Best Practices for Live Chat Support

There was a time when email was the internet’s universal inbox.

Everything was jammed into email, from Microsoft Word documents to heavily compressed cat videos, because it’s widely used, asynchronous and highly flexible. Many companies start with email customer support for the same reasons: nearly everyone uses it, it’s inexpensive, and it enables a small team to support a lot of customers.

Given the choice, some customers would love to call you, some would go straight for chat, and others would be happiest if they never had to contact you at all.

If your team has the capacity to offer more than one support channel, there are many to choose from. Should you offer a phone number? Go all in on social support? In most cases, your customers will lead you to the channels they’d like your help in, but be careful to understand what they need, not just what they ask for.

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At Campaign Monitor, the support team received regular requests for phone support. However, after asking some follow-up questions and reviewing the customer interactions, it became clear that the customers didn’t want phone support specifically. They just wanted to get more immediate help when they needed it.

The team didn’t have the resources to properly staff a phone line, but live chat offered that immediate response in a more sustainable way.

The benefits of well-executed live chat

Live chat customer support:

  • Allows for faster response times. Even if you email back really quickly, customer expectations for email responses are much lower.
  • Creates a more conversational interaction. The immediacy of live chat allows for shorter answers that adapt quickly to the customer’s tone and need.
  • Is more scalable than phone support. In most cases, agents can handle two or more chats simultaneously without reducing the customer’s experience.
  • 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.

Best practices for adding a live chat support channel

I chatted with Karl Pawlewicz from Olark and Denise Twum from Issuu about the why and the how of adding live chat as a support channel. Read on below for our live chat best practices.

1. 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 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.

2. 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.

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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.

3. Integrate chat with your existing help desk

Using your help desk’s integrations to pull in chat transcripts and offline messages gives your support team a fuller picture of every customer, no matter which channel they come in through.

4. 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? Then you can make sure the customer is understanding everything as you go.
  • How and when do we 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.

5. 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.

Real time conversation with your customers or your prospective customers is an incredible opportunity to understand them better, to serve them more quickly, and to 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.


Before you you implement live chat as a customer support channel or choose live chat software for your business ...

Mathew Patterson

Mathew Patterson

After running a support team for years, Mat joined the marketing team at Help Scout, where we make excellent customer service achievable for companies of all sizes. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.