Live Chat as a Support Channel – What You Need to Know

Chat has become an increasingly popular way for customers to communicate with customer service. This makes sense as customers can get an immediate response to a question or have easy access to resolve an issue when one presents itself. It’s instant and convenient. No need to fill out a pesky contact form, scramble for a support email or listening to that overplayed on-hold music while waiting in line on the phone.

In fact, according to a recent report by Call Centre Helper on 2018 trends, more than 40% of contact centers reported that live chat is the next channel they wish to implement. Call Centre Helper also cited the reason that this number was not even higher was that many already provide live chat support.

Additionally, Call Centre Helper reported that for the first time in several years, email is beginning to decrease in use. This is most likely due to those who prefer written methods of communication making the switch from email to live chat instead. Live chat is also a favorite among millennials and offers a quicker resolution than email without having to speak directly to an agent, which many prefer.

If you are considering implementing chat on your website, here are my key takeaways from having managed and worked with chat in customer service for the past six years.

My advice

There’s no reason for holding out on you, so I might as well get to the good stuff immediately. This is a summary of the most important points you’ll find in this article:

  • Only show chat on your website when you have agents available to answer (so make sure the technology you pick supports this).
  • Be consistent with when you are available on chat. Consistency will help you build trust with your customers over time.
  • If you’re daunted by having to take on the slightly higher amount of contacts that chat usually generates (see below) and you’re in e-commerce, at least implement a chat widget on your checkout pages.
  • If a chat is abandoned by the customer, follow up with them as soon as possible on email.

I’ll go into more details on my preferred setup below and included a few operational tips at the bottom of the article.

Beware: Chat will increase amount of contacts

Let’s start off with a warning for those who are sensitive about number of contacts. Many contact center managers think that having a chat will move contacts from phone and email to their newly implemented chat. This is only marginally true. In my experience, you can only expect about 20% of your chat conversations to deflect phone calls and emails. This means that roughly 80% of your chat conversations will be additional contacts and you will have to take that into account when you do your workforce management. Note that these numbers are based solely on my experience.

Personally, I haven’t seen chat take up a large part of contacts, and the annual survey by Call Centre Helper seems to support this. If you’re an average business, chat will take up around 5% of your total contacts.

I should add that what this means is that you’ve previously had customers who weren’t getting their questions answered and issues resolved. Adding chat affords you the opportunity to help more of your customers, which often leads to an increase in conversion rate and average order size and a decrease in cart abandonment rate.

The effect of chat support on your business

It is difficult to measure a direct effect of having a chat. But the convenience of it can’t be denied: It is a bit like when you’re in a supermarket and you can’t find flour. If you find yourself with no one to ask where it is, you might not buy flour that day. Therefore, one of the most important places to implement chat on your website is on the check-out page. Nothing is worse for a company than a customer unsuccessfully trying to complete an order. If they don’t have anybody to ask, chances are that they will not complete the order and take their business elsewhere.

Watermark Consulting has provided some interesting numbers on the overall effect of providing a good customer experience vs not doing so. The study reveals that customer experience leading firms outperform laggards by a nearly 3-to-1 margin in shareholder return. The trend has been the same every year so far: those with good customer experience by far outperform those without.

Adding chat to your repertoire will improve the overall customer experience and drastically for some customers. So when deciding whether to go for it or not, think about those checkouts and those extra few percent of customers who actually need your help but won’t stop to contact you via phone or email. If you’re into improving the customer experience in general, note that this logic can be applied to any live messaging platform, especially social media.

Running multiple conversations simultaneously

From a contact center’s perspective, live chat support has a great advantage over phone and email since an agent can easily manage multiple chat conversations simultaneously and still deliver excellent service. This reduces Cost Per Contact significantly.

