Imagine walking into a store and seeing zero employees. As you wander the aisles, still no one is in sight. When you have a question about a product you’re interested in, you can’t find anyone to help. A website without a quick and clear way to reach a person is a lot like that. And that’s why live chat is an essential part of providing the kind of customer service necessary for success today.
To modern consumers, offering live chat is a signal that a business wants to connect, is open to feedback, and is focused on customer satisfaction. Furthermore, the simple appearance of being open and available goes a long way in making a potential customer feel comfortable opening an account or spending money on your website.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
Let’s dive in!
Adding live chat to your support channel offerings can feel like a daunting task. From scheduling agents to cover chat to making sure everyone is ready to offer real-time help, there’s a lot to think about. However, one thing that requires little thought is just how much your business can benefit from adding it to your customer support channels.
From an operations standpoint, it’s important to know that live chat is 50% cheaper than providing customer service over the phone. If you’re currently offering phone support, adding a chat tool in to ease some of the burden on your phone agents is a worth a try. You’ll provide your customers who prefer phone support with a new way to reach you and capture questions from those customers who avoid or dislike calling customer service phone numbers too. Plus, at 73%, live chat has the highest customer satisfaction rates of any customer service channel. By comparison, phone support only averages around 44%.
In this day and age, you can’t afford not to have live chat. More than half of all customers will abandon a purchase if they can’t get their questions answered quickly. Chat is the perfect way to capture those sales. With live chat, you can assist customers immediately to help them overcome any potential roadblocks while using your product or attempting to make a purchase. Chat has the added benefit of building trust with customers and increasing their confidence in your ability to help them whenever they need. You won’t need to talk to everyone, but you’ll be available when a customer needs you most.
Live chat isn’t just about answering questions and helping customers. It’s also a great tool for sales, marketing, and customer experience too. In fact, 44% of consumers say having live chat available to have questions answered during a purchase is one of the most important features a business can offer. Plus, even without actually participating in a chat, 63% of shoppers are more likely to return to your website simply because you offer it.
Live chat will decrease support costs, increase sales, and improve customer happiness, as well as increase trust and provide your customers with quick access to the help they need.
Live chat for sales and lead generation is underutilized by many. However, companies who use live chat see a 20% increase in conversions on average, so it’s worth the effort. Let’s take a look at how you can generate leads with a chat tool and why it works so well for sales:
Adding a chat tool to your website will change the way you generate leads. Instead of waiting and hoping for potential customers to volunteer their contact details, you can reach out to them directly.
Chat helps you gather leads in two key ways: by increasing the likelihood a website visitor will start a conversation with you and by reaching out to them proactively. By initiating a chat with a potential customer or allowing them to contact you during their visit, you’ll be reaching them at just the right moment. They’re already there browsing. Before they leave your site, being able to answer questions, share details, and ease any concerns is essential to gaining them as a lead and customer. By combining the power of live chat with your customer data collection efforts, you’re able to identify a person’s needs, their current status with your business, and connect with them at the right time in the right way.
To generate leads, it can be as simple as adding live chat to your website and inviting customers to enter their basic contact information — name, email address, phone number — upon initiating a chat. Even if they leave the chat before deciding to go with your product or completing a purchase, you’ll have captured their details and can follow up. And because the person was already on your site checking things out, you know they’re at least somewhat interested and a pretty solid lead. These types of prospective customers have potential that far exceeds any random contacts you reach out to who haven’t yet shown any interest in what you offer. Getting back to them quickly, and specifically, will put you way ahead of any competitors they might be considering.
With live chat enabled, even if your team can’t staff it around the clock, visitors can reach out any time they want. Depending on your team’s response times and availability, be sure to include a message to your visitors that helps them understand when they should expect a reply if it won’t be instant. No matter if you’ve got agents standing by to dive into a chat immediately or not, adding a chat tool to your website and including a simple, welcoming greeting — like, “Hi! Need any help?” — on specific pages is a great way to invite potential customers to reach out, therefore capturing the lead. Test out several simple greetings and page placements over time and watch for the ones that gets you the most engagement.
