apps, are as keen as younger Australians to use Web-based chats to interact with customer service representatives during online transactions.

Figures in the Emerging Consumer Channels: Social Media, Web Chat and Smartphone Apps report, which surveyed 413 Australian consumers, suggested that social media remained the most popular single contact channel, favoured by 31% of respondents. Smartphone apps were favoured by 17% of respondents, but it is Web chat – named by 23% of respondents overall – that stood out in Fifth Quadrant’s analysis.

“Although Web chat technology has been broadly available for over five years, it is within the last one-to-two years that business interest has multiplied and the greatest number of implementations have occurred,” said Fifth Quadrant head of research Chris Kirby, noting that one-quarter of Australian businesses offer Web chat – and that, unlike social media and smartphone apps, businesses’ Web-chat capabilities “seem to be relatively well resourced and supported within the business.”

This difference is accounted for by the usual ownership of the various customer-contact methods: whereas social media and smartphones are usually handled by marketing or IT organisations, Web chats are typically delivered as part of customer-interaction suites run by contact centres that are “well used to budgeting, planning for, and responding to fluctuating consumer communications”.

Age seemed to be closely correlated with preferred channel: fully 46% of Gen Y customers, for example, reported having used social media for contacting companies in the previous three months while 24% of Baby Boomers had done the same.

Smartphone apps also showed strong age bias, proving twice as popular with Gen Ys (26% had used one in the most recent three months) as with Baby Boomers (13%). Fully 54% of Baby Boomers said they had not used social media, Web chat, or smartphone apps; presumably, this means they still prefer to conduct business over email or the good, old-fashioned telephone.

By contrast, Web chats proved equally popular regardless of generation: they had been used in the previous three months by 25% of Gen Y, 28% of Gen X and 29% of Baby Boomers. This gives Web chats the distinction of being the one channel that enjoyed similar levels of usage regardless of age group.

Furthermore, more respondents – 43% – said they planned to use Web chats in the future, compared with social media (33%) and smartphone apps (31%). The report attributes this to “an impression that a faster response can be achieved by using this channel and that it offers ease, convenience and effective resolution of queries.”

Surveyed about perceived barriers to using channels, Web chats were perceived to be more secure and personalised than social media, but was judged to be less convenient; take about as long, offer less control than smartphone apps; take the longest to connect to a customer service representative; and was seen as most likely to lead to unwanted selling.

However, Web chats far outranked the other two channels when respondents were asked which channel was suited to various transaction types. Notably, 66% of respondents said Web chat was suitable for resolving technical issues with a device, compared with 29% for social media and just 25% for smartphone apps; 56% preferred it for purchase or sales-related questions, compared with 37% for social media or 31% for smartphone apps; and 67% preferred Web chats for general enquiries, compared with 43% for social media or 35% for smartphone apps.

Companies hoping to improve their customer service may find the results instructive in planning their customer-service channel mix. “Web chat has a great value proposition for consumers,” Kirby said. “It is a convenient offer of help at an appropriate time. When carried out properly, it is non-intrusive and simplifies the consumer’s experience.”

Image credits: Earl Andrew and Mikael Häggström, CC BY-SA 3.0.


  1. Don’t know about you, but I’ve had a love–hate relationship with Web chat: on the one hand, it’s a nice way of getting straight to someone, very quickly, and (hopefully) getting your questions answered.

    On the other hand, you’d like to think that a company that was taking its customer support seriously would have enough other resources available – forums, FAQs, etc – that you could answer most of your questions using those resources.

    Of course, an over-reliance on these resources can easily lead you down a blind alley; questions about individual circumstances require personal attention, which is where Web chat comes in. It also makes economic sense for companies, since one CSR can support loads of simultaneous chat sessions.

    What does everyone think? Have you found Australian companies that are doing a particularly good (or particularly bad) job of Web support?

  2. I’m not sure where this ‘Web chat has been available for 5 years’ comes from – I’ve certainly used it to communicate with businesses for over a decade, so someone’s a little late to the party here…

    I’ve found Web Chat to be mostly useful, but I’ve definitely had bad experiences with it. There’s even more incentive than with phone support to outsource Web chat overseas – you don’t even have to worry about accents; as long as staff have good written English and high typing speeds there’s no reason (from a bean-counter perspective) they shouldn’t be just as good as a local (but a tenth the cost).

