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Setting Customer Expectations

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.

Setting response time expectations

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:

Decide on chat availability

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.

Make a staffing plan

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?

Inform customers of chat availability

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.

Dealing with offline chats

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:

  • Show a message about being offline and display operating hours.
  • Let customers know chat is currently offline and redirect them to another area where they can get help, like your knowledgebase or some other method of support, like email or phone.
  • Display an offline chat message and accept messages anyway. Make sure customers know not to expect a reply instantly as they normally would in an online conversation, but that the team will reply as soon as possible. If you have a response time goal that you hit often enough — like all replies are sent within three hours — share those details too. More information is better than less, as long as it’s accurate. Quite possibly the only thing more annoying than not knowing what to expect is being told things will go one way and then being let down when they don’t. Make sure you’re not doing that to your customers.

Replying to Offline Messages

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.