One major difference between traditional lead generation and generating leads using live chat is how proactive chat is. Cold calling (whether on the phone or over email) can be invasive and you rarely know much about the customer you’re trying to connect with. Over live chat, you can generate leads by responding to incoming chats started by potential customers and through chats you initiate with them. You already know the visitor is looking at your company. A simple invitation to chat — asking if they need any help as they check things out — is a great way to start. If the customer accepts, enters the contact information, and starts chatting, fantastic! You’ve got a new lead. And if they don’t, you probably didn’t bug them so much it annoyed them, so no harm done.
Live chat is the simplest way to increase your real-time website conversions. And considering the average landing page conversion rate is under 3%, you — like most businesses — probably have lots of room to improve. According to the American Marketing Association, customers who chat with a business are three times more likely to complete a purchase than those who don’t participate in a chat.
If you’re converting less than 3% of the time, launch chat and see how much you can improve. Or if some pages on your website are doing much better than others, it’s worth taking a look at the areas you’re generating fewer leads or conversions are underwhelming and trying out a chat option there to give those particular pages a boost. According to Forrester, 44% of online consumers say having a real person answer their questions during a website purchase is one of the top features a business can offer.
Brick-and-mortar stores are all about customer service to close the deal and there’s no reason your website can’t approach selling to your customers in the same way. With live chat you open the doors of communication and invite potential customers to connect with your team. Don’t leave them wandering your digital store aisles — the pages on your website — without any way to connect.
Live chat is perfect for providing customer service. It’s quick and efficient, and that’s exactly the kind of service customers want. But before launching chat, make sure to set your team up for success. Adding a chat tool to your website because you think you should without a solid plan can backfire in a big way. Before launching chat, make sure you’ve trained your agents, created a knowledge base, and written a collection of canned responses for your team to use.
As live chat becomes more common, customer expectations expand. With more opportunities to use chat to get help with an issue, customers experience varying levels of service. However you decide to use a chat tool, make sure your business is one of the good examples of doing it, rather than one people like to complain about to their friends. Providing customer service over live chat has the potential to result in a lot of happy customers. If you can manage to keep it quick, efficient, and accurate, they’ll be thrilled.
When you decide to add live chat to your customer service options, next you’ll need to decide where and when, create your canned responses, and prepare your team. Read on for details:
When you decide to add live chat customer service to your website, first you’ll need to decide where it’ll be. Will you offer chat support to every customer? Every paid customer? New customers during their first few months? If you can’t manage to staff live chat around the clock for every customer, think about when your customers are likely to need you most — in both time of day and in their customer journey — and prioritize chat then. Consider your goals when deciding where to launch chat. Do your customers send a lot of emails asking questions about basic tasks within your product? Allow them to access chat and help them find the documentation they need. Are you looking to increase sales when potential customers browse your product page? Set up proactive chat and greet them before they give up and move on.
Canned responses are pre-written blocks of text that you know you can re-use over and over again. They save time because you don’t have to write out a full response to your most common questions. It also keeps answers consistent across multiple agents — regardless of who on your team is chatting with customers. Brainstorm the questions your customers are most likely to ask in a chat and write canned responses for agents to use. Be sure the text is short enough to work well in a chat setting, and make sure your staff knows they should use them as a jumping off point and customize for each customer as needed. Your chat or ticketing system may have a spot for storing replies — Chatra does — or agents can use a tool like Text Expander.
If your agents are already experienced in other forms of online customer service, like email support, great! There is lots of overlap, so they won’t have a huge learning curve. However, there are some specific skills to develop for chat support, so be sure to help your team develop these before diving in and disappointing customers in real-time:
A Harvard Business Review study found that 84% of customers said their expectations weren’t met in their last interaction with a support team. When working in live chat, one way agents can very quickly disappoint a customer is by taking too long to get them the information they need. The customer likely started the chat with the expectation of speed, so anything less than basically instant is a letdown. To assist your customer service agents in providing the help a customer needs more quickly, create a knowledgebase full of helpful documentation they can link to when longer instructions are needed to solve a particular problem. Instead of writing out every detail, the agent can link to the document and the customer can refer to it anytime. Plus, once a customer uses the knowledgebase to find a solution to question, they’re more likely to check it out next time they need help, which is a good thing since the goal is to get them the answer they need as quickly as possible to avoid frustration.
