17 Live Chat Best Practices in Conversation and Setup
Most support teams that start with live chat come from the background of phone or email support. But live chat is quite a different experience.
In our experience, support team members are often initially unsure about adopting this new, instantaneous text-based channel. But as they become familiar with it, and learn the best practices, live chat tends to turn into their preferred channel.
At first, they were afraid they wouldn’t be able to handle an extra channel. But by slowly expanding it, everyone gradually got used to it and they enjoy working with it now.Volker Krumrey, Online Lead Manager at Villeroy & Boch
To speed up this learning curve, we've put together the best practices in live chat. First, we cover the best practices in chat conversations (relevant for frontline support members) and then follow up with the best practices in live chat implementation (relevant for managers and project leads).
Conversational best practices
Ensure the right amount of chat slots
One of the main benefits of live chat is that you can serve multiple customers at the same time. If you’re new to live chat, however, you might feel overwhelmed trying to handle too many chats at once. Customers will also have a poor experience if your first replies aren't as fast as expected (<30 seconds).
That’s why we recommend starting off with no more than one chat slot and increase to two or three as your comfort level rises. Experts can manage up to five chats, but this also depends on your inventory of canned messages .
If none of your agents have available chat slots, you can choose to make the chat disappear or to let it turn into 'offline mode', so your visitor can still send their question and your agents can reply later.
Decision tree-based scenario planning
With live chat, fast replies are expected. Especially the first response time is important, as it's the "first sign of life" that shows the customer that there is someone present on the side to help
The fact that website chat is instant makes it a powerful channel for first contact resolutions, but it also puts some time pressure on the agents. Especially if the answer is not immediately obvious to the agent.
Imagine this: you're having two simultaneous customer chats (A & B ) when a third one (C) comes in. The new customer asks a question about a topic you've never heard about. At the same time, chat A sends you a new question. What do you do?
If you're like most novices, you'll stress out. Our best practice for dealing with such situations is to set up a scenario-based decision tree in advance.
With if - then planning, you go beyond what most people do: hoping for things to turn out well (you know the customer's question), and stressing out when they don't (you have no idea).
You need to have a plan even for the worst scenario. It doesn’t mean that it will always work or that you will always be successful. But you will always be prepared and at your best.Bill Walsh , Head Coach San Francisco 49ers
Instead, by setting up a scenario-based decision tree, you plan for less than ideal situations and what you'll do when they happen. This has a tremendously stress-relieving and confidence-instilling effect.
It's fine if you don't know the answer to your customer's question right away. Your customers don't expect you to have all the answers right away; they just expect you to help them right away.
One advantage of chat support is that everything is instantly documented. This makes it easy to take your time to solve the issue later or to escalate it to someone who does know the answer without asking the customer to repeat themselves.
Break up long paragraphs
Customers love live chat because they get fast answers to their questions. But some people treat live chat like email – they write a long message when an explanation is required. Not only do chunks of text compromise readability, they also slow down the perceived service as the customer has to wait longer to get their answer.
In an email, you need to stick to a specific format, as you would if you were writing a letter. With chat, everything’s more simple. It’s fine to send a small message for clarification.Volker Krumrey, Online Lead Manager at Villeroy & Boch
Instead of writing a lengthy paragraph, first, acknowledge the customer with a ‘Hello’ and then break up chunks of text with shorter sentences. That way, chat is more like a conversation where the customer can chime in if they notice you’re not on the same page:
“OK, so the widget is shown as offline even if you’re online’
“Have you tried clearing your browser cookies?”
Adjust your conversation style
Chatting is different to writing emails. Much like face-to-face conversations, chats are fast, relaxed and informal. Yet, many support teams that are new to chat err towards formal, corporate language. As a result, they miss out on the personal touch that chat can give to your support experience.
While you won't chat with your customers like your friends, you can still make it conversational and personal. One way to do this is by adding listening indicators such as “I see’ or “I understand, like you would in real-life conversations to show that you’re listening.
Another way to reduce formality is to use emojis . When used sparingly, they can help to convey tone and soften messages. For instance, when the customer asks “are you there” , you could reply “Yes, I am” which might be interpreted as annoyance or “Yes, I’m here :)” which doesn’t sound as abrupt.
Explain with structure
Structure helps you explain things more clearly and faster. That's crucial for live chat where customers expect responses to be fast and accurate. The easiest way to speak with structure is to follow the What - So What - Now What model.
Here’s a short example that our own chat agents could use to explain the canned message feature of our chat software :
What? This is the 'Chat Macro' feature, which contains canned messages that you can send to your customers.
So what? This will save you lots of time with frequently recurring questions. You won't have to type the same answer over and over again.
Now what? You can set up your chat macros in your Dashboard under 'Chat Tools', and activate them in the Message Center through a short key combination or from your action menu. Either send them directly or use them as a template to edit and then send.
