- Live chat instantly connects customers to your business via instant messaging. Use it for order help, updates and more.
- Responding quickly, being empathetic and listening actively are top live-chat strategies for your customer service reps.
- Tools such as chat transcripts and surveys provide feedback to streamline and improve customer service via live chat.
- This article is for small business owners and managers who are interested in using live chat to improve the customer experience and encourage repeat business.
Businesses use various customer service solutions to provide support and information and boost customer retention. Support channels such as email, phone and social media help businesses connect with customers via their preferred method. Live chat is a relatively new support channel that offers the convenience of email with the immediacy of phone calls and the reach of social media.
We’ll explore live chat and highlight seven ways to optimize your live-chat support to create satisfied customers and manage customer relationships to ensure loyalty and repeat business.
What is live chat?
Live chat is an instant-message-like system that connects customers to support reps instantly. You’ve likely seen or used a live-chat option on a company’s website. Customers can avoid phone calls and wait times and type their questions into the system, and reps can often answer questions and solve problems immediately.
Adopting live chat can help your business in at least two ways:
- Customers appreciate additional options for addressing their needs.
- Your business can use information from chats to improve its products and services.
“Beyond making customers happier, chat provides businesses with rich quantitative and qualitative data,” said Karl Pawlewicz, former head of marketing communications for live chat software company Olark. “Businesses can look through real-time chat reports and understand when they’re busiest, which pages generate the most questions, what conversations are converting (to sales), what topics come up most often, how busy their service team [is] and so much more.”
Did you know?: Live-chat systems usually use customer service reps to respond to questions, but some chat systems use chatbots that rely on AI to interact with customers about simple queries.
How to improve your live chat for better customer service
Live chat helps customers get quick answers to problems and improves customer service. Live-chat best practices take the support channel to the next level to create an exceptional experience for your target customers.
When you’re implementing live chat on your company’s site, keep these seven best practices in mind:
1. Respond quickly to live-chat queries.
Customer satisfaction directly correlates with a quick response rate. Customers don’t want to sit in front of their computers, waiting for a greeting or reply.
“Customers prefer live chat because they can get an answer quickly,” Pawlewicz said. “When a customer starts a conversation, start with a quick response. This way, the customer knows they’ve reached a live person.”
For quick live-chat responses, follow these tips:
- Offer an immediate acknowledgment. Let the customer know you’re there to help and your goal is to solve their problem.
- Let the customer know if you need to step away. You may need time to absorb the situation and research an answer. Don’t go off-grid and leave them hanging. Instead, let them know they’re not alone and you need time to look into the issue. Respond instantly with something like, “I’m going to take a moment to look this over, OK?” Adding “OK?” helps the customer feel less like you’re behind a wall and more like you’re with them.
- Communicate about more challenging issues. Sometimes, customers send frantic messages about a concern that can’t be solved immediately. It’s essential to ensure every customer knows their request has been received. If more time is required to solve the issue, tell the customer you’re looking into it. Check back frequently to thank them for waiting, and let them know you’re still on the case. If additional research is needed, you may have to send a follow-up email with more information. Communicate what’s happening with their problem at every stage, and follow through with your promises.
Did you know?: Live chat isn’t just for customer interaction. Business chat tools, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, foster communication and collaboration while boosting employee engagement.
2. Listen actively during live-chat interactions.
You’re at an advantage with live chat because you can read what a person is saying and think for a few moments before typing a response. But this also means you need to respond to every detail of the conversation.
“It’s important when using chat for customer service to understand [in] full what the customer wants to do,” Pawlewicz said. “Communication happens quickly over chat, and sometimes what a customer types doesn’t fully convey what they’re trying to accomplish. … Let them fully explain the situation – then ask the right questions before offering a solution. Don’t rush to think you immediately know the answer.”
If a chat is moving too quickly, slow the pace so you can offer the best replies. “Be quick to respond but deliberate in how you solve problems,” Pawlewicz said.
3. Match your customer’s tone during live chat.
While live chats usually justify a friendly, conversational tone, some customers prefer more professional interactions, especially if they’re frustrated or apprehensive. You can still be personable, but consider your customer’s disposition and concerns before answering.
Here are some tips:
- Watch for verbal cues to inform your tone. Pick up verbal cues from the customer that tell you whether they prefer a more personal tone or a cooler, more professional approach. “Being human and playful is all well and good, but agents should also be able to recognize when it’s appropriate and when it’s not,” Pawlewicz said. “A customer who is frustrated may not appreciate a friendly emoji. A customer who is typing with pristine punctuation and grammar might not appreciate a response that’s all lowercase.” (Poor grammar and misspellings undermine your company’s professionalism with any customer.)
- Match your customer’s tone. It’s essential to match your customer’s tone. “Agents should be flexible and ready to adapt to their customer’s preferences to provide the best possible experience,” Pawlewicz said.
- Stay warm and friendly. No one wants to feel like they’re talking to a robot, even if they’re using a professional tone. No matter what, customer service specialists, including chat agents, should remain warm and friendly. “Don’t be afraid to inject your personality into the conversation,” Pawlewicz said. “Customers will appreciate it and may even come back asking for you the next time.”
4. Use empathy to think like the customer.
Beyond tone, it’s essential to empathize with your customer’s experience, especially if they’re having trouble. Put yourself into each customer’s shoes, and ask yourself, “How would I feel in this situation? What sort of response would help me feel like I was being understood and sympathized with?”
If a customer is happy, be happy with them. If they’re frustrated, show that you share their concerns and will help them as much as possible. Use “I” messages to convey empathy and show customers that you get their situation. For example:
- “Oh no; I hate when that happens.”
- “I know; it confuses me too sometimes.”
The more you empathize with a person, the more they’ll trust you. Treat your customers as you would a friend in need while establishing a professional relationship. People opt in to live chat because they value human interaction when they need help. Make sure you deliver just that.
5. Provide transcripts to improve the customer experience.
It’s a good policy for businesses and customers to provide a copy of the interaction between a team member and a customer. Here’s why:
- Transcripts give customers a sense of security. They know they have a record of the chat session and can refer to it for essential details.
- Transcripts protect your business. You’ll know exactly what your chat agent did and did not say and will be able to demonstrate it easily.
Tip: Use sentiment analysis on live chat transcripts to determine customers’ emotions and understand their expectations.
6. Use surveys to improve live-chat practices.
Customer surveys can improve and streamline customer support. Consider pre-chat surveys and post-chat surveys.
- Pre-chat surveys: A pre-chat survey helps route the customer and provides essential information to the agent. Rely on the pre-surveys to answer your customers’ questions as quickly as possible.
- Post-chat surveys: A post-chat survey provides you with feedback to improve your customer service.
7. Don’t overpromise during live chats.
Never promise something in a live chat that you aren’t absolutely certain you can deliver. Don’t feel so pressured by – or even sympathetic to – a customer that you say something you can’t take back.
If a customer is in touch because of an urgent need or is dissatisfied, an unfulfilled promise will only worsen their view of your company, marring your reputation. It’s much better to say something like, “I’m sorry, but that’s not something I can offer.”
Key takeaway: The best live chat apps can help you boost conversions in your e-commerce store because customers are less likely to abandon their shopping carts if they can address their concerns.
Make the most of live chat
Like all good business practices, live chat adds value to your company, but it also requires a bit of a balancing act. A good chat agent can make a positive impression on your customers, thus building customer loyalty, repeat business and word-of-mouth referrals.
Russ Mudrick contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.