Beyond the more obvious benefits listed above, a knowledgebase provides some other great results, like:
Beyond sales and customer service, live chat is a great tool for onboarding, soliciting product feedback, increasing customer engagement, and getting to know your customers better overall. Let’s take a closer look at how you can make each of those happen.
In addition to providing standard customer service or identifying sales leads, consider utilizing a chat tool for the following reasons too:
From sales to customer service, marketing, and beyond, your business is full of teams that can find benefits in using live chat. Keep reading for which ones and how.
Whether your sales team is focused on enterprise-level sales, upselling travel packages or running your eCommerce setup, live chat can help. With Chatra, you can invite potential customers or browsing shoppers to open a chat anytime, or reach out to them directly yourself. The ability to directly interact with a customer will help prevent losing them to confusion or frustration and get them over the first hurdles to deciding to spend their money with your business. Think of this as your chance for your in-store sales clerk to approach a customer and offer help. The key is to be there when they need you, but not bug them so much they want to leave. The effort is worth it and the results are clear: 79% of businesses say offering chat positively impacted their sales, revenue, and customer loyalty. Plus, over a third of customers are more likely to spend money on a website if it has live chat support.
Chances are, you’re selling something and you need people to buy it. Customer service over live chat is essential. According to Forrester, 83% of online shoppers report needing help at some point during the purchase process and over half of them will abandon their cart if they can’t find an answer to their question quickly. Whether it’s a new customer looking to make a purchase or an existing user who needs some help, providing customer service over live chat is a fantastic way to make more sales and improve customer happiness.
Is your product team in need of ways to get feedback directly from customers or ask them questions to achieve a better understanding of how people use your tools? Anyone who’s supported software or an online service knows customers are full of feedback they want to share and chat is the answer for your product team to receive it. Identify users — whether new or experienced — who may have insights the team could use and reach out to them for a chat. While not every request or complaint will result in a change for your product or service, compiling data from customers can be very beneficial as your product team addresses existing issues and maps out their plans for the future.
Wondering how customers or potential customers feel about your marketing efforts? Ask them. Live chat is a great spot to conduct user interviews or ask for feedback on marketing. For example, put a chat box on your pricing page to understand whether your value proposition is convincing prospects or falling flat. You may also want to use it to simply get to know your customers better too. The more you understand who they are, the better you’ll be able to target them with your marketing and serve them with your products in general.
If you’re a startup or your chat team is still small, it can be tricky to offer live chat 24/7. And you don’t need to, in order for live chat to be valuable! Instead of overworking your agents or hiring help too quickly, there are a few ways you can still introduce chat to your repertoire, while staying sane.
Part of offering live chat is knowing how and when to set expectations for your customers regarding when they should expect it to be staffed. While keeping chat open around the clock can be great, if that’s not an option, keep the following tips and tricks in mind to set your chat team up for success and minimize customer frustration:
Don’t just go online in the chat tool at random times on random days. Instead, make a plan for when chat will be available each day and let customers know. The reliability of offering specific times sets clear expectations for customers and reduces their likely frustration by not keeping them wondering when your agents will be around next.
Once you’ve decided when live chat will be open, you’ll need to map out your staffing plan to make sure you’ve got agents available when needed. The answer to this won’t necessarily be obvious — certainly not right away. Monitor incoming chats by hour as well as how many chats an agent can usually manage simultaneously on average to determine a good number of team members to have on for each hour. If chat demand tends to fluctuate a lot or drop off significantly at random, having agents on standby while working in other support areas may be a good solution. That way, you don’t have a bunch of people sitting around with nothing to do, but you have a plan for what to do if incoming chats spike unexpectedly.