Other communication structure techniques include Why, How, What or Feature, Advantage, Benefit .
Be transparent about language limitations
There will be occasions that you have to handle chats in a language you’re not fully fluent in or simply can’t speak. For such instances, some chat solutions, like Userlike , offer instant translation features which save the hassle of trying to come up with the perfect sentence in a foreign language.
As language is subtle, so unintended translations can appear. For example, the Spanish word “coger” means “to take” in European Spanish but has a strictly sexual meaning in Latin American Spanish. That’s why it's a good idea to let the customer know upfront that you’re not a native speaker and that you’re using a live translation feature.
By being transparent , you manage the customer’s expectations and you also give them the opportunity to switch to your native language or English, as often happens.
A tip is to set up a canned message for this scenario as you’ll likely come across it repeatedly:
“I’ll gladly help you with your questions, but I'd like to let you know that I don’t speak your language, so I’m using a translation function to assist you.”
The canned messages in Userlike are also auto-translated like all your other messages.
Get to know shortcuts for canned messages
Customer requests follow a power law: a small variety of the questions make up the lion’s share of the volume. In live chat, canned messages are a great timesaver. These are pre-written messages which save you having to write out the same reply over and over again.
Most chat tools have a built-in functionality for canned messages or what we call chat macros. Alternatively, you can use an app like TextExpander which turns keyword combinations into whatever canned message you’ve set up.
You’ll add more and more macros over time, but it’s best to start with a healthy stock of chat macros from the beginning. For instance, we always recommend to set up policy macros that ensure that your company’s policy is communicated consistently, and conversational macros like "One second please, I'll be right with you" or "Do you have any other questions?"
You can also have a look at your current FAQ section to stock up your initial arsenal of chat macros.
Open the window your customer is on
Without context, it can be hard to identify the problem the customer’s experiencing. That’s why it helps to open the window the customer is on to avoid misunderstandings. With Userlike, you always see the current URL the customer is on, so you can just click and open the page.
Share the actions you’re taking
There will be instances where you need to take a bit longer to look into the issue or to consult a colleague. Unless you communicate otherwise, your customer can’t see what actions you’re taking or if you’re doing anything at all. That's why it's important to share the actions you're taking.
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In line with our transparency principle for customer service, customers are less impatient when they know that you’re working for them behind the scenes. It’s the unknown waits that cause stress and impatience.
As much as customers expect speed, they also want their problems thoroughly resolved, so that they don’t have to contact you again.
When you take the time to gather information and ask questions, you’ll gain a complete understanding of the issue and be able to “forward-resolve” their issues (anticipate and solve future issues). This way, you avoid customers coming back in the future with more questions.
If you can’t help your customer and the chat needs to be escalated, your gut reaction might be to just create a ticket for the second-layer team to deal with. The better approach is to keep asking questions until you get a full picture of the issues. This ensures that the customer’s issue is not passed back and forth between teams because of missing information.
Teach, then provide instant help
When replying to a customer, you not only want to provide an instant answer, but also teach them how to get there by themselves. So, they don’t have to contact you again and again about the same issue. Here’s how we approach chat support at Userlike:
- First, we provide instructions for solving the problem: “To change the wording of your inactivity messages’, go to ‘Widgets’ > ‘Wording’ > ‘Inactivity’ in the Dashboard (widget overview)”.
Then we make it easy for the customer by sending the link to e.g. the widget overview:
It makes sense to structure your canned messages in this manner as well.
Escalate to a call when suitable
Live chat is great for first contact and simple questions, but is less suitable for resolving complex issues or for nurturing leads.
Prospects may need a little more reassurance that your product or service can deliver before they make the jump. In such cases, it makes sense to escalate the chat to a call.
With Userlike, we've developed a feature so you can do this without actually switching platforms - audio calls .
When suitable, you can offer your customer to switch to a browser-based call.
Always be positive
We’re all susceptible to the negativity bias , especially in written communication where we don’t have facial or voice cues to guide us. What this means for chat support is that it makes sense to be more positive than you would usually be.
Try to communicate positively, even when communicating something the customer may not want to hear. This involves avoiding terms like “unfortunately” and “can’t”. Having a handful of positive phrases at hand also helps so that your agents are never lost for words.
Don’t send too quickly
Some chat solutions offer the feature to see what the customer is typing before the message is sent. This allows you to search for relevant information and to prepare an answer ahead of time, to speed up the process.
But if you send your reply too early, the customer may assume that a non-human is behind the chat. Worse still, they may feel that their privacy is being violated.
It's better to use the time, while the customer is typing to skim through resources, to consult a colleague and prepare a detailed response.
Live chat setup best practices
Which live chat setup and implementation practices are 'best', depends on what you aim to achieve. Here we've collected the best practices based on the most common reasons for getting started with live chat.
