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Vicky Nolan

LivePerson Delivers Innovative Customer Service Solutions and Advice

8 December 1999

When Robert LoCascio tried to purchase some computer equipment online back in 1998, he ran into some customer service glitches that lost the computer sale but steered him into a successful new business. From this experience came a new company, called LivePerson, that provides dependable, real-time customer service to the e-commerce marketplace.

While many sites offer some sort of customer support, LivePerson has become an innovator by developing a high-level proactive customer service program that should serve as an example for other e-commerce businesses.

Part of what makes the company's offering so unique is that it offers real-time text chat and telephony for various client companies without requiring cumbersome and expensive hardware. For an initial $500 setup fee and a monthly $250 per operator charge, clients are provided with a link on their site that says "Talk to a live person." Upon clicking the link, a new window, similar to an Instant Messenger window, pops up and the customer enters his name. On the other end, an operator is prompted and answers questions from the customer. Each operator can usually handle up to four customer chats at one time.

All of the necessary applications are hosted, maintained and upgraded on LivePerson's servers. It usually takes 24 hours to get a new customer's service up and running.

Part of the information the operator uses is based upon a script of frequently asked questions that clients give to LivePerson. Additionally, the operator receives the customer's IP address and the exact web page they're stuck on. With the assistance of a LivePerson operator, a potential customer is usually able to receive the information needed to complete the transaction, instead of leaving a site in frustration.

As an added benefit, LivePerson operators have information about your entire site, so the customer who was interested in betting on the next World Series game could be directed to another opportunity to wager on whether Pete Rose will be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. A possible lost customer is swiftly satisfied and directed to other offerings that might interest them.

Current customers include, NextCard,,, and, among others. Although there are no virtual casinos or sportsbooks yet, the company is more than willing to take on such customers.

The company's also experienced in with working international customers. In fact, it already has about 15 clients abroad. "Currently we only offer an English language version of the system," said PR Manager Rita Meyerson. "What that means is that the screen text for both the user and the operator are in English, however, the system will support a live text conversation in other languages-assuming their PC's support that particular language character set.

"We support languages with 1 bit characters only, right now. This includes Spanish, French, German and Italian clients using LP now. We know that our business model makes our product very attractive to foreign businesses so we will allow 2 bit characters-Asian languages-in a later version."

For site operators who want to offer or improve their own live text-based services, LivePerson CEO Robert LoCascio provided the following tips:

  1. One or two typos per conversation are OK. It's all right to make a couple of mistakes while typing a response. It lets people know you're real and not an automated response. But be careful. Too many errors will make you look sloppy and unprofessional.
  2. Type as you speak. Type in a conversational manner. Unlike a more formal letter or memorandum, this is a real-time dialogue. Be wary of using tone in your message, as this is difficult to detect in a text-based conversation.
  3. Keep the conversation moving. If necessary, break long responses into two or three separate blocks. This avoids long pauses (see No. 8) and allows your visitor to begin reading the first part of your response while you are completing it.
  4. Get straight to the point. Typing and reading a conversation takes longer than actually speaking to someone. A general rule of thumb is no more than 30 words in each response block. This will keep the conversation flowing smoothly.
  5. Avoid yes/no answers. Your customer's question is important; don't shortchange your answer. The customer may have spent a couple of minutes typing his question to you. A one-word response does not convey similar effort or thought on your part. Consequently, this type of response can often be interpreted as cold and impersonal.
  6. Use preformatted responses. As much as 70 percent or 80 percent of all inquiries received by a site generally fall under the category of frequently asked questions. By anticipating these questions and developing preformatted responses, you will not only save time when responding, but you will help to ensure consistency in your answers. (Caveat: If you overuse preformatted responses, you may alienate customers. Be sure your operators customize or personalize preformatted responses as needed.)
  7. Get personal. Leading customer service companies generally have a common characteristic: They treat each customer individually. Live customer-service solutions help Web sites achieve this by providing a true one-to-one marketing experience. Address your customers by name, reply to their specific question and be there for them. Your customers will appreciate the attentiveness and personal service.
  8. Avoid the awkward pause. You know the feeling. You're in the middle of a conversation with someone and then suddenly there's silence. Not only can that silence be discomforting, but you'll be more likely to shift your attention elsewhere. The same thing can happen during a live-text conversation. You'll have a little more time between pauses in a text conversation vs. a spoken one, but the general rule is no more than 45 seconds between responses.
  9. Solve problems. Have operators ready to answer questions as they occur. A real-time service solution only works when there are people on your end to take calls. Train your operators sufficiently so they can resolve most inquiries without requiring additional assistance. Make sure they follow up at the end of each conversation to ensure the customer's questions have been answered satisfactorily. If an operator doesn't have an immediate answer for a customer, the operator should say so and get back to the customer promptly. It's the follow-up and effort that the customer will ultimately remembered.
  10. Close sales. Many questions occur at that critical point of sale. Consequently, it's imperative that your operators recognize this and make the most of their contact with your customer. Anticipate and answer common questions that may arise during the checkout process. Lead them through the sale.

    If you are unable to offer the product a customer is looking for, use it as a chance to cross-sell and make other recommendations. Once confident they are intent on making purchase, you can then use this opportunity to up-sell. Suggest a complimentary product or add-on; recommend the next model up or a higher level of service. But don't get pushy. Remember that the customer is typing, and this requires greater effort than speaking. Once they say no, then move on. If done well, nothing sells like a live person.

Further information about LivePerson's services is available at their website,

LivePerson Delivers Innovative Customer Service Solutions and Advice is republished from
Vicky Nolan
Vicky Nolan