Beyond the basic plan of when to open live chat, be sure to consider what happens when there isn’t an agent available to accept a new chat even though it’s open? Will customers be rerouted somewhere or will they leave an offline message? Will new chats sit in a queue waiting for the next available agent?
Once you’ve got your chat hours mapped out and your staff lined up, make sure your customers know what to expect. Add your operating hours on your support page, in your chat box, and anywhere else a customer is most likely to go when looking for a way to start a new chat. Even if you have to announce that you’re closed at the moment, the fact that you’re letting the customer know — and hopefully providing them details on when you’ll be back — will build trust and confidence. Plus, if you turn on the ability to accept offline chats, being away will go over even better. Allow customers to leave a message for you even when chat is closed so they know they’ve got their question on your radar. Bonus points if you hit your response time goals — like clearing out all offline chat messages within three hours on weekdays — often enough that you can share those details publicly too.
No matter how you decide to staff life chat, make sure it’s clear when you’ll be offline so customers know what to expect. Some people will plan to return when you’re online to ask their questions, while others will decide to leave a message while you’re away and wait for your reply.
How you handle offline chats, in particular, will depend on what works best for your team and product. Here are a few options:
If you decide to allow customers to leave messages when your live chat is offline, make a plan for how you’ll handle them. Should agents clear out the messages before opening live chat for the day so new chatters don’t take priority over people who actually reached out first? Or will your agents work through offline messages as they have time while chatting? However you choose to handle them, don’t let those messages languish unanswered. That’s a sure way to reduce customer trust and increase their frustration. Accepting offline messages is a promise that it’ll go somewhere to be answered when you’re back online.
Your chat tool should include a way to help manage offline messages. In Chatra, all unanswered conversations appear in “New” tab, so you can simply go to this tab and reply to the messages one by one. Alternatively, you can forward missed messages to your inbox and reply from there.
Once you’ve determined your live chat goals and considered staffing, it’s time to find the right tool for the job. First, make a list of the features you’d like — we’ll share some ideas in the next section — and write down a general idea of how you imagine it working.
Then, as you take a look at the options, consider the following questions to help narrow them down to the one that fits your needs best:
As you look for the right chat tool for your team, consider the following features and whether or not you need them:
By now you’re clear on what live chat is and when to use it, but what about chatbots? A chatbot is an automated communication with users within your live chat tool. So, should you use one? Let’s consider the pros and cons.
The best approach to using a chatbot is to use it alongside live chat powered by people. Use Chatra’s bot to welcome visitors and collect their contact details. Once a customer sends their first message, the bot will greet them and ask for the information you’ve set it up to request, before passing the chat off to an agent.
Once you’ve determined your live chat operating hours and which departments and agents will be chatting with users, it’s essential to set everyone up for successful collaboration. As you get started, be sure to:
To collaborate successfully, it’s critical to determine how chat transfers will be handled and for every agent to follow the guidelines consistently.
As you decide your transfer rules, be sure to:
In Chatra, agents can see chats of other agents in the “all” tab and choose to join the conversation if needed. This feature can come in handy when a manager is training a new chat agent. They can silently follow a chat and only jump in if the agent is making a mistake that’ll frustrate the customer. Once a chat is over, they can provide the agent with feedback and help them spot the areas to work on improving or where they’re all good.
Observing chats is also useful when an agent wants to see how their teammates work. No matter how experienced a chat agent is, seeing how someone else handles a chat is frequently beneficial. No one knows everything and different styles result in different outcomes, so observing other chatters is a great way to expand their skillset.
Or if an agent spots a chat from a customer who they recall helping previously, they can jump into the chat along with the other agent to share any details they may have or provide extra context to the agent behind the scenes to make the conversation go more smoothly.
Measuring the success of live chat is simple in some ways and tricky in others. While determining which metrics you’d like to track and compiling the related data is fairly straightforward, judging an agent’s particular chat style or conversational skills is more subjective and can be more difficult to clearly document and explain.
