I called my bank recently because they had tried reaching me, and the agent had left a voicemail, only to find a voicemail at their end: “Sorry we are closed on Saturday afternoons.”

I was a bit surprised as I thought that we are now in a 24/7 environment where the bank would always take calls? Then I was thinking to myself, is my own bank really so far behind the curve on customer services that they don’t take phone calls at the weekend?

I started exploring the web, to consider what might be a new trend in the customer service area.

Of course, there are all kinds of new social media trends taking off right now and I do think that this will be important soon; maybe not quite today, but in the near future for sure. I’m not going to ask my bank for a statement on Facebook, but I might complain about their poor service on Twitter, so there is going to be a lot of activity here.

But what really interested me about the things taking place right now were the changes in how chat is being used. Instant Messaging (IM) has been used for years, for fun and for business. Many firms now use IM as a serious business tool because it sits somewhere between a phone call (disruptive) and an email (asynchronous). But so many firms are now locating a click-to-chat button on their website and taking advantage of this.

It’s hard to get a customer to call. They feel that once they call they will be sold to, you will have their number, there are all kinds of psychological reasons why they might not call you. But if there is a chat button on your website, it still gives them the instant feedback a phone call would, but without the fear factor. That’s an important distinction.

And corporate IM from websites has now developed further. Imagine being able to monitor where your customer is browsing on your website, then if certain attributes are triggered – say they are comparing different products – you can get your own agent to pop up a chat window without the customer asking for it… but with a friendly message such as ‘can I help you decide?’ That’s a powerful tool for converting sales.

I think we have rather ignored chat in all the focus on call centres. With the new emphasis on social media it could be too easily forgotten – there is still an immense amount of business benefit to be explored in the world of click-to-chat.