Is A Virtual Agent Right For Your Web Site?

One of the questions I'm frequently asked by clients is if virtual agents are a good idea. Many of us have had frustrating interactive agent experiences over the years (recall Clippy, Microsoft’s animated paperclip that launched a thousand parodies).

Times have changed, and I think virtual agents are worth taking a look at. Today’s virtual agents can guide consumers through your Web site while answering questions effectively and conversationally. 

As virtual agent technology continues to become more sophisticated — features such as integrating with enterprise systems like shipping and delivery or CRM availability on mobile devices — virtual agents will continue to take on more complex customer service issues.

One of the benefits that I think is really compelling is that if a consumer escalates to live help, the transcript is pushed to the call rep, reducing call resolution times and sparing customers the annoyance of having to start from the beginning to explain their problem.

These features matter for many reasons. Here are two big ones.

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What Every Exec Needs To Know About The Future of eCommerce Technology

We are in a highly transformative time as changing customer expectations, commerce capabilities, and technology continue to evolve rapidly. Initiatives that just a few short years ago would have seemed a long way off — such as mobile commerce, app stores, multichannel order management, or embedding shopping on Facebook — are now squarely on the priority list of eCommerce business and technology leaders. And as consumer expectations, client needs, and the competitive environment continue to evolve, pressure on executives to make the right choices in technology and operational capabilities continues to mount. With this research, we highlight what every exec should know as they navigate these choices and position their company to succeed and fully capitalize on the transformation technology is enabling across their business.

As we have talked to many executives across many verticals consistent questions emerge on how to work ahead of these changes and stay ahead of the curve. The report we just published today looks to address these questions, based on many conversations across the vendor and client community and across verticals.

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Will Proactive Chat Invitations Annoy Your Customers?

I’ve been asked several times recently if consumers find proactive chat to be intrusive or annoying. It’s true that most consumers prefer to initiate contact with customer service. However, 27% of online consumers agree with the statement, "I like having an instant messaging/online chat box appear and ask if I need help with my online research or purchase." (North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009 [US])

And what about the other 73% of consumers? I don’t believe it is the prospect of chatting that annoys people. It is the interruption. So what can you do to annoy-proof a proactive chat invitation?

First, make sure the invitation design clearly communicates that this is a chat invite and not a pop-up ad. Also make it easy to decline. The layout and design should make declining just as easy as accepting. For me, it is that split second of looking for the “no thanks” that propels a proactive invitation from innocuous to irritating. Respect declines. In a recent transaction on Virgin America’s Web site, I was interrupted several times in as many minutes by a proactive chat invitation. That was annoying. Once a customer has declined, either don’t offer again or set explicit rules in place that incorporate the previous decline.

If you’d like more information on how to implement proactive chat, I’ve recently published “Making Proactive Chat Work," which I hope will be helpful.

Does The UK Need Another Online Payment System?

I am intrigued by last week's announcement from UK payment processor VocaLink and Australian financial software vendor eWise that they are collaborating to build an online banking transfer payment system for the UK. Online banking transfer systems make it (fairly) easy for online shoppers to authorize payments through online banking by integrating the payment details into their bank's secure online banking site. The customer is routed directly from the merchant's site to the bank to authorize the payment and back again.

In the Netherlands, the iDEAL online banking transfer system has been highly successful. It's now used by some 10 million Dutch online shoppers for about 5 million transactions a month. But the UK's online shopping market is different to the Dutch one in a couple of important ways. Firstly, debit cards can be used to pay online in the UK. Since almost all adults have a debit card, paying online is not a big problem in the UK, unlike many other European markets. Secondly, UK Net users have always been relatively complacent about online security compared with other Europeans. That means that one of the primary attributes of an online banking transfer system -- more robust security -- may not cut that much ice with British online shoppers.

Forrester has long argued that any new payment system needs to overcome three hurdles to succeed: providing a clear improvement over the existing alternatives, driving consumer and merchant adoption, and developing a viable business model for all parties.

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Mobile Internet Usage Is Growing At A Phenom Pace ... Why?

Apps dominate the mobile conversation these days for a lot of well-demonstrated reasons, but with much less fanfare, the mobile Internet — especially the frequency of its users — has taken off. I don’t mean just that ‘mobile Web use has grown’ or it’s continuing to grow at steady pace. No. The rate of growth has jumped dramatically. 

In the six months between year-end 2008 and mid-2009, daily use of the mobile Internet grew from 7% to 10% for all mobile phone users. Once you narrow it down and look at smartphone owners, the growth is even more startling, as you can see in this report. Better handsets, better browsers, and faster networks have remade the mobile Internet from a novelty to a growing, and growing quickly, part of mobile users’ daily lives.

Ten Questions For GSI’s Michael Rubin

GSI Commerce has been making a lot of news of late with acquisitions and a reshaping on their business from a full-service eCommerce provider to an eCommerce and marketing services company. I had the pleasure recently of asking Michael Rubin, founder and CEO of GSI, a series of questions in order to better understand how the company is changing and what we can look for in the future from the company.


1) FORRESTER: From the outside it appears that GSI has changed a lot over the last few years, from a full-service eCommerce solution provider to a company with many different offerings. How do you explain what GSI is today? How do you see that continuing to evolve?

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Shopkick - New Mobile Service To Drive Legitimate Foot Traffic

I attended the unveiling of shopkick's new location-based technology at the Best Buy around the corner from my office today. Here are the highlights:

  • Downloadable application for the iPhone at launch in several weeks; will roll out apps for additional phones.
  • If the application is open, it senses where the individual is and what retail partners or other commercial businesses, such as grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, etc. are nearby. Award points are given when the consumer walks through the door. shopkick installs technology inside the store that acts as a beacon communicating with mobile phones. If the application is open, it will recognize the signal, place the consumer within the store - either at the entrance or a specific department - and award points.

  • Once a consumer is inside the store, the service will award points for browsing and for using the built-in barcode scanner to get more product and pricing information.

The solution is integrated at the point of sale (POS) with the consumer's phone number. With purchases, consumers collect both store loyalty points as well as shopkick loyalty points. Loyalty points can be redeemed for special offers or cash - directly from the application. The value of the points in real retailer dollars will be set by the retailer.

What is interesting about shopkick?

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