Saturday, September 24, 2005

WMC Interviews: Farrakh Azhar

I had the distinct pleasure this week of talking to Farrakh Azhar, founder and CEO of WebGreeter / LiveAdmins. While there are several companies that offer Web site chat software, WebGreeter is unique in offering both the software (hosted) and the operators who handle the chat sessions. In short, WebGreeter customers not only have no software to install, they also don't have to staff the Web chat function. Customers pay only for what "chat resources" they use, and still get all the advtanges of greeting prospects as they visit their sites: increased visit length, greater "stickiness," and ultimately higher conversion of visitors to customers.

WebMarketCentral (WMC) : What did you do before starting WebGreeter / Live Admins?

Farrakh Azhar (FA): I began my professional experience as a businessman, helping the family-business in Import/Export, Retail and Manufacturing. After graduating from Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in 1991, I started working for International Business Machines (IBM), assisting them in Data Networking and Operations. Later, I became a consultant and started designing, engineering and implementing large IT infrastructure projects for fortune 500 clients.

My consultancy experience increased by accepting assignments related to IT infrastructure projects with large IT bases such as Ameritech/SBC, People’s Gas (Gas Company of Chicago) Key Stone Steel Mill, The U.S. Military and Chicago Public Schools (one of the largest school systems in the U.S.).

I joined ABN AMRO in 1997 as a Project Manager in the Network Services Group and was promoted to Senior Project Manager and Systems Officer after six months.

I went on to help the bank develop project management lifecycles and processes in order to make the deliverables produced by the IT organization more market driven and cost effective, making products more attractive for the potential customers and enhancing the efficacy of the entire process. I also helped the bank build a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) team, service level management team, and a procurement team.

WMC: How, when and why did you get started in this business?

FA: It was while I working with Fortune 500's of Chicago develop and implement business and technical processes that I struck upon the idea on an online live service support team. So, I did some research, wrote an 80-page business plan, decided to start my own business, and started working on it. This, coupled with my process engineering background and business sense that I had acquired earlier, helped me with the execution on this business plan. It seemed like a logical progression at the time.

WMC: Who do you target, i.e. describe your ideal or typical client?

FA: Our business strategy has been to grow from smaller customers to larger ones, and therefore we have been targeting larger customer as we go along. Currently we are targeting customers with a large web presence in the retail space who can utilize both our customer service and sales support abilities.

WMC: What is your key differentiator (or differentiators), that is, what separates you from your competition?

FA: Well, we do not have much of a competition today in our space. But, we do have a bunch of businesses who are trying to sell software-only solutions. We are in the business of providing the human representatives who sit behind the computer screens all day long and greet every one who lands on our customer's website. This is what differentiates us from all the rest of the businesses associated with the Live Chat support space.

WMC: How do you market/promote your business?

FA: We use multiple marketing methods such as outbound call centers, email, search engine marketing (SEM), banners, PR, and last but not the least, word of mouth which has proven to be the foremost and best marketing strategy for us by far.

WMC: What’s the biggest or most important marketing lesson you’ve learned since you founded Live Admins?

FA: My biggest lesson learned was when I decided to put my staff on the phones and chat at the same time. We learned the hard way, that once you put a person on the chat, he/she can not work the phones. This is because, once you are on the phone, you cannot do anything else. Since then, we have had two different teams, one for chat support and one for phone support. I will urge other organizations who are thinking of implementing chat and phone support utilizing the same people to learn from our mistakes. Think through your call center processes before you do this; for the most part I recommend the two separate teams theory.

WMC: Anything else you’d like to add?

FA: Another lesson I learned was not to spend our marketing dollars on print media. I was spending huge amounts on print media and chamber of commerce-type networking which did not materialize for us at all. The reason: our customers are predominantly web-driven people who understood the web very well, and are most were getting their information from the web for most of their business and personal requirements.

Also you can get a clearer picture of the workings of our service from the following press release:

Web Greeters Offer Opportunity to Keep in Touch With Online Visitors

CHICAGO (May 5, 2005) – Online businesses are in a fierce competition to lure in visitors to their sites and turn those visitors to customers. Still, between 95 percent and 97 percent of them click away within two minutes.

