Live chat pings onto accountants' websites

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Richard Hattersley
Community correspondent
AccountingWEB
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Live chat functionality on websites has made the customer experience more instant, but can a time-strapped accountant make this interactive service work in their busy practice?

AccountingWEB regular First Tab recently deliberated on Any Answers whether a live chat service could work on his website after an instant response received from a tech vendor prompted him to place an order.

Although live chat is typically employed by more transactional products, PracticeWEB’s marking manager Alex Tucker can see how accountants can make this functionality a success.

“You might have a web visitor who is looking for some technical information or a solution to a problem, and if they see you're available for a chat, they might pop up and ask you a question,” he said. “That could conceivably become the start of a relationship, which results in a client.”

Live chat could conceivably become the start of a relationship.

Even HMRC has enlisted web chat to improve customer waiting times.

With live chat platforms such as Zendesk’s Zopim making it easier for smaller businesses to see who is looking on their site, whether they are a returning customer, how long website viewers dwell on pages and frequently asked questions, this service is no longer exclusive to big businesses. However, live chat produces a number of pitfalls for small firm accountants. For starters, AccountingWEB member JimLittle warned First Tab: “I have it but unless you have many visitors to the website then it's not worth bothering."

Tucker also pointed to staffing as a potential issue. The time-strapped practice owner will not be able to respond to all enquiries, so the live chat handling could be delegated to another member of staff, such as someone from sales or a junior member of staff: “What you would get is existing clients asking for technical questions which sales people weren't prepared to answer and that could create a disjointed customer experience,” he said. 

Your prospective clients’ needs should be taken into account and how they communicate with you needs to be considered before utilising the service, said Tucker.   

Using analytics derived from live chat platforms, Tucker advised practitioners to make the software less obtrusive by instructing it to launch if a website visitor clicks on a certain number of pages, or if they’ve stayed on the site for certain length of time, or have the chat option up if they access a key piece of content.  

Chatbot v the human touch

A chatbot could be the solution for practice owners who like the idea of the instant service but haven't got the capacity to respond to all notifications. 

People expect a more personal service from their accountants than that.

This summer the profession has gone bot crazy. Sage, Unit4 and Xero have all teased how their digital assistants will automate facets of accounting. 

And chatbots will soon become more accessible for businesses after Facebook introduced the capability in a beta form to its messenger app, the social network announced at the F8 developer conference earlier this year. Facebook will allow developers to design the bot within the message thread as if it’s their app – putting the business in control of the design, message template and call to action.

The bots’ conversational capabilities will be enhanced through Facebook's learnings of M, Facebook’s AI personal assistant. According to Facebook, the wit.ai bot engine turns natural language into structured data to automatically chat with users and drive the conversation to the businesses' objective.

It wouldn’t be the first time artificial intelligence has been used to digest and communicate technical information. The DoNotPay lawyer chatbot, created by Stanford University student Joshua Browder, has contested more than 160,000 parking tickets for free.

However, Tucker questioned whether using a bot will sacrifice accountants' human touch: “People expect a more personal service from their accountants than that.”

Rather than suffer the miscommunication pitfalls live chat can cause, Tucker explained that “a well-designed website, with the right calls to action in the right place” would be a simpler solution.

Do you use live chat on your website? How have you found it? Have you converted any prospective clients through using it?

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01st Sep 2016 18:31

Our practise ensures that clients receive a prompt reply either by phone or e-mail therefore live chat isn't a) necessary or b) practical. Possibly for bigger firms were clients have to wait hours for a reply!

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