Live chat is your customers’ preferred channel . It provides the speed and convenience that other channels lack. To maximize your customers’ satisfaction levels, here a few best practices you can implement:
Let your visitors choose the group to talk to. If you have multiple departments (e.g. sales, support) working in live chat, you want your web visitor to be matched to the department best suited to handling their case. Some chat solutions allow you to group your agents and let your customers choose which group to talk to. At Userlike, this feature is called "Group Select."
Connect visitors with agents based on skills. Even within a defined operator group, skills can vary from agent to agent. Some might speak one language, others might speak two.
Agents will also have different levels of product knowledge. By assigning appropriate skill sets to your operators, you ensure that your web visitor is always matched with the agent with the appropriate skills.
Use real agent profiles. In live chat, customers may not know if they’re talking to a human or a chatbot. That’s why we recommend that agents use a real picture of themselves instead of an avatar. Putting a face to the name makes interaction more humans and personal.
Activate rating & feedback options. Live chat doesn’t only provide your customers instant gratification. It can also give your business access to instant feedback through survey forms integrated into the chat or through rating and feedback options available in the software (not all chat solutions offer this). And because the interaction is fresh in their minds, customers tend to be more willing to leave a rating.
Lead generation & conversion
Many businesses use live chat as a lead generation tool and to convert visitors who are casually browsing. A few best practices for this goal.
Activate proactive chat on your product pages. If you notice that your customer is lingering on a particular web page, you can use proactive chat to automatically reach out and ask if they need any help. Instead of waiting for your customer to contact you, you remind your customers that help is one chat away.
It's good practice to set the timer of the proactive chat one to two standard deviations above the average time on the page to target visitors who might have questions. If you don't have such high website traffic yet, proactive chat can help you pull in the visitors.
Activate proactive chat on your checkout page. It makes sense to implement the same proactive approach on your checkout page. Shopping cart abandonment is painful for all ecommerce shops. With proactive chat, you can minimize the chance of lost conversions due to unanswered questions.
Set up chatbots for conversions and lead generation. Chatbots can be powerful, when used the right way. They can be used to answer frequent product questions. Also, with some types of products, people are more comfortable asking a bot than a person (e.g. medicines, sex toys).
Offer 'lead bait'. One reason that live chat is popular with customers is because they can start a conversation anonymously. The challenge with live chat lead generation, then, is to transition from an anonymous visitor to a qualified lead that has left their contact information for later follow-up.
Lead baits can help with this transition. They are basically something of value that naturally flows from the conversation, and that can be used to entice the prospect to leave their contact details. This could be a test ride, as in the above example, or it could be a whitepaper or a quote.
Connect with your CRM. However you collect leads, it makes sense to connect your chat solution with your CRM, so that your sales team can follow-up easily. At Userlike, we've connected with Pipedrive to follow up on leads that enter through the chat.
Live chat is one of the most cost-effective ways to provide customer support. As agents can handle multiple chats at once and resolution time is faster, service costs are much lower than with traditional channels.
Minimize interactions. If cost-efficiency is your primary focus, then one could only implement live chat on, say, your website’s contact page to minimize the volume of incoming chats.
Prioritize over the phone. The hotline is the most expensive service channel. What's more, because it is so expensive, the only way to manage costs is to place calling customers in service queues – resulting in frustrating experiences. It's why many of our customers ask whether implementing Userlike will reduce the number of phone calls. The answer is that it can, but it takes deliberate prioritization of your chat channel over the phone. Some ways you can do that are:
- Show your chat support above and your phone number below the fold. This makes chat your default contact channel.
- Use your phone waiting message to explain to callers that issues are solved faster through chat. This way you educate your customers about your preferred channels.
- Phase out phone support altogether. Companies like Wistia and Squarespace have consciously stopped offering phone support because of the associated costs, inefficiencies and frustrations.
Activate registrations. . Another way to minimize interactions and filter out low-quality chats is to ask customers to leave their contact details before they initiate a chat with you.
FAQ chatbot. You could use an FAQ chatbot to handle frequent, basic questions, e.g. product-related. This takes the pressure off your support teams and leaves them free for more complex issues. If the chatbot comes across an issue that requires further investigation, it can be programmed to forward the issue to a human colleague along with the conversation history for context.
Mix it up
You’ll likely be pursuing multiple goals at the same time: customer satisfaction overall, lead generation and conversion for pre-sales, and cost efficiency for regular post-sales requests.
How do you handle all the different widgets for these scenarios? At Userlike, we offer widget routers to define multiple sets of chat behavior based on your URLs. Our solution lets you create widget routers from the Business plan onwards.
If you haven’t made the switch to live chat yet, try any of our 14 day plans for free . Happy chatting!