But how many conversations can each agent manage at once? I’ve heard this argued endlessly, and the current consensus seems to be ‘somewhere at or below five’. Exactly how many will depend heavily on the type and complexity of inquiries you usually get. For quick and easy ones, you can probably go for a high number. Complaint-style, complex inquiries that emphasize the need to get it right the first time? Probably not that many. I suggest finding out simply by testing. But once you’ve arrived at a maximum, implement it and make sure you have a plan for dealing with wait time and/or non-availability on the chat.

How to provide the best chat customer experience

It’s a great signal to send to existing and potential customers that are you there for them when they need you. Here’s my take on how best to deliver live chat support in order to achieve a positive impact on your customer experience long-term.

Be available and answer quickly

First, the most important thing when it comes to chat is to only offer it when you are available to answer quickly. When I say quickly, I mean almost instantly for the first welcome greeting. Secondly, you should be consistently available as much as possible. Some of your regular customers will get used to being able to chat with you and will take notice if the chat is not there.

To expand a bit on this, if a customer starts a chat and has to wait for a long time for an agent to answer, something that started positively can quickly turn into a really bad experience. Additionally, due to numerous poor implementations of chatbots in the last year, customers are not as trusting in chat as they were a year ago causing a “chatbot backlash.” Giving the appearance of being readily available only to let down your customers can cause them to turn away from using chat in the future.

One way to solve this is to only offer chat when an agent is available to answer. Another way is to set a limit for how long you allow a customer to wait for an agent before being informed that their conversation can’t be answered at the moment. Just turning the customer away isn’t an option, so this should lead to offering a call-back or a contact form (probably along with an apology).

Let’s have a closer look at the experience from the customer’s point-of-view. Lately, I’ve made it a bit of a hobby to look at chat options when I browse the web. One of my finds was a huge electronics online retailer that has a chat widget on their website around the clock. It says “Can we help you? Chat here!”. But when you click the widget outside opening hours you get this message:

Welcome to [company name’s] chat!
Our chat is open
Monday – Friday: 09:00-17:00
Saturday: Closed
Sunday: Closed

This is not a very customer-centric way of delivering service to customers. Firstly, customers are offered the option to chat when chat is not actually available. Secondly, customers are not offered any alternative way to contact the company.

If you want to provide the best experience, you basically need to make yourself as available as possible. Apart from making yourself available via other channels when a chat isn’t available, it also means getting back to the customer if he or she abandons a chat. The least you can do is make sure customers know that you received their message and you’re there to help.

Handle the conversation with the benefits that chat offers

This is aimed more at the agent or trainer, but that doesn’t make it any less important. These are some of my learnings of how to provide the best customer service when faced with a customer on chat:

  • Take the time that chat offers to look up the customer’s history with your company and get information on what they did before contacting you. This allows you to preempt any objections and better fulfill the customer’s needs. Many chat applications store the customer’s page history on the website, which enables agents to see which pages customers have visited. Don’t send the customers back to a support article they’ve already spent five minutes reading.
  • If you need time to answer a question, let the customer know. Don’t just leave people hanging without letting them know why.
  • Since customers are used to waiting a little while on chat, take that time to make sure you provide the right answer.
  • Also, remember to proofread a little; quickly skimming what you’re about to send will go a long way towards avoiding misunderstandings and spelling mistakes.
  • End the chat by making sure you’ve resolved the customer’s issue and ask if there’s something else you can do for him or her. You’d be surprised how often that can come out as an upselling opportunity!

That’s it for this article. Now get chatting, and if you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to get in touch!


Tue Søttrup

Tue Søttrup

Tue brings over 20 years of experience in customer service to his role as VP CX Excellence at Dixa.

Share this article

Get CX insights, proven strategies, & the latest news in your inbox every month!

You might also enjoy

Customer service
7 min read

5 ways to boost customer retention with AI and measure it

Read more
Dixa life
7 min read

Dixa kicks off 2024 with 45 new badges and awards in G2 winter report

Read more
Dixa life
7 min read

Dixa completes SOC 2 type 1 certification, reinforcing commitment to data security 

Read more