Live Chat Best Practices for Better Customer Conversations

woman live chatting on laptop

Live chat has become one of the most popular channels for contacting customer service – and it’s now the leading digital contact method for online customers, according to JD Power. Live chat support is twice as popular as email support and three times more popular than social, mainly because users find it to be more useful and a better experience overall.

Why Use Live Chat on Your Website?

Live chat for customer service is a win/win proposition for brand engagement. Customers of all age ranges love it because it’s…

  • Quicker and more convenient than a phone conversation
  • More personal than an email exchange
  • More private than a social interaction

Live chat can also be more effective for your support agents, allowing them to handle multiple in-depth issues simultaneously with better resolution rates. In addition, live chat can provide unique insights into customers’ issues and motivations – and whether they’re satisfied with the support they receive.

However, less than 10% of companies use live chat on their websites. If you’re not embracing this opportunity to connect with your customers, now is the time to pull ahead of your competitors by implementing live chat.

What Customers Expect from Live Web Chat

When customers chat with your customer service team, what do they expect the experience to be like?

  • Quick responses: The benchmark for live chat replies is 48 seconds.
  • More casual language: A formal tone doesn’t work well on this channel. Agents should adopt a friendlier tone while remaining polite and professional.
  • Availability: Customers expect to be able to get immediate answers all hours of the day and night, but especially whenever they are most likely to be using your product. For example, companies that specialize in selling beer, wine, or liquor could expect that their consumers will be more likely to have questions about their products while they are consuming them – generally not during business hours. But if it’s not feasible to have live agents staffing chat during expanded hours, consider supplementing with a customer service chatbot.
  • Ease-of-use: Most customer service chat experiences are designed for desktop, which often results in sub-par mobile user experience. According to Statista, more than half of all web traffic is now mobile, so companies need to be considering ease-of-use on mobile devices as they deploy live chat for customer service.
  • Personalization: Customers share tons of information with companies, and they expect you to do something with it. A live chat engagement is a perfect opportunity to tailor the conversation based on the customer’s profile, past interactions, or purchase history.

And as if delivering on all these customer expectations wasn’t enough work, don’t forget that the agent experience matters, too! Live chat should be easy for your agents to manage alongside all their other types of cases. More on the agent experience later.

Customer Service Live Chat Beyond Your Website

Although conversations around live chat typically center on websites, today’s customers want to have that same type of quick, convenient interaction across multiple channels.

As you plan to launch customer service live chat on your website, consider whether the following channels would also make sense for your customers to be able to live chat with your agents:

  • Brand mobile app
  • SMS/texting
  • Facebook Messenger
  • WhatsApp
  • WeChat

If launching across all these channels isn’t currently doable, think about a phased approach to channel expansion. Many companies choose to start with live chat on their website, and then add other channels as agents become more comfortable and processes get ironed out. Remember, a customer service chatbot can serve as your first line of defense across all these channels, working to resolve frequently asked questions and triage cases for your human agents.

Planning a Live Chat Launch

There are a number of best practices you should consider when adding live chat as part of your customer care program. But before you add this channel to the mix, you need to make sure you’ve addressed some of the potential challenges that come with a live chat roll-out.

Step 1: Make a Plan
Before you go live, think about how your support team will handle the increase in overall case volume. Given its popularity among consumers, you can expect to see more customers connecting via chat instead of phone or email. And as mentioned above, determine the mix of channels where you’ll make chat available, such as your website, mobile app, SMS, and more.

  • TIP: Prepare agents to operate efficiently with a potential surge in cases. You may need to limit the number of customers each agent handles at a time while they acclimate to the live chat format.

Step 2: Determine Success Metrics
Measurements like average handle time, first contact resolution rates, and customer satisfaction survey scores can apply to live chat programs as well. Chat support is also an ideal channel to request post-interaction customer feedback to get a better idea of where agents are excelling and where they could use additional training.

Step 3: Get Comfortable with Chatting
The most important step for live chat customer service? Make sure your team translates the traditional, more formal customer service tone and language to fit live chat’s more casual style. Stiff, formal language will seem robotic and canned when delivered via chat, and could be a big turn-off for customers if it seems stilted or phony.

Chat is all about connecting with your customers immediately and effectively, and the following live chat best practices can help you get your program off the ground and ensure your team is as engaging and friendly as they are efficient.

5 Live Chat Best Practices for Customer Service

1. Manage expectations.
When setting up your live chat on your website, mobile app, or other channels, make sure that any hours when chat is not available are clearly stated (ideally live chat should be available 24/7, but you may need to limit hours as you’re getting started). Automated chatbots are one way to ensure your live chat is always ready to engage and can respond outside of live agent chat windows. It’s also a good idea to present customers with some quick options for topics they can ask about, or provide content from your knowledgebase for more in-depth questions.

2. Respond quickly, but don’t rush.
When agents are live on the chat, make sure they keep all their active conversations in one place and have notifications turned on. However, it’s important to avoid making the customer feel rushed when chatting. Find a balance between quick responses and personalized messages so the chat itself feels more like a natural conversation and not an agent trying to get through as many scripted interactions as possible. Treat complex queries as a series of smaller issues – answer each component one at a time, instead of rushing ahead to a final resolution that might not address the entire problem.

3. Context is key.
Connect your live chat to your customer engagement solutions to make interactions more relevant and meaningful. If a current customer is logged in and starts chatting, the agent should be able to see previous searches the customer has performed, past issues that have been resolved, recent purchases or product viewed, and more.

4. Be human.
Even if your live chat solution includes a chatbot to assist your live agents, make sure to infuse the chat with your brand personality and real human emotion wherever possible. Provide contextual suggestions for your agents that are written clearly in your brand voice, but don’t require them to use pre-determined scripts. If your live chat solutions provide integrated CRM context, they’ll be able to assess the customer’s situation and connect on a deeper level than if they’re just copying and pasting. Help more experienced agents with more phone expertise than live chat embrace a friendly but helpful messaging style, instead of the more formal scripts they might be used to. Even just making a tailored product recommendation based on the customer’s previous purchases can help break the ice and give the customer the personalized experience they expect with live chat.

5. Make it a true conversation – get feedback.
Follow up with a quick post-interaction survey to gauge how your live chat is helping resolve issues and satisfy customer needs. This survey should reflect the same brand voice and tone of the chat, and could be customized based on the customer’s issue or which agent helped solve their problem. Syncing this data back into your CRM system helps agents make real-time adjustments to improve performance.

Beware Free Live Chat Software

Ready to get started with customer service live chat, but not sure what tools to use? While there are many free live chat apps on the market, enterprises should proceed with caution. Many live chat apps are free, point solutions that lack the advanced features that enterprise call centers need to be effective with live chat.

For example, customer service live chat apps should offer you:

  • Integration with case management CRM
  • Features to enhance response accuracy
  • Automation/chatbot functionality
  • Ease-of-use for the agent
  • Support for multiple devices and channels

These attributes set your team up for success when it comes to live chat.

Live Chat Software from the Customer Care Experts

As more consumers abandon the phone in favor of digital interactions with brands, live chat will continue to grow in popularity as long as it can keep providing positive experiences with a human touch. Astute’s Agent Chat solution gives call centers everything they need to embrace the live chat trend, including the ability to add automation in the form of Astute Bot, our award-winning customer service chatbot.

Request a demo today to see how Astute can make your live chat support more efficient and engaging.