4 Tips for Offering Timely Chat

In a world fueled by technology and a culture plagued by busy-ness, where many people turn to texting and instant messaging as their first and fastest route of communication, it makes sense that live chat is a growing channel for customer support. A recent Gartner report suggests that its presence as a customer engagement channel will increase from 2 percent to 10 percent of all interactions by 2018, with more than 80 percent of companies making it available for their customers. The benefits of live chat both for customers and the companies that serve them are numerous, but only if it's being used correctly. That's why we've put together a checklist of live chat best practices.

Understanding customer behavior is key to delivering outstanding customer service, which is why it is vital to reflect on the customer journey. Typical customers, with uninterrupted Internet connection wherever they go, are quick to hop online to find answers to their questions. Their go-to resource of choice could range from Google to FAQs to blog posts to forums and social media. Increasingly, given the option, they're turning to live chat.

Live chat means they can multitask more efficiently and get real-time answers with none of the nonsense of waiting on hold or pressing 1 for English. Their interactions with live chat are more than likely one of the first interactions they have with companies; it almost always precedes a call to customer service, rather than the other way around. That means they're at an early stage in the customer journey, giving companies the opportunity to truly delight them, build customer loyalty, and reduce the need for channel switching.

Live Chat Best Practices for a Better Customer Experience

The challenge is that live chat isn't exactly a plug-and-play option. If you don't have a strategy, any positive outcome will be a result of pure luck. Establishing live chat best practices is necessary to create consistency and reduce customer frustration.

1. Ask Questions

Answering a question with a question might sound cliché or even simplistic, but it's often the most necessary route to take. Making assumptions about customer problems will likely lead to further miscommunication and frustrated channel-switching, so asking questions is vital. Make sure your customers know you're focused on finding a resolution but that you'll need more information (and confirmation) from them to do so.

This is particularly true if you're using live chat for sales support in addition to customer service. Many prospects use live chat to get an idea of pricing or specific features, but to answer these questions, you almost always need more information first.

Sometimes you simply won't have the answer to their queries no matter how many follow-up questions you ask. You might need more time to research or consult subject matter experts. This should be communicated to customers with care; they're looking for a fast resolution, and if you can't provide that, you need to take action to minimize their frustration.

2. Be Concise

It's so easy to slip into industry jargon no matter what your product or service. But customers simply aren't as familiar with technical lingo. It's equally easy to get wordy in your responses, over-explaining or repeating yourself to get the point across. But neither of these tactics is efficient in reaching a resolution.

Customers who use live chat are looking for quick answers. Sometimes they're in a rush, and sometimes they're simply too intimidated to call. Being concise in your answers and using familiar language is the best way to serve these customers and deliver a delightful experience. While you're at it, be diligent in avoiding typos; it just doesn't look good for your brand image.

3. Be Personable

We've all experienced customer service calls where the agents on the other end of the phone is obviously reading from a canned script. That's something we strive to avoid at all costs here at Blue Ocean Contact Centers. But it's important to realize that the same thing can easily happen over live chat. Just because the interaction is written instead of spoken doesn't make a script sound any less robotic.

Your live chat strategy should align with your customer experience strategy, empowering your agents to empathize with customers to truly understand their needs and help them reach resolution. At the end of the day, no one wants to be treated as just another customer; they need to know their unique concerns are being heard by real, live humans. Frequently asked questions might require a templated answer for the purpose of efficiency, but modifying that template to support the individual customer will reinforce a differentiated customer experience.

4. Build a Knowledgebase

Building a resource center for answers to frequently asked questions is a valuable way to deliver consistency and efficiency in your live chat support. Whether it's a hub of blog posts, how-to articles, troubleshooting manuals, or video tutorials, ensure you're covering all the typical questions with clarity.

Live chat agents can refer to this knowledgebase for help answering customers and direct customers to specific articles for more in-depth information. This is a great approach to achieve both personable service and consistent responses that don't depend on robotic-sounding templates. For agents, it saves time and they can more competently tackle simultaneous chats. Customers receive personalized attention as well as access to a wealth of information. This also means they know where to find answers next time they have a question, which should help to reduce volume for both live chat and inbound calls.

There's little doubt that live chat is making a significant impact on the future of the contact center. It's one of the most versatile ways to engage with your customers and deliver a differentiated customer experience. But it takes careful strategy and diligent best practices. It's not a side job for an already busy agent. It takes commitment.

Mike Hasler is vice president of sales and marketing at Blue Ocean Contact Centers..