Video Chat: New Channel or Over-Hyped?

Could video chat take off in the future or is it dead in the water? 

The technology behind video chat has been around for some time now. And, in recent years, it has become even more accessible through the use of smartphones. With 3.5 billion people around the world owning smartphones, you’d think that video chat has a substantial audience. So why hasn’t it picked up? 

What is Video Chat? 

  Video chat is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a conversation that happens over video call messaging. This feature is readily available via smartphones through apps such as FaceTime by Apple Inc. When we talk about video chat for customer service, it’s the same process. A conversation over video call where both or one of the participants can see and hear the other.     There is already a similar channel in place for many companies called live chat, where customers can talk to an agent in real-time and expect a reply instantaneously. Video chat just takes an extra step. 

How is Video Chat Useful? 

Personalised Experience 

Video chat allows the customer to see the agent they’re talking to. That makes the whole experience feel more personalised. The customer can see that the agent is focusing only on them and their problem. They can see and hear exactly what the agent is doing and how diligently they’re going about trying to resolve the interaction.  In that way, video chat mimics a face-to-face interaction and can help make the customer feel more important, leading to a better customer experience. This is important as customer service interactions that are not in person tend to suffer more with feeling robotic and unempathetic. It’s also especially important now as many physical stores remain closed due to Covid-19.   And if you don’t want to implement video chat company-wide, it could be useful for VIP customers only, as a way to provide a top-class, personalised customer experience.  

Disability-Friendly 

Video chat can be a perfect solution for customers with specific disabilities. For people with impaired hearing for example, offering a video channel with agents trained in BSL, can be incredibly helpful, especially if the customer needs help with something more complex that they don’t want to have to type out. Implementing this can seem like a big undertaking but it could really help set your company apart. Especially since there are so few accessibility options for disabled people when it comes to customer service.   Of course, video calls aren’t optimal for all disability-types and can even be stressful for some. So, video calling isn’t the one-stop solution to providing accessibility for people with disabilities. As we always suggest, having an omnichannel solution is key.  

Useful for Product Help 

For product-specific help, video call can sometimes be useful. For example, if a product is broken but it can’t be easily shown over a photo – such as an auditory problem – a video call can be a quick way of providing evidence.     Similarly, a customer may have purchased a product that requires assembly, or they’re attempting to use a more technical product, and they’re just a bit confused. A quick video call can cut out all the unnecessary describing, taking photos, and overall miscommunication that could happen on other channels.      Simply put, using video calls could cut down on interaction length, improve customer experience, and lessen the frustration on all sides. Win-win.  

Gauge Customer Reactions 

Video chat allows the agent to both see and hear how the customer is reacting to any given situation. It makes responding easier for the agent as they can gauge emotions and react in a way that is appropriate. This is much more difficult over text-based customer service where subtle changes in emotion aren’t always easy to pick up on.  We could argue that telephony also allows the agent to judge emotions, but not to the same extend as a video call can. And, with telephony slowly losing its dominance over other channels, will video chat rise up to replace it in the next 10 years? It’s possible that the drawbacks will always outweigh the positives, so let’s take a look.    

What are the Drawbacks? 

It Can Feel Invasive 

Video chat is inherently more invasive than other channels. By asking customers to show their faces within their own homes, you’re asking to be let into their personal lives. This means that video chat is perhaps unlikely to ever be popular outside of the specific uses such as to receive instructions or to use BSL.   This invasiveness could also be felt on the other end. Operators who are using video chat on a daily basis may find it tiring as they are being asked to always look and act at their best. This is similar for staff in customer-facing roles such as hospitality. But, even staff in these roles get downtime when customers aren’t around. And during the covid-19 crisis, operators are often at home, meaning they’re being asked to share their home with the public via video. If you implement video chat, we’d recommend having staff on a rotation to avoid burnout. 

Cost 

As with any new customer service channel, video chat would come with implementation costs. But, unlike some other channels such as social media, video chat might come with some costly equipment and software changes.  Webcams, headsets, video chat software, these are all expenses that would need to be considered when implementing video chat.   Beyond that, it’s also important to consider internet speeds. If your internet connection is not the best, then video chats might not be particularly reliable. You would need the fastest possible internet speeds to support introducing video chat on a large scale.  

Training 

Any new channel also comes with new training. Whilst it’s always important to keep your training up to date and to offer refresher courses, training staff in an entirely new channel can be costly and take time. Agents would have to learn a new way of helping customers, new ways of offering advice. They might even have to learn new product knowledge that they didn’t previously need. And that isn’t to mention learning new languages such as BSL.   Training is an integral part of providing excellent customer service but the time it takes your agents away from answering queries can be a major barrier to implementing new channels. 

So, What’s the Verdict? 

So, is video chat worth the hype? Well, it’s definitely useful for some things. Customers with disabilities, using it to provide instructions for more complex products, and helping the advisor to provide a truly personal experience.   But, beyond these specific needs, is it necessary? Live chat and telephony are two channels that both work in real time and are both popular with customers. Live chat specific achieves customer satisfaction rates of 75% or above. It’s undeniable that omnichannel and being on channels your customers want is vital. And having more options for customers is always good. But, whilst perfectly acceptable alternatives are available, we’re not sure that implementing video chat is worth the time, effort, and cost until customers are clamouring for it – something we doubt will be happening any time soon.  

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Deepa Khatri