Agents Can See What Customers Type in Live Chats

Live chat is becoming increasingly popular among brands and customers alike as an alternative to long holds with a call center, or slow email responses from customer support teams. But it turns out that live chats have a hidden feature that customers may not be aware of—agents can see what they’re typing before they hit enter.

Hmm Daily editor Tom Scocca discovered the issue earlier this week in a live chat with a mattress company, when an agent responded to a relatively complex question for a product accessory just one second after Scocca asked the question. Gizmodo investigated the issue further, and after asking an agent point-blank whether she can see questions being typed before they’re sent, the truth emerged: Agents indeed get a preview of what customers are going to say in an effort to “get a little extra time to look up information.”

“Beyond the social awkwardness, it felt as if the agent had jumped in too soon, like an anxious game-show contestant,” Scocca writes in the post. “The agent-recommended product did not seem like it would really have been the smallest and quietest option, but presumably they started writing their answer before I got to that part. I could have asked a follow-up question but by then all I wanted was to get out of the chat as fast as possible.”

Scocca’s experience isn’t unique—the live chat preview is actually common feature offered by live chat vendors. One vendor that offers the preview functionality, for example, lists brands like McDonald's, Ikea, and Paypal as customers, according to Gizmodo, while Salesforce Live Agent also touts a “sneak peak” capability.

The feature relies on a JavaScript operating in a customer's browser to detect what the user is typing in real time, but the creepy factor for customers, Scocca points out, is that it’s not clear that it’s happening. Customers may be more willing to appreciate the speediness of the responses—and be less creeped out—if brands are fully transparent about how they’re achieving that quickness.

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