Chat Support 101: How to Avoid the 7 Most Common Mistakes

Chatting seems easy. For a growing number of people, it’s the main mode of casual communication with friends and family. You just type away and mechanically hit the send button. Not so in customer support.

Here, the stakes are higher and the terrain is more demanding. Time is tight and you’re bound to the keyboard, delivering personalized support to someone you’ve never met, all while appearing professional and offering solid solutions.

The benefits of live chat are obvious. Yet, it’s no wonder that chat agents stumble every once in a while. To make sure you don’t, here are the seven most common mistakes in chat support.

1
Overly formal language

There are some useful applications of formal communication , but chat is usually not one of them. This is in part a legacy issue: email originated from the traditionally more formal letter and for most frontline employees starting out in chat support, this is their point of reference.

Chat, on the other hand, originated from real-time conversations on the web, thus its whole character is more informal. When support representatives used to writing emails neglect this, the result is often slow, bulky, complicated and impersonal text. Basically the opposite of what chat should be like: quick, simple, conversational, personal.

Making things worse, through big chunks of text and lengthy sentences, formal language compromises readability; it increases the customer’s waiting time for each message, and deters her from interacting.

The fix:

The good thing is, informal speech comes natural to humans. The bad thing is, you can’t talk to customers like they are your buddies unless they initiate it.

So, first, focus on reducing formality by writing better. If you take in classic books on writing well, like ” 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing ” and “ On Writing Well ,” you’ll see that good writing and informal writing share largely the same DNA. A balance of brevity and clarity is the way to go.

To make your customer communication more conversational, add listening indicators like “I see,” “yes,” or “I understand.” People use them unconsciously in real-life conversations, signaling confirmation and attention. In chat, they often forget to do that. Beware, however, of ambiguous listening indicators like “hmm,” or “aha,” – they are easily misinterpreted as disinterest.

The economic use of emoji is another way to fight formality, with due regard to some rules that I’ll describe soon. Also, even simply omitting the period at the end of a message can make it appear less formal.

Formal communication is often accompanied by the use of jargon. At best, jargon is geared toward a target group and makes communication with them more efficient. In most cases, though, technical terms just increase the threshold for understanding.

Consider jargon in chat only if the customer sets that tone first. Never use it to show off eloquence and expertise; these skills show through quick and effective service, not fancy talk.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

Albert Einstein

When you have to deal with more complex or technical issues, make sure your messages are structured and each step is digestible for the customer. Consider these communication techniques for a start.

2
Ambiguity

As explained above, brevity and simplicity are virtues in chat, but they also increase the danger of causing misunderstandings . Due to the lack of body language and voice in written communication, you have to make an active effort to avoid ambiguity.

example chat conversation emphasizing the problem of ambiguity

Consequently, the most common way ambiguity creeps in is through short or even one-word answers with no additional indicators of meaning. They can raise your chances of being misunderstood to that of a coin toss.

In fact, your chances of being understood correctly are less than 50 percent. The negativity bias describes how our minds tend to interpret ambiguous information as negative. So, if you leave a message open to interpretation, the customer will likely assume you’re being cold, rude, bored, etc.

The fix:

In chat support, the best indicator of meaning is a clear description of what you deem the right course of action for the customer and what you can do for her.

If this is too abstract, consider additional indicators like conversational adverbs, especially so-called “ amplifiers ,” emoji (use economically) and exclamation marks (use only if there’s something really worth stressing).

The table below illustrates how ambiguity and its removal works.

Don'tDo
Hi.Hello! How can I help you?
OKSure, I understand.
No, that's not possible.Unfortunately, you can't do it just like that but what you can do is...
Well, it can't hurt.That's a good idea!
I have to check on that.I'm afraid I don't know but I'll create a ticket and forward it to our tech team.
You can find this in the tutorial.May I send you the link to our tutorial?

A related chat support mistake is using too many abbreviations. First, they can be perceived as you rushing the conversation, and secondly, YNK if the customer is familiar with it.

My colleague Leah summed up the best tips on how to conquer the negativity bias in this video.

3
Emoji excess

We all have that one friend who responds to any slightly funny remark with an over-rewarding triplet of the "face with tears of joy" emoji (😂😂😂), obliterating all shades between a subtle pun and a serious knee-slapper.

In chat support, you reach emoji excess much earlier than when gabbing with friends. While emoji are a good way to appear friendly, reduce formality and forestall ambiguity, dropping one too many can make the conversation awkward.

For example, a single winking emoji can convey friendliness. Using a wink after several sentences can suggest a double meaning and opens the gates to misinterpretation.

The fix:

Some chat software providers, like Userlike , limit the number of available emoji with the agents’ best interest in mind. But as messaging, where emoji are a staple, is becoming more prevalent in business communication, acceptance for them is growing. Reflect on which emoji are accepted by your customers and let your support staff know.