A 3-year-old company in Chicagoland has come up with a simple but smashing solution: Web Greeters. Web Greeters offers Web site owners an opportunity to keep in touch with their online visitors in real time with real salespeople available on the Web site. The idea is not to wait for the visitor to click but to greet every qualified visitor and say: "Hello. I am the Web site greeter. How can I help?" before they end up on a competitor's Web site.

"After providing this service for the past three years and our extensive research before that, we found that most visitors who end up on a Web site by mistake leave within the first 30 to 40 seconds," said LiveAdmins CEO and founder Farrakh Azhar. "The rest would click away usually to a competitor's Web site within 2 minutes. Of the ones who stayed for 2 minutes, they can’t even remember which site they visited the next morning. Because of this knowledge, we greet the visitor first to engage them in a pleasant chat and to keep them on the site longer.

"Our service not only provides a software tool but also a small team of well-trained sales personnel allocated to each specific Web site operating from remote locations in Asian countries. These Web greeters help visitors browse through the site, provide information and answer queries.

"Apart from our research findings and the extensive training our operators go through, our operators also have real-time information about each visitor on screen such as from which site they are coming from, on which page of the Web site they are currently on, what they are reading and how long have they been here. All this information provided by our software helps our operators in their decision-making process while they greet each visitor individually to convert them into customers.

“During our three years of experience, we manage to keep between 10 percent and 35 percent of visitors on the site whereas without Web greeters only between 3 percent and 5 percent of visitors stay on a site for more than 2 minutes. That is a substantial increase in the conversion ratio with the help of Web greeters.

"We have also found out that the number of visitors willing to continue a chat with our greeters varies in different industries. The percentage for the least-likely industry comes to average 10 percent, which again is a substantial number.

"These percentages are indicative of visitors who not only willingly chat with our greeters but also trust them to leave their phone numbers along with e-mail addresses for further contact. In contrast, only about 3 percent of visitors leave their contact information on a site and that mostly is just an e-mail address.

"To visitors who decline to chat, our greeters are trained to say: 'Thanks for coming to our Web site. If you need any help, feel free to click on the button and I'll be here to help.'

"We have found that between 20 percent and 30 percent of the visitors who initially decline to chat but continue browsing by themselves end up clicking for the online help once they have settled into the site. It was also found that the response was much better if the look and feel of the chat window was customized to integrate with the Website design.

"When we asked the owners what they felt was the best feature of the service, most said that the best part of the service is that it is provided for 12 hours, which spans working hours across all time zones in the U.S. Our business is kept open even during off hours of the day with a polite and professional salesperson who gives the visitor a feeling that we care while generating many more qualified leads.

"We're the most experienced company in the area of implementing chat-based Web site customer service and sales support. We have put in a lot of research and effort into learning what to say, how to say it, when to say it and when to throw a smiling face to ease difficult moods. We found that between 25 percent and 30 percent of second-time visitors ask to talk to the same live agent they chatted with before, which is proof of Web greeters building relationships with customers to benefit the sites.”

The service becomes very affordable as compared to phone-based call center services since live Web greeters can have multiple conversations simultaneously. This enables the Web site owners to greet and get in touch with many more visitors for much less and even during late and off hours of the day.

A testimonial from one of our satisfied customer sums it all: “We are very happy with the service," said Verne Harnish, a member of Gazelles. "The key point you need to make is that having a Web site without a Web greeter is like having a store without any people in it. I couldn’t imagine walking into Nordstrom and just wandering around while hoping to find something and then purchasing it. While some people might like this, I like to walk up to a person, tell them what I’m looking for and have them take me right to where it is.”

More testimonials are available online here: You can view a TV interview with Azhar here: A list of present customers can be made available on request.

To view this document online please go to :


Terms: online chat, chat software, search engine marketing, SEM, Web Greeter, WebGreeter, Live Admins, LiveAdmins

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