!http://jivesoftware.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2006/03/fastpathforblog.png!We just did a webinar on how to use the Fastpath IM system for working with customers and I thought I'd share a snippet from it. Below are some best practices for using IM with customers, based on our customers' experiences and our own. In no particular order:

  1. Use skills-based routing: Make sure to capture the right metadata and get it to the right person first. To the extent possible, try to emulate your organizational structure. For example, if your sales team is structured by product line, use the queues/routers to send product requests to only that product team -- the failover queue can be the other product team, but do the best you can at getting it right first. Sounds obvious, but many companies send messages to any salesperson available.

  2. Take Advantage of Co-Browsing: A powerful tool, if used correctly. Make it easy for the customer to follow along with your thinking and point out the relevant information on each page.

  3. Timeout: 5 minutes max for the session timeout, and 30 sec offer timeout for each agent. People get frustrated after more than five minutes of waiting.

  4. Make icon / purpose clear: The position of the "chat now" icon on the site is important. Make it obvious and specify whether it is sales or support.

  5. Set and communicate policies: On invitations and transfers. The goal is the best combination of first-contact resolution percentage (keep high) and escalation percentage (keep low).

  6. Review the transcript: If you transfer or invite another another agent, that agent should start by reading the transcript (and the history if possible). Dont make people repeat themselves. This is one reason why it's better than phone service -- you have a real-time log of the conversation.

  7. Bulk up Content: Anticipate all the needed responses and provide the right content in advance, using a Knowledge Base, canned responses or any other tool that can provide content quickly.

  8. Use it Sparingly: Following from #7, don't use canned responses for everything. Make it personal (use agents with good conversation skills) and use a consistent voice for the company.

  9. Build rapport: Especially for sales agents, you want the conversation to be lightweight and comfortable. People are used to IM being a more informal medium, so heavy-handed sales tactics can create mistrust.

  10. Analyze and Improve: Managers should be reviewing the logs and metrics often and using them to improve. It's also good to employ secret shoppers (fake customers) and to monitor the sessions in real-time.