Argos has put live chat and social at the heart of a contact strategy that helps the firm answer customer questions quicker and more effectively.

Speaking at RBTE 2016 on Thursday, James Leech, service lead in customer services at Argos, said the retailer started putting a new contact strategy together from 2012 onwards.

The strategy aims to orchestrate the firm’s various channels and to create a customer-centric view. The move was in response to a rapid rise in online traffic. In 2008, Argos received 251 million web site visits; now, the figures stands at more than 500 million a year.

“Our customers want to serve themselves,” said Leech, suggesting people are less likely to be satisfied if they have to spend too much time ringing customer services. “People need instant responses and they want the retailer to understand their preferences and requirements.”

Leech said online services, like live chat, can hep customers get answers to questions at a time that is convenient to the user. Specialist Argos staff can help answer specific questions for areas such as product specification and delivery schedules.

“We’ve still got a long way to go but what we’ve found is that customers really love live chat,” he said. “It’s becoming their channel of choice for questions that need answering.”

When it comes to social, Leech said companies must be careful not to re-invent the wheel. Rather than assuming the same principles apply as in offline conversations, retailers need to spend time developing policies and procedures.

“We don’t have all the answers but certain issues are key,” he said, before referring to the importance of having a trained team who take an integrated approach to specific questions.

Leech said the most effective conversations often involve taking a risk. One of Argos’ most popular tweets involved a customer service assistant using street slang with a customer.

“You’ve got to get the right people manning your social conversations,” he said. “You’ve got to remember that social is not a traditional channel – you need a tailored approach.”