And what exactly is Smart Agent?
"It's a virtual chat agent that's created using artificial intelligence [AI] methodologies, such as natural language parsing and key word expression along with brand-approved messaging to provide intelligent, on-demand answers people's questions and concerns online," explains Rick Bennink, CEO of Exit-Chat. "When a customer exits a site, the Smart Agent pops up to try to save a sale or lead generation. For the consumer they benefit from quick and accurate answers to their product or purchasing questions and are also lured back to the point of sale by discounts or incentives offered by the Smart Agent. By using the Smart Agent chat, we are able to recapture and increase sales anywhere from five to 20 percent of our customers' daily sales rate, all on a performance basis. Within the adult clients we already have using this live chat, we average an increase in actual sales of around 10 percent. And since it's performance based, there's no risk for any customer to come on board and try our technology."
The basic purpose of Smart Agent is to re-engage customers that are leaving websites of Exit-Chat clients, to recapture not only lost sales and lost leads, but also to use the technology to up-sell and cross-sell customers on the Internet.
"We assist in the cancel process to try to keep the customer engaged," Bennink adds, "and ultimately keep them in the sales cycle for a company. When a customer visits a site, clicks on the join form, and then closes their browser, our Alert Confirm Window pops up. It asks the consumer's permission to connect him to a chat agent. If the consumer clicks OK, the connection is made- unobtrusive, streamlined and easy."
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this technology is that the Smart Agent isn't a live agent at all; saving customers the hassle of hiring personnel to support online retail and also providing them with a voice online when they wouldn't have otherwise had the bandwidth. Smart Agent is based on AI, using natural language expression for smart conversation and is able to initiate 10-10 million conversations simultaneously.
"We do all the heavy lifting for our clients," Bennink says. "We build a script similar to a call center, which reiterates the features, services and benefits of a site. We make the implementation for our customers as simple as the four-step cut-and-paste Java code. Getting it launched is as simple as Google Analytics. If there is customization involved, our team does all the heavy lifting for our clients, as well."
The technology behind Smart Agent has been developed and proven now for seven years, by the lead partner, USI Technologies, which partnered with Bennink's Columbus Integrated Advertising company in 2006.
"USI built the Smart Agent more for personal use within the AIM chat box," Bennink explains. "Honed by a background in computer science and a love for chatting online, it wasn't long until the developers realized the practical implementation of Smart Agent. We worked within the live chat arena, and realized that by reducing the cost of a live call center with live chat customer support, and taking it into the AI version, we were able to scale it tremendously to handle millions of chats at any given time for our customers. At the same time, we could make the experience enjoyable and useful for the user, giving them a reason to stay within the purchasing process.
"Our partner's technology launched in the mainstream almost three years ago and we entered the adult market about a year-and-a-half ago with great success behind the scenes. Now Columbus Integrated, the parent company of the Exit-Chat brand, exclusively manages the entire adult marketplace. We've had tremendous success working through issues within NATS and other tracking systems being able to parcel out traffic for console versus non-console, and customizing the chats according to our clients' needs. And if our clients want a little bit more of a branded look and feel or customization, we have those capabilities as well."
The ultimate objective of this technology is to assist in the recovery of lost traffic. It accomplishes this by giving the consumer added incentive to make a purchase. The system also is designed to answer customer questions and make them more comfortable with the purchasing process.
"We call it our save-a-sale application," Bennink says. "It's a recovery application designed to begin when consumers abandon the forms section of a website. We use it within the cancel process as well; both answering questions in the cancel process and reducing the volume of customer service calls. With the Smart Agent, we've had great success in recapturing customers and getting them to stay on as a discounted member."
Although the brand is just being launched, Exit-Chat has been in the market for some time now and already boasts of a clientele that includes some of the biggest brands in adult — Hustler, Girls Gone Wild, Friend Finder, Penthouse, and Red Light District — with a total of 35 clients contracted from the adult space, according to Bennink. The firm has been working with many of these clients for 18 months, testing the system to be prepared for any challenges from the consumer or business model aspects, and to better fit the model that's needed for the marketplace.
"Our clients hire us on a performance basis," Bennink explains, "so we're paid on either a flat per-sale or per-lead basis. We negotiate and structure with each client to try to fit into their affiliate model, or their cost-per-sale, cost-per-acquisition, or cost-per-lead model. We customize that aspect to make it affordable for the business owners, while making it a successful business model for us, as well."
Another advantage of using Smart Agent is that all the chat conversations are saved by Exit-Chat, and collated for its clients to provide them with vital customer feedback. This allows clients to know what their customers are saying in real time, regarding everything from billing options to problems with the site. The client can then adjust the site accordingly to optimize customer satisfaction.
And there's a huge advantage for the customer, too:
"On the consumer side, 98 percent of our clients offer some kind of a discounted trial deal, or a discounted full join," Bennink says. "So when the consumer engages in chat with the Smart Agent, he's ultimately getting a benefit, as well."
Exit-Chat has designed different chat personalities and settings for different sites. The client can choose from a straightforward, professional personality or a flirty personality, where the consumer can ask the Smart Agent where she lives, what she's wearing, what she likes, and so forth.
It's not surprising that client feedback to this new technology has been extremely positive. According to Bennink, one of his clients called it the most successful additional recovery solution he's ever seen.
"We're taking traffic that hasn't been converted, or taking current customers that aren't paying, and increasing the overall acquisition for each of our customer brands," Bennink explains. "In the adult realm, trying to capitalize on traffic and find any way to recapture and increase sales is the key."
And based on the early returns, Exit-Chat may have unlocked a treasure chest with that key.