Although chat apps and live chat tools have existed for 15 or 20 years, in many ways, live chat is having A Moment.

What is Live Chat Software?

Live chat is a messaging application by which customers or prospective customers can reach out to your company instantly online via your website and have a real-time conversation.

As it relates to customer service, live chat is a support channel in the way phone support and email help desks are — it’s one of the available methods by which customers can contact representatives of a company.

Help Scout new Beacon On the customer’s end, live chat might looks something like this — an embedded website widget where they can find an answer via self-service or elect to chat with a support representative.

As customer support channels go, live chat can feel like a nice balance between email and phone support — in some cases, live chat support can feel like the “best of” both email and phone. Chat can make the back-and-forth between customers and company representatives from support, sales, and other teams less cumbersome by allowing those teams to converse in real time without the necessity of long phone conversations.

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As Help Scout CEO Nick Francis noted in The Next Frontier in Customer Support, “fast email support and friendly help over the phone are no longer the differentiators they once were.” Here’s what every company should know before implementing a live chat application.

15 things to know about live chat before adding it as a support channel

  1. Chat is more scalable, and can be less expensive than phone support. In most cases, agents can handle two or more chats simultaneously without reducing the customer’s experience.
  2. … but chat is less scalable than email. Customer expectations for response time are higher than email — the average wait time for chat is 45 seconds, although let’s be honest, does anyone want to wait more than 10 or 15 seconds for an initial response to a chat inquiry? — so live chat support may require a larger team than email-only support.
  3. Chat isn’t the right channel for every question — sometimes conversations need to transition to other channels for further investigation and follow-up. This is easier if you integrate live chat with your help desk to automatically create support emails from chat interactions, and it promotes better cross-department cooperation as well.
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  4. The demand for online chat is growing — one benchmark study by Comm100 found that the number of live chats handled in 2016 was nearly triple the amount in 2015. As more and more businesses offer live chat, customers increasingly expect chat to be available as a support channel.
  5. Especially as you first start exploring chat apps as a communication tool, you don’t have to offer chat everywhere to every customer. Consider carefully where the unique benefits of live chat will make the most impact. Perhaps it will be for your sales team, talking to incoming prospects. Or perhaps it could be offered to your VIP customers as an additional benefit. Many live chat tools make it easy to target your chat to particular pages and locations, whether that’s on your main website, inside an application, or attached to your Contact Us page. You can integrate chat with your existing help desk to pull in chat transcripts, and offline messages give your support team a fuller picture of every customer, no matter which channel they come in through.

    Related: Empower Your Customers With Self-Service, Chat and Help Desk Support

  6. Offering chat at the point of sale is a great place to start, because live chat is an incredibly powerful sales tool. Kissmetrics says live chat is “the easiest way to bump your website conversions in real-time without split testing.” Forrester reports that “44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.” And another study found that 40% of buyers who had used live chat were more likely to make online purchases versus 22% of buyers who had never chatted, and that 38% of buyers reported making their purchase due to the chat itself.
    Best Practices for Adding Live Chat Support
  7. Customer expectations for chat responses are higher than they are for email responses. For customers, “live chat” implies an almost instant response, so a delayed reply to a chat is a much poorer experience than a slow email reply. Set your live chat hours to an achievable level, and make those hours clearly visible so that expectations are reasonable.
    The Challenge with Chat
  8. For support representatives working in chat tools, live chat’s synchronous nature requires them to focus on chat. It’s not uncommon for chat agents to handle several chats at any given time, so it’s quite difficult to bounce between chat and other support channels, like email and phone. Consider assigning a dedicated live chat employee or having your team rotate that duty to avoid burnout and ensure there’s ample time to meet other support team needs that require deeper focus.
  9. Chat often inspires a less formal, more conversational interaction. The immediacy of live chat allows for shorter answers that adapt quickly to the customer’s tone and need. Tone is difficult to convey via text, however, so it’s important to be careful with your phrasing and hire excellent written communicators. Review chat transcripts to look for great examples of connection and share those with your team.

    How to Talk to Your Customers

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  10. Chat leads to happy customers. Customer satisfaction ratings for live chat are often higher than all other support channels, likely because of the speed and conversational nature. Customers can “stay in the venue” with chat — they don’t have to stop what they’re doing or leave the page to find an answer.
  11. The more chats an agent is currently handling, however, the lower the satisfaction rating goes.

    Related: Don’t Make These 3 Live Chat Mistakes

  12. Live chat can be a great way to address questions customers can’t find answers to on your website or in support documentation. You can connect your knowledge base and identify pages where support issues commonly arise and add a chat widget there so customers can get any remaining questions answered quickly.
  13. Chat is the preferred support channel of millennials. Younger customers often feel more comfortable and familiar with live chat than they do with phone support or email.
  14. At the industry level, travel and business services have the lowest customer satisfaction ratings of any sector, possibly due to increased volumes leading to increased wait times. This means that an exceptional live chat experience may be the answer for travel and business service companies looking to differentiate themselves from the competition.
  15. Chatbots aren’t coming for anyone’s jobs. The technology is improving, but there’s a long road ahead before the wide range of customer service interactions could be consistently and effectively handled by software. The biggest opportunity for chatbots in customer service is empowering people to offer more informed, responsive, and efficient support. The less time we spend searching past conversations and repeating ourselves, the more time left for human connection.

Related: Best Practices for Live Chat Customer Support

These real-time conversations with your customers and prospects are an incredible opportunity to understand them better, serve them more quickly, and build a human connection.

Live chat isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As more companies adopt live chat across the globe and more people look to live chat as this-is-probably-a-good-time-to-say-that-i-dont-believe-robots-will-eat-all-the-jobs customer service channel of choice, it’s critical for companies to stay on top of the trend and be mindful of how decisions regarding live chat affect customer happiness.

Emily Triplett Lentz

Emily Triplett Lentz

Emily is a writer, marketing strategist and alum of Help Scout. You can find her on Twitter.