To learn more about how to use emoticons and emoji in business communication – and the science behind it – read our dedicated blog post . A few key takeaways:

  • Use emoji to convey tone
  • Take on a minimalistic approach
  • Put a cap on your emoji
  • Make sure every emoji has a purpose
  • Let the customer set the tone ( social mimicking )

4
Lack of personality

If done right, the personal feel is one major benefit of chat support. As explained above, formal language is the most common reason this fails. But there are more ways in which chat agents create a distance between themselves and the customer.

It happens most often when agents sacrifice personality for efficiency. They send off scripted replies in a speed that no human could realistically type in or use macros that are made obvious by their generic tone.

Sometimes, lack of personality stems from a mere lack of attention to detail. For example, when agents repeat automated greetings or copy/paste messages from other chats with another customer’s name in it. This forces the customer to realize just how random the conversation is for you.

The fix:

Don’t try to work as fast as a robot and you won’t appear like one. Chat support gives you the tools for offering both efficient and personal support. For example, you can speed up your responses through macros and scripted messages, but tailor them to your conversation partner before hitting the send button.

Also, keep an eye on the visual aspects of your chat. Real operator pictures and names in the chat window show the customer that she is chatting with a real person. If you prefer to anonymize your operators, avoid fake, stocky pictures and generic names, as they create distrust.

To make sure your agents get the details right, like not repeating automated greetings, make sure to mention them in your regular chat reviews. All too often, debriefings focus on the cases that escalated. At the same time, “minor” nuisances that few customers give feedback on remain unnoticed, although they represent the lion's share of customer frustration.

5
Chat overkill

Let’s get to the more procedural mistakes made in chat support. The most obvious of them all: overdoing it. Just like with macros and abbreviations, it’s speed versus quality, only this time, the number of simultaneous chats is where the line between both is crossed.

Many chat agents constantly work on the upper limit, always in danger of responding too slowly or confusing conversations once a more complex issue comes around in another chat. For many companies, the number of completed chat sessions seems to be more important than the quality of the service they provide.

The fix:

One fix is to always allow a little buffer for outlier cases and provide agents with other meaningful tasks to fill their idle time between chats. Of course, larger teams can more finely adjust their number of chat slots to the expected support volume and still have room for longer chats.

The logical next step is to route chats intelligently. Then, the vast majority of quick and simple chats can be dealt with by operators with a larger amount of chat slots, and special cases go directly to your specialists. Userlike offers a number of smart routing modes that enable you to prevent chat overkill and work more efficiently.

6
Spilling data and being creepy

Customer data such as location, device, buyer history, shopping cart content, public parts of social media profiles and the like can all be used to better serve the customer. But with data kraken like Facebook and Google dominating the web, blatantly repeating and betraying above mantra – who can blame customers for being creeped out whenever they see that you too have data on them?

So, while you should be completely transparent about collecting customer data and adamant about its protection , don’t needlessly parade your knowledge.

The fix:

Use the information you gather in the customer’s best interest. For example, if you want to recommend a product, simply recommend it. Don’t say that your recommendation is based on her buying history unless she asks if it is. If she discloses something you already know, don’t say “I know.”

Also, if you use a feature that shows you what the customer is typing before she sends it off (allowing you to already think of a good response), don’t reply before she has actually sent her message.

Finally, don’t present the customer with a fait accompli by taking action without her knowing. Instead, explain to the customer the steps you’ll take and ask for consent, even for small matters, like forwarding the chat to a colleague or sending her a file via email. This will underline your overall transparency and build trust.

7
Missing opportunities

Proactively offering solutions is better than only answering the customer’s question, yet many chat operators do no more than the latter.

Imagine a product in your shop is sold out and a customer asks you if you’ll reorder it, but you won’t because you’re planning on ordering the product’s upcoming version. In this case, don’t just say “no” but proactively suggest an alternative or tell her about the upcoming version and offer to contact her when it’s available.

This type of missed opportunity in chat support is also a reliable symptom of a lack of synergy between support and sales.

Your service agents don’t only solve issues raised by customers, they’re also the first point of interaction for prospects. So, make sure they’re presented as exactly that in your company. Set your support staff’s antennas to pick up sales opportunities and create processes for sales to take over or follow up.

A few more simple mistakes in chat support:

  • Overemphasizing typos. Spelling and grammar matter in chat, but speed matters most. So, only correct mistakes if you have time while the customer is typing or if a typo could lead to misunderstanding.
  • Closing chats prematurely ...while your customer still has questions.
  • Not following up although the issue isn’t resolved and you said you would. This is worse than saying it’ll take some time (state how long) or admitting there currently is no fix (suggest alternatives).
  • Staying “online” when you’re unavailable. This doesn’t need further explaining, does it? Wait. Are you still online right now?!

A conversational setting is more tolerant

Chat support is supposed to be conversational and this goes along with an atmosphere that’s more forgiving of mistakes than in formal interactions. In a chat, the other side can quickly ask you to elaborate, and you can immediately do so.

Try to get things right and constantly improve the accuracy and speed of your service – but be aware that your customer will accept some missteps if she knows you’re transparent, willing to fix things, and acting in good faith. Focus on the latter and you’ll make customers happy.