To measure the success of live chat, start with metrics. They allow you to set benchmarks and track progress toward goals. For example, when an agent is new to chat, it can be helpful to let them know what’s expected of them in terms of number of chats per day or how many chats they can handle at once at the beginning, then at 60 days into their employment, 90 days in, and so on.
In general, it’s best to make sure your metrics fit within the guidelines of SMART Metrics. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Accurate, Realistic, and Timely.
Let’s take a look at what each of those means:
When deciding on which metrics to track, consider these three questions:
Each of these questions is key when selecting your metrics at any level — individual, team, or company-wide. Let’s take a look at them:
Make sure the point of the report isn’t the report itself. Collecting data just to do it is a waste of time and won’t be useful to the business. Understand why you’re tracking a specific metric and how it can be used to make an impact.
Consider who the metric is for and report it in a way that will make sense to them. For example, a support ops lead may want to know the rate at which customers use live chat, while a product person will be more interested in a metric like how many people have adopted the new feature they added last month.
What’s the point? Make sure any metrics you track and report on have a purpose. While there are plenty of numbers you can present to impress people at a glance, the metrics are impressive for the long haul are the ones that truly reflect the work and a team’s progress at reaching their goals. Choosing certain metrics can also drive specific behavior — so identify what impact this metric will have on what your team does to achieve it.
Several metrics work across several areas of support, so you may be familiar with them even if you haven’t started using them for chat yet. As you decide what kind of data would be useful to your team and when making business decisions, your chat tool will help you compile all sorts of information.
Here are a bunch of metrics you may want to track:
For a deep dive into these and even more metrics you may want to track, check out our User’s Guide to Customer Support Metrics.
To get started with training agents for live chat, first you’ll need to hire them. While many skills can be developed over time, there are some that are best to look for in applicants right from the start.
Once you’ve hired a new chat agent, starting them off on the right foot requires a plan for training. Rather than creating a gigantic training resource and having the new employee work through it on their own all at once, consider breaking the training up into sessions and building skills over time.
To train a new chat agent, consider the following:
Instead of dropping every training material on a new agent at once, start them out with a few small tasks to tackle and work to build on those as time goes on. If they are eventually expected to chat with every type of customer in every kind of chat you offer — support, sales, onboarding, marketing, and so on — consider starting them out in only one area, like support then adding more in as time goes on.
Instead of practicing faux chats in an internal-only tool, train agents on live chat in the actual chat tool they’ll be using every day. While starting out with basic training that includes text documentation, screenshots, or video examples is okay, make sure to build on the entry-level knowledge with real experience getting to know how the chat tool works.
Make sure agents have a deep understanding of every tool they need to use to perform their job successfully. While working on chat skills in relation to how to craft replies for a customer is important, don’t slack on helping them best utilize the internal tools too.
While a new agent may start the job with some product knowledge, it’s highly likely they’ll still need to expand upon that knowledge. Once they have access to the product from the other side, plus all of their skilled teammates, there will be lots to learn about the product from the agent side. Plus, as soon as they start helping real customers, they’re likely to get questions they never even thought to look for answers to but will need to in the moment.
Don’t let training be just for new hires or a once a year phenomenon. Create a culture that includes constant learning and skill improvement. Give your agents time to expand their knowledge and become better at their jobs. Beyond training, encourage teammates to help each other and reach out when needed.
If your team is large enough, consider assigning every new chat agent a peer mentor. Establish general guidelines for how the relationship should go — like how often they should have a chat to check-in or topics to discuss — and then give the pair the space to work together. Don’t monitor their chats or interrupt their time together.
While the bulk of training a chat agent often happens early on in their employment, don’t let it stop there. Training for customer service should be an ongoing process throughout their time on the team. To do this, consider the following:
Your product or service likely changes over time, which means your agents will need to keep current. Rather than leaving them to casually follow any updates to the product and risk annoying customers in chat with incorrect answers, create specific training for product updates and give your agents the time they need to complete it. You may also want to assess the basic chat skills of your agents to identify individual areas where they need improvement and then plan future training materials around those results.