    Unfortunately, as with most of this sort of thinking, it is fundamentally limited. Sure, you can get some good support people in overseas cubicle farms. But on the whole, not so much. The average quality of Australian customer service centres is much higher than those in cheap-labour developing nations.

    The other problem with Web chat is something you touched on in your follow up comment – the lure of having one CSR handle multiple customers at the same time. I’ve had situations where Web chat operators have taken 20 minutes or more to respond to every statement I’ve made, occasionally typing ‘thank you for your patience while I’m reviewing your question’ or some other such nonsense.

    Of course, all such issues ultimately rest with the culture of the organisation – those that value their customers, who want to retain them, who are committed to the professionalism of their organisation through all forms of communication, they will ensure they use highly trained staff for Web chat, as they do throughout their organisation. Those concerned with cost cutting as a means to increase dividend return and take a ‘just enough’ approach to customer service will use CS outsourcers who cost as little as possible, who don’t adequately train their staff, who require staff to take on three or four customer chat sessions at once (and they may be responding to support requests for a variety of disparate client businesses, too) and, importantly, when you get right down to them actually helping you, they may lack the authority to be able to actually assist you without having to escalate your question or problem to some higher level support that may or may not actually receive the support request and actually get in touch with you.

    So yes, like anything it’s a useful tool and an important part of the modern business’s communication mix – the effectiveness of it comes down to the culture and priorities of the organisation though; it cannot be said to be a reflection of the viability of the technology or communication method.

  3. The advantage of web chat (like instant messaging) is that you can interact with support while doing other tasks and it is easy to take a record of the conversation. When dealing with out sourced call centres the written English is often of a higher standard than spoken English (primarily because exams are written).

    Some of the clients are a little clunky but they mostly work.

  4. I have been looking recently at the various plans that are available for the NBN connection in my area.

    I keep getting these little boxes popping up with an invitation to have a chat with a customer service representative.

    I am fairly literate so don’t mind reading through the information on the web site to find what exactly is being offered and for how much. I have this theory that if a company can’t put the information together so I can easily access it then there is a bloody good chance that they are disorganised idiots who I am better off not dealing with. If they need someone to hassle me continually and repeatedly to have a chat then I suspect that they are only interested in their pocket and couldn’t give a rats about the customer.

    Now I have made a decision about who i will invite to supply my on going communication needs. I did some research about the company and checked the opinions of some of their users and I have actually had my ears and eyes on possible RSPs for about twelve months. Interestingly the company only ever asked me once each visit if I wanted to chat on the web site and the little box was tucked down in the bottom right hand corner out of the way so it wasn’t very intrusive..

    Yeah I would have to say that this web chat is a great idea it gives you a pretty good idea what the company is going to be like before you even contact them.

    Now I have a bit of a problem with web chat because I really enjoy talking to sales people face to face so you can check the body language and their eyes. It is a whole lot easier to pick out who is snowing you I reckon. Talking on the telephone is probably second best because at least you can listen to the tone of the service persons voice which is a little ahead of web chat. Hell you could be just talking to a computer which is using something like that Siri program on the web chat.

    Yep I recon web chat is terrific but I have found that Skype is a bloody side better for a chat.

    Wonder when the wankers are going to catch up with us grey haired old coots?

  5. I do agree with the research, although I remember using Webchats with Telstra some 7-8 years ago.

    Firstly you don’t have to use the phone, where you either have to “tell me what you what”, so it can send you to someone whom can’t help you or ask you the press 1, then 5, then 2 then ooops you’ve pressed the wrong option, so we’ll either tell you to call back in office hours or put you at the end of the longest queue we have, whilst we interrupt the music every 30 seconds telling you how sorry we are because we’re all down at the pub having a long lunch & can’t answer your call.

    As mentioned above by Matthew, you usually get an email record of your chat, So there’s no “I was told….” and the company claiming having no record of the conversation.

Comments are closed.