Tag: live chat

Live Chat and Lean Manufacturing



In the Toyota Production System (TPS) and its ongoing adherence in Western companies (usually called Lean, often mixed in with Six Sigma processes), one of the ways that we are able to reduce waste is moving from batch production to single piece flow, or continuous flow.

The opposing styles here are characterized like so: if Process Zoidberg requires you to perform actions A, B, and C, and you have to perform 100 Zoidbergs, batch production would suggest you do _all_ of your As, then _all_ of your Bs, then _all_ of your Cs. Continuous flow would suggest that you do A, then B, then C, one hundred times.

When we think about supporting a customer base, we can visualize each customer experience as a finished product, with each of their questions or friction points as a discrete component. We could extend this metaphor to the entire product development life cycle, but for the scope of this article, let’s focus on the post-launch product support, by (mostly) dedicated support staff.

Thinking of customer support using the well-trod ground of manufacturing, we can start to use insights that have already provided serious gains for other industries – it can also help us to explain data that we already have, or better understand or phrase our support for new experiments and learning opportunities.

When we consider traditional email support from the side of the customer, a customer sends in a request, they wait, the support staff replies, wait, customer replies again, with a new question or concern, they wait, and so on. If you asked the customer, it looks a lot like an (especially slow) continuous flow model.

From the side of the support staff, we see a different picture: they reply to customer requests as they come in, working with many customers at many different points in that particular customers’ process. Rather than working with one customer from the beginning, through all of their questions, to the conclusion, they move from question to question.

When we consider live chat support, it looks to be much more in line with the continuous flow model – as a customer arrives, they are picked up by a support team member, and they are moved through each of their questions in turn, to the point of completion.

It would be interesting to see some data on how these two processes look side-by-side, especially in terms of efficiency of production – which here would mean customer-questions-answered. I acknowledge that it might be tricky to suss out exactly when a question is answered, especially in an automated way. Tricky, but interesting.

My hunch would be that providing support in the continuous-flow model would gain similar efficiency gains to the adoption of that model in other industries, but, that’s just a hunch.

Five Things I Learned About Live Chat


This last weekend I made the move from our Akismet support team over to Team Hermes, a group of Happiness Engineers who cover live chat (that is, text-based chat support) for our regular paid users (That is, neither VIP nor Business), as well as covering in-app mobile support.

So, I spent my full work day yesterday deep in the live chat mines. Over a work day, I did 45 chats – not terrible for a first day! With only a single day of experience under my belt, here are a few early-stage insights on live chat as a medium of hospitality:

    1. Live Chat is very good at what it is very good at. Live Chat is, so far, good at two things: behaving like a human-powered search bar, answering questions with documentation or blog post recommendations, and debugging complicated problems with multi-step questioning. The trouble is when an operator has multiple chats that cover both flavors.


    1. Live Chat requires a different sort of focus than email or forum replies. Replying to an email allows a Happiness Engineer some space to explore and investigate and ensure that the reply is 100% correct as-is, a neatly-tied package that is ready to go. In Chat, there is a lot of uncertainty, and the need to balance multiple chat customers at once means you must be able to not only laser-focus on a single customer, you have to be able to switch between cases quickly with little time for recall.


    1. Live Chat requires a different mindset than email replies. Given the short time span between responses, there is no wall of authority in place: if an HE doesn’t know an answer, they have to admit it and then move forward with collaboration, a back-and-forth between the HE and the customer. In an email response, the HE would have time to research and be certain of their authority before replying. I like this ejection of ego from the equation; Live Chat feels much more “Let’s figure this out!” to email’s “Here is a solution.”


    1. Live Chat is not ideal for every problem: there were a few cases where I had to ask folks to seek support through other channels. These cases were big browser problems, where we needed full traceroutes to determine the underlying issue, and broad CSS customization, which, while something I _can_ do, would not be to the benefit of the rest of the folks waiting in the Live Chat line. Plus, our CSS Support Forum folks are so darn helpful!


    1. Live Chat would be a great tool for proactive, rather than reactive, support. I know that some companies use Chat on their sites as a sales lead generation tool – I think that in the pursuit of hospitality, offering Live Chat in an educational format would be a really outstanding application. Identify members of your team who are especially patient and tend to excel with new customers, and then create a Chat property specifically for the educational area of your site. Having a live human to work with might really change the onboarding process, and would at the very least help to illustrate where folks are getting caught up. In that way, educational Live Chat would serve both our user-facing hospitality needs as well as our hospitality-driven UX improvements by acting as chat-based user testing.


Today’s my second day – we’ll see how long the above remains true!