One fascinating thing about working in customer service for an online service or software is how varied the backgrounds are of the chat agents on any given team. Everyone has their own experiences, strengths, and interests, so why not use those to your advantage? Track skill levels or how individuals perform in various areas, then ask anyone particularly strong in one area to train their teammates on it. For example, if you notice one agent is really good at juggling multiple chats without frustrating customers, help them identify the ways they achieve that and pass the knowledge along to others. If the team meets weekly, encourage sharing of tips and tricks on a regular basis too.
Don’t leave training to chance. Establish a schedule for agents to stick to once they’ve completed their new hire training sessions. A quarterly training or yearly check-in may be the right fit. If you’ve got the staffing, consider allowing an entire team to take a break from front line support for a day or two to complete the training together before diving back into the queues.
People might feel pretty silly pretending to live chat at first, but by role-playing and figuring out how to handle more difficult questions and issues, agents can be better prepared when faced with a customer who presents a tricky situation.
Beyond the initial batch of skills referenced when hiring a new chat agent — communication, experience, people skills, and product knowledge — you may want to train existing employees in other areas too, like:
Live chat requires solid reading and writing skills, from being able to use proper grammar to clearly communicating a thought and beyond. Beyond basic grammar and proper spelling, make sure chat agents are good at — or work on — asking clear and to the point questions to find the issue, avoid using jargon or overly technical terms with inexperienced users, and know how to explain a process in simple steps that won’t overwhelm the chat box or the customer.
An excellent customer service agent is likely curious and tenacious. They should be the kind of person who wants to dig until they find the answer. If you see an agent struggling with this, help them develop their troubleshooting skills. You could pair them up with someone who is particularly good at diving deep into tough issues or come up with a challenging question and pose it to them as an exercise.
Some customers don’t want to take “no” for an answer, just like some will keep hanging out in chat long after the conversation should’ve ended. It’s essential for your agents to know how to provide the customer with the answer they need — even if it’s not the one they want to hear — and move on to another chat. Develop a guide on how to deliver bad news as well as examples of how to close out a chat without making a customer feel ditched.
Knowing how to talk to customers is one thing, but understanding how to communicate with teammates best is another. Even if a chat agent is great at the chats that make up the bulk of their day, they may struggle with how to share information internally or what’s worth documenting for other agents. Establish clear guidelines for internal communications and help agents learn to master them.
In customer service and live chat support, there’s always something to do. Being pulled in so many directions and knowing customers are counting on you for speedy replies can make prioritizing tasks and managing time a tricky prospect. Encourage chat agents to try out various to-do list and time management apps or systems and share their systems with each other. It may take some time for each agent to find the right fit, so be sure to support them in searching for the best setup for their work style.
Understanding it’s important to listen to a customer is pretty straightforward and probably obvious to every agent. However, listening closely and reading between the lines is a trickier skill to master. Reviewing chats to look for instances when an agent missed a cue from a customer and pointing out the error is a great way to help them start to look deeper at what a customer is saying — whether they’re using the proper technical terms or not.
Convinced that you should add live chat to your website? With chat resulting in the highest rates of customer satisfaction and expectations of modern customers, live chat is a must-have. From answering questions when a customer is stuck to answer questions for a potential customer who’s browsing your plans page, chat will help you gain new customers and keep the ones you’ve already got. Even better, you can use it to increase engagement and loyalty, understand your customers and what they want, and more. No matter where you utilize live chat or what your goals are for it, make sure your agents are set up for success. When you train your team well, set goals and track the relevant metrics, and manage customer expectations with clear operating hours and chat availability, you’re sure to see success.
If you’ve decided to add a live chat tool to your website, consider giving Chatra a try! We keep our tool simple, yet powerful, so it’s easy for you to implement on your website.
Chat with us if you’d like to learn more about Chatra!