The green chat bubble button in the lower corner of Taco Bell’s website —whether accessed on computers or smartphones — begs to be clicked.
And like rubbing a magic lantern, customers find a real person will respond to address concerns or answer questions about the brand.
Irvine, Calif.-based Taco Bell Corp. for the past four months has been fine-tuning its live chat feature, and its customer-care team has engaged in more than 100,000 conversations with consumers.
“It has exceeded our expectations in a great way,” said Lawrence Kim, Taco Bell senior director of e-commerce and digital innovation, in an interview with NRN on Thursday. “We did not expect we would scale this as quickly as we did.”
With 6 million visitors to the ta.co (or tacobell.com) website each month, the company decided that was where to launch live chat, which it did in August after a test that began in May.
“If you look at the best-in-class industries today, whether it’s retail, travel or entertainment, the way they are engaging with their customers in chat is becoming very robust,” Kim said. “We’re figuring out how not to emulate it but how to customize it for our fans.”
Kim added that Taco Bell wanted to integrate its live chat into customer care and expand the service to overall customer engagement.
Avery Block, Taco Bell manager of customer care, said the brand’s six customer-care agents staff the live chat button as well as respond to consumers on social platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Issues and compliments are reported back into the corporate team with a labeling system on topics, she said.
“We went into live chat with the initial assumption that it would be another platform or tool for customers to essentially share their dissatisfaction or complaints,” Block said.
“It’s actually been equal — if not more on — general questions, such as ‘How do I apply for a job at Taco Bell?’ or ‘Hey, when is a certain product coming back?’ One of the biggest topics we get questions around is about nutrition, such as vegetarian items or what is gluten-free.”
The six agents run shifts on live chat as well as the other platforms, she said.
Block said all the agents are trained with a 360-degree-view of the company, including public relations, quality assurance, food innovation, human resources departments and operations.
“They are trained to answer any of these questions,” Block said. “We think of them as an online concierge in a way. Any question that comes through, they are able to get the answer.”
While Taco Bell has tested an artificial-intelligence-style Tacobot on Slack, the team-messaging platform, it decided to go with actual human employees for the live chat service.
“We’re not robots online,” Block said. “We are people helping people. We give them that flexibility to be themselves and act as a person. … At the end of the day, service involves being human.”
Kim added that Taco Bell has had “a lot of discussions about what’s next with artificial intelligence. There’s no question that the human element is so priceless. That true one-on-one personalization is not mastered in the A.I. world yet.”
When the live chat is not staffed at Taco Bell headquarters, the chat button on the website can instantly be removed, Kim said.
Peak live chat hours are lunch and dinner times across Taco Bell’s 7,000 restaurants nationally.
“People often leverage live chat — as dangerous as it sounds — while they are waiting in the drive-thru,” Kim said. “They get on the ta.co on their mobile phone and start chatting. They are living in an on-demand world, and they want us on demand.”
Taco Bell uses analytics to determine peak hours to staff its Social Command Center for live-chat and real-customer response on Twitter and Facebook.
“With our analytics, we can analyze when the peak hours of traffic are and the agents in our Social Command Center will handle the live chat, real-time customer response on Twitter and Facebook, which are huge platforms for communication,” Kim added.
The Command Center agents can also go old-school analog, which Kim said has been a pleasant surprise for some of those customers using the live chat button. Agents will send a handwritten card via snail mail to follow up on conversations and perhaps include a coupon for a free item.
“We’re excited to see where it goes next,” Kim said. “Innovation will keep leading up forward.”