The Benefits of Live Chat in Theory and Numbers

When we ask companies why they don't offer chat support, they mostly give a variation of the same answer: "We already offer phone, email, and even social media support. Why would we also add chat?"

To understand the benefits live chat offers over phone and email, we need to take a closer look at the ways in which these channels differ from one another.

Synchronous or asynchronous

Most forms of communication are synchronous. When a bird sings to attract a mate, when your dog barks to the bird, or when your neighbor shouts to shut him up – in all cases the production of information coincides with its consumption.

The rest of our communication is asynchronous. Like when your dog clarifies the borders of his territory to the other dogs by lifting his leg to your neighbor's fence, or when your neighbor writes you an angry text about the smell. In these cases the receivers of information can consume it at a later time.

From the channels we can use for customer support, phone and (to a lesser extent) live chat are clear examples of synchronous communication. Email and social media fall within asynchronous communication.

Voice- or text-based

Verbal communication happens either in written or in spoken form. It's hard to say which has the upper hand with today's intense level of mobile texting, or the resurgence of voicemail brought about by WhatsApp. What's certain is that voice and text play by different rules.

An Iceberg.

Text can easily be 're-consumed' through rereading, which is impossible for voice communication. Voicemail is an exception, but its searchability doesn't compete with chat or email.

The advantage of voice based communication is the emotion that can be added. According to the Iceberg Theory the bulk of communication happens below the surface.

The model suggests that when you ask your girlfriend on her opinion of you having a guys night out, instead of the literal message you should focus on the tonality of her "it's fine". This tonality is obviously easier to detect through voice than through text.

Infographic of channel comparison.

Low or high anonymity

The web allows millions of people to indulge in anonymous communication. The results might not always look so nice on discussion forums, but that's another discussion. The takeaway is: people love the option of anonymity.

The various communication channels offer anonymity at varying degrees.

With phone you don't need to mention your real name, but through your voice and phone number you do expose yourself. Email is less personal, but you expose your address whenever you reach out. Web chat is the only channel through which you can choose to stay fully anonymous.

Off- or on-site

With commerce increasingly gravitating around cyberspace, we need support channels that work for websites. They need to work on-site, so the customer can use them without disrupting her buying experience.

To send an email, you have to make a media switch away from the website. If your question is crucial to your buying decision, you'll have to wait for the response.

With phone you also make a minor media switch, but at least you can talk to someone while surfing the website. Anyone who's tried this, though, will acknowledge that it's not easy interpreting directions from someone who isn't literally on the same page as you.

Now click on the blue button. The blue, yes. The green? Yes, ok. The green I mean. Yes... So, what's happening now?

Live chat is the option to chat within the page. Support is thus always just a click away; you don't need to pause your shopping to get it. And with a screenshot function, the service rep always has a clear idea of what the customer is looking at.

So what benefits does this unique set of properties lead to?

1
Higher customer satisfaction

The combination of low effort, anonymity, and familiarity with chat makes it the preferred channel for many customers.

According to a research by Internet Retailer, 20% of consumers say live chat is their favorite way to interact with a merchant. A study by Software Advice showed that live chat was relatively more popular for simple and shopping-related questions.

2
Higher website conversions

The fact that live chat is on-site and real-time makes it the only channel that allows you to guide your visitors through your website. A critical question can be resolved on-site, before it puts customers off the purchase.

A case study with Virgin Airlines showed a 3.5 times higher conversion rate as well as a 15% higher average order value for customers who chatted compared to those who didn't.

Infographic live chat research.

3
Lower service costs

The fact that chat is real time as well as based on text puts it in a unique position in terms of support efficiency.

Unlike a phone agent, a chat agent can support multiple web visitors at the same time. With Userlike one operator can chat with up to 10 visitors simultaneously, although we recommend to start with a chat slot size of 3.

This simultaneous support is further facilitated through the use of chat macros – canned messages to answer frequent questions. The case study with Virgin Airlines showed that the average chat agent can cover the work done by 15 agents focused on email.

Infographic live chat research.

Finally, the fact that it's text-based makes for easy documentation and follow-up. You can easily forward a live chat conversation to a helpdesk or CRM system for that.

Downsides

Lots of benefits. What are the downsides? There are a few, but none we can't defend ourselves against.

Chat Butler.

One is the need to always be online. To alleviate this pain, we've created Chat Butler. This chatbot takes over the first steps of the support process when no one's online – collecting the question and contact info – while notifying his human colleagues that a chat is waiting. When a support rep comes online, he forwards the chat. When not, he creates a ticket.

What's more, outside of your support hours most chat solutions turn into an offline contact form. So it's basically like sending an email without leaving the website.

One other potential downside is the lack of nonverbal communication related to the Iceberg Theory. One danger in this is the 'negativity bias', our tendency to regard all that's ambiguous as negative. This bias can be countered through live chat best practices, which we'll share in an upcoming post. Subscribe to our newsletter to get it in your inbox.