LivePerson focuses on the human touch

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Online customer support service LivePerson will unveil a redesigned Web site in July, seeking to boost awareness of its service among online merchants.

LivePerson, New York, in April enlisted Digital Pulp, New York, to create ads and revamp the site, which will feature a new logo and the tagline, "Give your site a pulse." A trade print campaign will break at the same time to attract new clients. LivePerson has earmarked more than $250,000 to promote its service through Digital Pulp's work, which also could include consumer print and online banner advertising.

LivePerson provides interaction between e-commerce sites and online shoppers. LivePerson hosts the service on its site, maintaining servers and databases; clients don't have to install any hardware or software. Clients place LivePerson icons on their sites, which link to an online customer service rep (employed by the client) when customers click on them.

The service allows real-time communication via text-based chat in pop-up, on-screen dialogue boxes. Most e-commerce sites lack that capability, said Robert LoCascio, president-CEO of LivePerson.

"In the real world, we are used to talking to humans. You can't automate the customer service process," he said. "Putting the human back in the [online shopping] process is such a simple idea, but it works."

MORE THAN 50 CLIENTS Since launching in November, LivePerson has picked up more than 50 clients, including CBS SportsLine's iGo International Golf Outlet, a golf equipment retailer; Cook Express, a cooking ingredient retailer and delivery service; perfume retailer Fragrance Counter; and NationsBank's CarFinance.com, a site to get car loans.

This week LivePerson announces online community Sixdegrees as a new client. It also announces it recently secured $4.6 million in financing.

LivePerson is not the only solution available to online merchants; Acuity Corp., Brightware and

eShare Technologies are examples of companies that offer customer service applications. Such software can help e-commerce sites generate more sales by reacting quickly to consumers while they are in the mood to buy.

But these companies sell instant-answer software that online merchants must install and maintain themselves, a more costly alternative to an outsourced service, Mr. LoCascio said.

Outsourced customer support, in particular, is a huge growth area, said Jae Kim, an analyst with consultancy Paul Kagan & Associates.

"With the rate at which [online retailers] are burning through cash, there is not a lot of money left over to bring it in-house. Outsourcing is a more efficient way to spread out the cost of customer service for the online retailer," Mr. Kim said.

"Customer service is horrible or non-existent on the Web," he said. But businesses "are all waking up to the need to prioritize customer service."

For merchants, "the holy trinity of Web retailing" is managing customer acquisition costs, keeping customers and increasing sales per customer, Mr. Kim added.

Copyright June 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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