8 Live Chat Best Practices and Common Mistakes

When it comes to support channels, you could make an argument that chat is the most challenging to truly do well.

You need the same real-time delivery as phone support, but typing takes longer, and you can’t lean on your elevator hold music. You want the same accuracy and personality as email, but it’s tough to find the best GIF on the fly or to have instant recall for an edge-case question.

As we’ve researched the growth of live chat as a support channel, spoken with other customer support professionals, and used live chat support for our own customers, we've learned both what to do and what not to do.

Here are the live chat best practices we follow at Help Scout — and some of the mistakes we've learned to avoid.

1. Don't act like a robot

Think about some of the clunky chat experiences you’ve had. When you were the customer, how do you wish you’d been spoken to?

Even actual robots are being programmed to mimic humans, so remember that the way you speak naturally is the goal. It’s up to you to deliver a supremely personal human experience!

If you don't know where to start, model your chat style after your email support style guide.

2. Do choose the right places to offer chat support

You don’t have to offer chat everywhere to every customer. Consider carefully where the unique benefits of live chat will make the biggest impact.

Perhaps it will be for your sales team for 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 display your chat on specific pages and locations, whether that’s on your main website, inside an application, or attached to your contact page.

3. Do make promises you can keep

To 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.

Review chat transcripts to look for great examples of connection, and share those with your team. If you see great results, you can always increase the hours later, but being forced to reduce hours because of bad experiences is much less fun.

4. Don't take on more than you can handle

Because live chat is... well... live, make sure you don’t bite off more than you can chew. Customers expect a more rapid response with chat, so quantity doesn’t necessarily equal quality in this scenario.

Just because it’s chat doesn't mean the problem is simple. The depth of a given problem will influence the time and attention you need to dedicate to that customer. Consider that before adding another customer to your active queue!

Of course, you’re trying to give customers a great experience by resolving their issues quickly. That intention, however, is lost on the customer when you’re calling them by the wrong name or sending them an answer that doesn’t line up.

Take the extra few seconds to verify the response you’re sending and who you’re sending it to; in the end, it’s better to have a customer wait a few minutes longer than to have a bad experience with you once they have your attention.

5. Do train your team

Chat is a different medium than email or phone, and your team will need to apply their skills differently. For example:

  • How will you greet customers in chats?

  • Can you break down longer and more detailed replies into separate pieces? This lets you make sure the customer is understanding everything as you go.

  • How and when will you transition a chat into an email or phone call? Sometimes chat is not a good option for resolving complex or technical issues.

  • Who is best to staff the chat channel, and when? Will you rotate every day or every week? Or will people specialize on particular channels?

Consider sending your team out onto the web and have them start a few chats with different business. They’ll soon learn what makes for a great chat experience and what approaches are best avoided.

6. Do watch, learn, and tweak

How many simultaneous chats can your team handle at high quality? What do customer satisfaction ratings look like for your chat customers, and how does that compare to your other support channels?

Talk to your team and use all the available reports to figure out what’s working well and what might benefit from a tweak here or there.

7. Don't leave customers hanging

Unlike email, chat is all about real-time support, which means you need to be prepared to stay the course with each customer until their problem is either solved or taken to the next step. This makes it even more important to set expectations — both for customers and your own team.

Office hours listed on your contact page are an easy way to let customers know your chat availability. For your team, try overlapping teammates so the person reaching the end of the day can sign off chat a half-hour beforehand. Or schedule their online hours such that their day ends an hour after your live chat hours end, reducing the impact on their personal time.

8. Do remember to take breaks

When working a busy live chat support shift, it's easy to feel like you can't step away from your desk for a break. But breaks are crucial for staying refreshed. Step away regularly, get some coffee, or do a little dancing. You'll provide the best support when you're feeling your best!

Real time conversations with your customers and prospective customers provide an incredible opportunity to understand them better, serve them more quickly, and build a human connection that can be harder to do via email.

With some forethought and planning, you can make your live chat rollout smoother, making it more likely to succeed both for your customers and your team.

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