SOCAP International

Case Study: Chat and Small Teams—It Can Be Done

A small consumer affairs team shifted management’s thinking and became the first in their space to implement chat.

It seems like no one in our industry can get enough insight on the social customer journey. Everyone wants to be riding the wave of the future and always be one-step ahead of the social curve, but for small teams with limited budgets this can be scary and almost seem impossible. Well it’s not!Chat

At Well Pet, we offer live chat to our consumers on two of our brand pages (Wellness Natural Pet Food & Holistic Select Natural Pet Food) and have found that the majority of our chat contacts are looking for quick answers. We are a pet food company, so most contacts are looking for where to buy our products, how to get coupons or samples and nutritional information on our products.

Our chat volumes are not huge, but we’re not specifically looking at a ROI on the technology. Instead, we’re interested in offering our consumers a unique and fairly unused contact method within the pet food market.


Our Journey

How did we get there?

The key was senior-level buy in. At the time (late 2011), chat was a unique and untapped contact method in the pet food market. Members of the consumer affairs team brought the idea to our VP of Marketing. Once the senior leadership team realized that we would be the first natural pet food company to offer live chat, they loved the idea.

It was also important that the consumer affairs team shift the senior leaderships’ thinking from seeing chat as a “monthly expense” to a “new contact method” for consumers. Again, once they understood and realized the potential of this unique avenue for consumers to contact us, and that we would be the blazing the path in pet food, they were on board. The clincher, though, was a two-minute chat we did with our CEO; he was impressed with experience and was immediately on board.

How did we implement?

We rolled out our live chat in two stages: Holistic Select Natural Pet Food and then Wellness Natural Pet Food. Our Holistic Select chat was rolled out over a seven-month period. We didn’t start with our most popular brand homepage, but chose to launch on our second most visited brand homepage since we didn’t truly know what to expect. Below is a rough timeline:
  • Three months for researching chat options/vendors
  • Three months for back end set-up
  • One month for “test” site development and training
  •  “Go Live” for seven months

Our Wellness chat implementation was rolled out much quicker, in just two months! 

What did we learn?

The thought was that our total phone contact volume would decrease. The assumption was that the consumers who chatted with us were likely going to call us. That was simply not the case. We’ve actually found that those consumers who contact us via chat are new contacts who have never contacted us before. The general feeling is that live chat is their preferred contact method and now that it was available, they were eager to use it.

Another quick learning was staffing. We didn’t know exactly how to plan so during the first month or so we shifted from dedicated coverage to a queueing system. While it’s not currently integrated into our phone queueing system, it works well for our team.

We also learned chat etiquette rapidly, including:
  • Letting the consumer end the chat conversation whenever possible
  • Asking someone to call us instead of handling a touchy subject over chat
  • When and when not to engage in “txt type” conversations
  • The importance of email follow-ups is for dropped chats


What would we do different?

Ask for help! When we started researching chat, we did not involve any of our SOCAP contacts. Big mistake! Although my pet specific contacts were limited at the time, I didn’t even reach out to other CPG SOCAP friends. In hindsight I should have, as they’re always willing to share what did and didn’t work for them and their perspectives about the channel in general. They’ll also comment on your plans with open and honest feedback.

So yes, even a small team of five full-time representatives with a limited budget can launch chat. Take a giant leap and put your company on the cutting edge of the social customer journey. Now that we have this experience under our belt, I’m happy to share our learnings—feel free to reach out to me, and good luck on your chat journey!

Jon Cox HeadshotJon Cox is consumer affairs manager at Tewksbury, Mass.-based WellPet. Over the past 12 years, he has worked on the operations and product development teams, and in his current role has reshaped the consumer affairs team into five full-time positions. His team has helped bring social-media coverage and tracking in-house and make WellPet the first natural pet food company to offer chat. They are currently working on making WellPet txt enabled and Next Caller functional.