An example implementation showing the popularity of Live Chat
The Sun newspaper took a step into uncharted territory in August 2013 when it moved its content behind a paywall for the first time.
For Britain's biggest selling daily, it was a hugely important development. In common with newspapers all over the world, the Sun has witnessed a sea change in consumption habits as increasing numbers of readers opt to access content online rather than buying printed editions.
By setting up a paywall and thus requiring readers to pay a subscription, the Sun was securing an important revenue stream for its online version while also emphasising that its journalism has a value.
But if it was a big step for the newspaper itself, it was also a major change for online readers, who were being asked to pay for content that had previously been free to view. Once the paywall was put in place, readers were presented not only with an unfamiliar subscription model but also a revamped digital product, branded as Sun Plus. This created a communications challenge. Not only was it important to explain the change it was also vital to provide advice and support for readers as they assessed the subscription packages and explored the functions and features of the new site.
So as the paywall was implemented, the Sun put customer support at the heart of a multi-channel communications strategy. The guiding principle was simple. The launch team were aware that readers would have a great many questions. Each and every query would receive an instant answer.
If the principle was simple, the execution of the strategy was painstakingly prepared. A team of 20 was assembled to handle customer engagement and each member was trained to answer any question that might arise. There was a lot of ground to cover in the training. Readers were certainly expected to ask about the subscription packages but equally there could be questions about downloading apps or setting up a fantasy football team.
Using Livechat for customer support
Customer support was lead not by a traditional phone line or email, but via a live chat platform (Live Engage), supplied by LivePerson. This provided the newspaper's online readers with the means to click through to a chat agent from links on the Sun Plus site itself or from the @SunplusCS twitter feed.
The positioning of live chat as the primary customer support channel perfectly suits the medium. Sun Plus readers are an 'online' audience and they expect to do things in the digital space. Rather than, say, ringing a telephone hotline or e-mailing for support, they can get instant advice simply by clicking through to talk to an agent. There is no need to leave the Sun Plus environment.
How popular is Live chat?
Live chat has proved popular with readers. Since the launch of Sun Plus there have been approximately 250,000 interactions with visitors to the site and, to date, 80% of queries have been addressed through the chat channel.
And for the Sun, it has proved a highly effective means to reach answer the maximum number of enquiries with the resources available. It's estimated that if the enquiries had been handled by telephone, the existing team could only have dealt with about half that number of engagements.
The reason is simple. One key feature of live chat is that an agent can handle several engagements simultaneously. In contrast, each telephone enquiry locks agents into a single conversation for the duration of the call.
But the advantages of live chat extend beyond the increased numbers of inquiries that the team can deal with on any given day. The resolution rate is also much higher. Indeed, the Sun Plus team estimate that chat performs four times better than voice calls in terms of the time it takes to resolve questions and problems.
Keeping customers satisfied
Any major change to the commercial relationship between a business and its customers – in this case the readers – has to be handled carefully. Indeed, it's often during times of change that the ability of contact centres to deal with customer concerns is really tested. Poor support can generate a negative reaction. So it's gratifying that Sun Plus is achieving customer satisfaction ratings of 85% plus.
The platform The Sun use - LivePerson's LiveEngage is also winning favour, with surveys turning up a 95% of customers are satisfaction rate.
Good communication is the key to implementing change and in the digital era live engagement is proving to be a hugely effective tool in addressing the questions and concerns of customers. And as the experience of Sun Plus illustrates, its an ideal channel for digital businesses.