By Adam Stass

Today’s retail businesses have invested heavily in marketing, sales and services resources to give their online presence a much-needed competitive edge. It starts with a great web site, compelling goods and services easily purchased with the click of a button, and a support team standing at the ready to provide technical or sales assistance on the phone.

But what happens after hours? Or when volume is heavy and your resources are unavailable?  Or when a consumer has a quick question that needs to be answered before the sale is made online? When consumers physically walk into a store or place of business, the first thing you do is welcome them and say, “How can I help you?” A website should be no different. A site with no online communication medium is like a retail store with no employees to greet their visitors. And let’s face it: most websites are just not optimized for welcoming visitors when they arrive.

Live chat was created to give you the perfect communications channel to keep customers engaged the moment they get to your website. Many sports teams, who sell tickets and other items online to large audiences, have discovered that online chat gives them that strong after-hours presence so they can convert more leads, improve engagement and build a customer-first brand. Here are tips from five professional franchises that can help your business too, no matter what industry you’re trying to be a champion in.

1. Be Proactive with Chat, Not Reactive

The Philadelphia Flyers are a good example of an organization that added live chat to their website to improve online sales and service. At first, they simply put a chat notification on all sales pages for season tickets, premium seats and club boxes, just waiting for customer to click for help. Then after some experimentation, they transformed to a “proactive chat” approach, where, after 30 seconds on a page, visitors are greeted by a pop-up chat window offering immediate assistance.

The organization likens proactive chat to a helpful sales associate in a clothing store. Customers know they can approach someone at the counter if they have a question, but they tend to buy more and feel better about their experience if someone approaches them and offers assistance. Instant engagement means the customer stays longer and conversion rates go up. The Flyers have generated $335,000 in revenue from chat since they started, and proactive chat is generating 2.8 times as much revenue as the reactive approach.

2. Let Data Feed Your Tactics

The Orlando City SC soccer organization similarly implemented online chat to speed the sales process and grow online sales volume. The management team was intent on tracking their performance and experiences to continually improve results. Most online chat systems provide great analytics capabilities for just such a purpose. By reviewing chat transcripts and reports, Orlando City SC got a real-time look at ebb and flow trends on the website, saw what questions are commonly asked, and were able to identify missed chats for future lead follow-up.

For this franchise in particular, the data revealed the growing number of Latin American tourists that came to town for soccer games. To keep pace, they grew their team of Spanish and Portuguese speaking reps to man the chat lines. Chat enables the team’s agents to turn a service- or inquiry-related chat into a ticket renewal or a new sale. Going into their yearly ticket sales season, they had already closed more than $500,000 in ticket sales through online chat.

3. Chat Means Sales, Not Just Service

Chat has proven to be a winning approach for closing more deals online, and many of those opportunities started as service requests. Many customers initially need help accessing something or just getting information. But by having a sales rep available to field the chat, an inquiry can quickly be converted to a sale.

Upselling was a key strategy for the Seattle Sounders FC soccer team. Online chat enabled them to not just sell seats but also upsell buyers and educate fans on the stadium and the team. Live chat allowed their ticket reps to multitask by answering several chats and phone calls at the same time.

On many websites, even when visitors are ready to buy, they are faced with a disjointed order, payment and delivery process. During that critical time, there is always the chance a visitor will abandon, reconsider, or just delay the buying decision. Chat enables a rep to guide a visitor through the process, even using the chat window to close the deal right then and there, as much as tripling shopping cart conversions.

4. Mobile Enables Anytime, Anywhere Sales

In 2014, as they approached the NBA finals, the San Antonio Spurs’ ticket agents saw a big uptick in website visits for tickets. They were able to handle the increased volume because of chat’s mobile capabilities. Whether they’re working at the office or catching a game on TV at home in the evening, sales reps were able to keep the chat app open on their computer or mobile device and take an incoming inquiry.

The chat teams are now enabled to generate leads in the office and out of the office and are not limited to a 9-5 schedule. For the Spurs, it was also easy to route email messages that came in via the website to chat reps, wherever they are, to respond, give fast customer service and get deals closed any time. During their NBA finals run, the Spurs were able to easily handle a 184% increase in volume. Chat made it easy for sales reps to better manage their workflow and sell more tickets.

5. Build Better Customer Relationships Online

In the end, customers just want a little TLC. Statistics show that 45% of U.S. consumers will abandon an online transaction if their questions are not addressed quickly. Live chat enables you to connect with online visitors the same way you do in person.

For Pocono Raceway, more and more fans were choosing to purchase tickets online. Consequently, it was critical that they provide the same level of customer service to the online customer as they did on the phone. In an increasingly digital, on-demand business environment, they made every effort to stay relevant and be available to fans however and whenever they choose to engage with them. Online chat gave them agility and empowered the organization to cultivate a powerful one-on-one relationship with fans. For customers who aren’t used to a great online experience, chat almost always brings them back for more.

Adam J. Stass is responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations, including new business, partnership development, and building the company’s overall brand. Adam and his executive team have helped WebsiteAlive grow over the last five years.