11 Tips for Chatting with Your Customers

Every communication channel has its own style. You don't finish a phone call with "Best regards, John", just like you don't send out an email with "How's it going?" and wait for the reply.

While most are comfortable with these two 'classic' channels of customer support, many aren't sure about their tonality when it comes to live chat.

Live chat is an easy-going channel by nature, and some find this hard to combine with the professional image they aim to convey. This can result in lengthy and overly formal chats that fail to make use of the strengths of this medium: speed, ease, and informality.

So let’s give some tips and best practices for chatting with your customers and website visitors:

1
Keep the chat conversational

The #1 rule for live chat. Your sentences in a chat should be as if you were talking to your client over the phone or in real life. That means you should keep them simple and short.

2
Split long stories up in parts

When a long explanation is necessary, some people write everything in one long message – as if they were writing an email. In a normal conversation you're able to cut somebody off, e.g. when she has misinterpreted your question and starts explaining something you already know about.

While cutting someone off can be considered as rude, it is in fact a perfectly natural and harmless behaviour to save time and effort for both the listener as well as the talker. Writing a whole story in one long chat message robs the other side from the option to intervene.

So better hit the ‘send' button after every full-stop sentence you’ve produced: “OK, I'll explain” *send* “To upgrade you first have to go to your dashboard..” *send*, etc.

3
Infer listening indicators

In a real life conversation the listening side is never really quiet. In fact the best listeners use confirmation signals to indicate that they are listening and following, the “I see…"s, and “OK…”s. It’s a good practice to incorporate these into your chat behaviour as well. It will confirm the other side that you’re on the same track. Note that some listening indicators work in voice, but not in writing. Utterances like "hmmm", and "uhuh" are ambiguous.

4
Use Emoticons

These little cartoons carry more power inside them than many think. They are perfect replacements for the lack of body and voice language over the chat. They fit perfectly well in a professional environment as well, as long as they are used correctly, in moderation, and go hand in hand with correct language.

One smiley at the start of the chat is a great way to set a positive tone :) They are also helpful when you say something that could be interpreted in multiple ways, for example a wink ;) is a good indicator that you’re joking.

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But by all means, don’t overuse or misuse them. Some people add a wink behind each of their sentences, which leaves you guessing for double meanings.

5
Adopt the style of the person you're chatting with

It makes a big difference whether you're chatting with a digital native or with a 70-year old.

Face-to-face, you know what tone to strike just by looking at the person you're talking to. In live chat it’s different. That's why it's best to start the chat on a neutral note and adjust your style to your chat partner from there on.

When the person on the other side is an easy-going chatter, using short sentences and plenty of emoticons, follow her lead. If she's taking things a bit more formally, adopt a more reserved style yourself.

6
Don’t forget to laugh

Laughing over the chat is something peculiar, because it’s supposed to be a natural reaction. Yet ‘haha’-ing over the chat is a perfectly accepted way of communicating that you got the joke. Not responding with a ‘Haha’ or a :D can make things awkward. Remember: even when the joke is bad, it's still your customer. So suck it up and laugh!

7
Don’t be afraid of type-o’s

Some people reread everything before hitting the ‘send’ button, slowing down their chat service. There'ss nothing harmful about a type-o once in a while. In fact, it shows that it’s a human talking, and one who doesn’t just make use of the standard answers. You can correct yourself by resending the relevant word with a star, like so: *message.

Note: Type-o’s aren't the same as spelling errors. Consistent errors in your writing shows that you haven't mastered the language.

When you don’t fully master a language, e.g. when you’re a Dutchie talking to a German, make sure you communicate that fact at the onset to prevent miscommunication.

8
Don’t (over)use abbreviations

It's ok to use standard abbreviations in a chat that you'd use in any other written form, such as ‘e.g.’, ‘i.e.’, or ‘ok’. But remember that you're not chatting with one of your buddies over Facebook, you're chatting with a (potential) customer. So leave the BRB’s (be right back), LOL’s (laughing out loud), np’s (no problem) etc. at home.

9
Keep things cool with an angry chat

An angry customer can be hard to deal with, especially if you haven’t had your morning coffee yet. It's crucial to both stay cool and empathise with your customer. Read more tips in this post.

10
Dealing with a foreign chat

It can happen that you receive a chat from a person speaking in a different tongue. Whether you don’t speak the language at all or just partly, it's crucial to let the visitor know.

You can then suggest to offer service using Google Translate. The visitor will then understand why responses are taking a bit longer, and they’ll be appreciative for you going the extra mile! Check out our post on multilingual chat support for more tips.

11
Don't reply before your customer has sent the question

One sweet feature Userlike's Chat Panel is that you can see what your customer is typing in real-time. This helps you to drastically boost your chat speed by preparing an answer in advance. But sometimes, some chat agents answer too fast.

If you provide an answer before the customer has actually hit the "send" button, it can come off creepy. Just something to keep in mind.

Looking for a live chat solution? Check out Userlike, the chat software for website and mobile support. Get an impression with the overview video below: