June 8, 2015

Finnchat brings human interaction to online shopping

The three-person team has grown to 60 in three years. Finnchat has an office in Jyväskylä and Berlin.
HANNU RAINAMO

Who said Finns don’t talk? Online live-chat provider Finnchat has grown from three people to dozens, and now it’s trying to – literally – spread the word in the international market, too.

Shopping online can sometimes be frustrating. Is this product better than the other? Why does this cost more than that? Where do I find information about delivery costs?

A few years ago the CEO of Finnchat, Roope Rämänen, had his own online store, and he wanted his customers to be able to get help from an expert if they so wished.

“The core idea was that although business is moving online, shopping doesn’t need to be all technology. In a normal store there’s always a person asking if the customer needs assistance. We figured this would be doable online as well.”

Because there was no one to provide such a service, Rämänen himself decided to arrange a real-time chat. The post was made full-time by serving a couple of other web shops, too.

An idea born as a side project grew so big that now Rämänen’s former shop is run by others. Finnchat Ltd was registered in May 2012.

Big ones went first, other big ones followed

”Unfortunately many Finnish companies choose to stay in the domestic market, and if they go abroad, the volume is small. That’s why we lack international success stories,” says CEO of Finnchat Roope Rämänen.

”Unfortunately many Finnish companies choose to stay in the domestic market, and if they go abroad, the volume is small. That’s why we lack international success stories,” says CEO of Finnchat Roope Rämänen.

HANNU RAINAMO

Rämänen founded Finnchat together with the now CSO Tiina Lindroos. At first they only had one chat operator. In the beginning they were supported by the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, and Finnchat was also made part of the Young Innovative Companies programme by Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation Tekes.

”Unfortunately many Finnish companies choose to stay in the domestic market, and if they go abroad, the volume is small. That’s why we lack international success stories,” says CEO of Finnchat Roope Rämänen. (Photo: Hannu Rainamo)

Rämänen says the company was lucky with its first customers. A big Finnish retailer Kesko started using Finnchat’s service in their very first summer, and another big name, S-ryhmä, followed later with its department stores and hypermarkets.

”Because big companies had faith in us and gave us good references, we’ve managed to get other big names on our list,” says Rämänen.

The team had grown from three to near 60 in less than three years. In addition to the headquarters in Jyväskylä, Finnchat has a six-person office in Berlin.

In order to help the customer with choosing, for example, a television, the chat operator needs to be familiar with the range of products. Rämänen points out that the staff members are divided into teams based on their expertise to ensure they really are able to help.

”That’s how real-life department stores work as well: certain people take care of the clothes department and others sell electronics.”

Because of holidays and breaks people sometimes jump between sectors. However, according to Rämänen a situation in which one chat operator deals with two competitors’ web shops simultaneously never occurs.

Win-win for both buyer and seller

When Finnchat saw daylight, there were no similar service providers available. In the last six months Rämänen has noticed that companies of its kind are becoming more and more common.

He believes that the strength of Finnchat lies in their expertise in online shopping and digital marketing. When the team understands the needs of each individual customer, after the transaction both buyer and seller are left feeling content.

”Let’s say someone wants to buy a printer, but the package doesn’t include a cable with which it can be connected to the computer. The customer will be upset if the device isn’t instantly usable. When we can avoid such situations, the buyer deems it good customer service and for the retailer it’s increase in sales.”

Going for several countries and languages

“The core idea was that although business is moving online, shopping doesn’t need to be all technology. In a normal store there’s always a person asking if the customer needs assistance. We figured this would be doable online as well,” Rämänen says.

“The core idea was that although business is moving online, shopping doesn’t need to be all technology. In a normal store there’s always a person asking if the customer needs assistance. We figured this would be doable online as well,” Rämänen says.

FINNCHAT

Although the word Finland echoes in the name Finnchat, Rämänen wishes the company to come across as international.

”Unfortunately many Finnish companies choose to stay in the domestic market, and if they go abroad, the volume is small. That’s why we lack international success stories.”

First Finnchat wants to make its name familiar in Germany, and then spread elsewhere. Rämänen dreams of signing contracts with local big retailers, the likes of Kesko in Finland.

The markets in the US are also of interest. Another idea is to offer multinational corporations services customised for the needs of certain countries in Europe.

“It’s really important for us that our sales teams are native in their area and understand the field they work in. For example, in Germany it’d be hard to sell anything without speaking German.”

Despite the fact that big customers have their own teams within Finnchat, Rämänen deems it sensible for companies to outsource their chat services.

”It’s not only about cost-effectiveness, but the expertise we can offer. That brings results and increases productivity,” he mentions.

Finnchat keeps growing, and a new customer almost always spells new recruits.

“If the customer is very big, we might need dozens of new people at once. It’s realistic to think there might be a hundred of us this time next year.”

Anne Salomäki

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