How to Scale Live Chat Support

The immediate concern of every team launching a chat support channel is the perceived increase in volume. Is it possible to provide a high quality experience on live chat with your existing team? I’m here to tell you that it absolutely is.

Launching chat support doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice quality of support or hire a ton more agents to keep up. In fact, for many companies, chat is more efficient and scalable than other support channels.

Take a look at the cost per contact per channel. Cost per contact is calculated as the total amount of money the company needs to spend to answer a customer conversation, and it’s usually based on the salary of the customer service agent along with other logistical costs. The HDI 2013 Practices and Salary survey estimates that chat contacts cost $12, where telephone contacts cost around $17. This can change depending on the type of support inquiries you get and your team’s salaries, but one thing stays the same: Because agents can handle multiple chats at one time, their time is more efficiently spent on chat than on phone support, which reduces costs.

Leading with chat is a great way to scale support as your company grows, but it does require some planning to get right. With a little preparation, and knowing what to focus on first, your team will be ready for success right out of the gate. We’re going to give you the best practices to follow to lay out your game plan. Let’s dive into how your team can scale chat support.

1. Start slowly

Managing the volume of chat conversations is like dealing with the flow of water. If you add a chat widget to every page and show it to every visitor, you’ll be dealing with a firehose of volume, making it difficult to find your footing.

Instead, be strategic about which pipes you open. Start small with a business-critical page, where allowing customers to chat will have the biggest impact. This might be your checkout, pricing page, or help center.

Deciding where to display the option to chat depends on your business goals for rolling out chat. For example, if you’re only looking to support existing customers to start, experiment with only showing the chat widget to logged-in users or in-app. If you’re focused on driving conversions, start with only displaying chat on the pricing page.

Nicole Winstone, Customer Support Manager at Hootsuite, had great success with starting chat support with only a small percentage of their customers. “As our team got more comfortable on the new channel and we brought on new team members, we were able to ramp up our coverage.” She suggests new-to-chat teams do the same: “When you’re starting out, don’t be afraid to start offering chat to a subset of your customers and build from there”

Remember, you are in full control of your live chat deployment. Roll out slowly and expand as you and your team feel confident with how it’s going. As you become more comfortable with managing a chat queue, you can keep opening up the taps.

2. Plan for success

You can ramp up your chat efficiency by preparing resources for your chat teams to deploy at the touch of a button. Two resources are particularly important for speeding up chats: a thorough knowledge base, and a collection of saved replies or macros.

A knowledge base is a collection of how-to articles and guides for using your product. These articles should provide step-by-step instruction on how to do common tasks in your product and should include videos, screenshots or GIFs. If a customer asks you how to do something, you can include a link to the full article in your explanation. Knowledge base articles will come in handy again and again as you explain the most common features to your customers on chat.

Speaking of common questions, saved replies will save your time and fingers. If you can anticipate the most frequently asked questions, having a saved response ready to go will make your life easier. Rather than typing out the reply every time, send your perfectly written reply (with a link to the knowledge base article!) to guarantee a fast resolution. Personally, I love using TextExpander or Alfred to keep my individual replies organized and at my fingertips.

Preparing resources will pay off and make sure your agents have an easy day in the chat queue.

3. Give your team the information they need

Integrating your company’s data into your chat solution will give you full context into the customer you’re helping. Whether it’s from your CRM, a product analytics tool, or your help desk, more information about your customer will help you have the best conversation.

For example, say a chat request pops up from If you’ve integrated your CRM tool, you can see that he’s in the middle of his 14-day trial. If you can see his past support tickets, you know that he’s had some trouble with part of the onboarding already. Armed with these two pieces of information, you can approach the conversation ready to help convince and convert Sam into a paying customer, while also following up on his past concerns.

It’s also incredibly helpful to see things from your customer’s point of view. This is where a screen recording comes in handy. Instead of asking your customer to explain in text what they’re seeing, ask them for a screenshot or Loom recording. They are invaluable for troubleshooting, especially when you’re assisting less technical customers.

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4. Measure your efficiency

Average handling time (AHT) is the time it takes for a chat to go from request to resolution. It’s a helpful metric with a bad reputation. You probably picture traditional call centers where customer service reps were timed to keep AHT under a threshold and penalized for going over. This leads to rushed conversations and poor-quality service. If we don’t manage AHT correctly, tracking it obsessively can lead to the same poor experience in our chat queues.

But tracking AHT is handy for scaling your team. Knowing how long your agents spend on a chat conversation is helpful for forecasting resources as you grow. If your conversations take 10 minutes on average, you’ll need a lot more available agents than if they took five minutes. Reducing your AHT will make you more efficient, and you can’t know how you’re doing unless you’re tracking over time.

5. Staff smartly

A common misconception is that you can only offer chat if you’re available 24/7. That’s not the case at all. Instead, it’s about setting expectations for when you’re available and letting customers know how to contact you when you aren’t.

Manage customer expectations with a chat experience that’s tailored to when your team is available.

Decide chat business hours by looking at existing volume throughout the day and the availability of customer service agents. Staff up chat when most customers are online and visiting the website. When volume is lower, move agents away from chat onto other projects or working towards inbox zero. Depending on your particular business, most agents will be able to handle between two and five chats at the same time when trained and comfortable. For the most efficient chat queue, it’s better to have one agent working with four customers than four agents dealing with four chats.

But it’s important to remember that eight hours a day on chat support can be draining for agents, especially when they’re handling many chats at once. Instead of keeping one agent online for their entire work day, try rotating agents through two-hour chat shifts . When they aren’t chatting, agents can focus on the email support queue or non-queue work, like updating knowledge base articles.

Finally, not all problems should be handled on a chat conversation. If you need to involve a developer in triaging bugs, it might be best to smoothly transfer the question to email so you can respond to the customer with more information later. Set clear escalation paths to avoid wasting both you and your customer’s time.

6. Pump up the volume

When you’re ready to turn up the volume, experiment with proactive chat invites. If a customer spends 10 seconds on your pricing page, there’s a good chance they have questions about the plans offered. Pop open that chat window, say hello, and ask them if they need anything. Inviting the visitor to chat makes it much easier for them to strike up a conversation — and that could be the difference between a visitor and a customer.

Because chat support is so effective, it’s worth pushing more customers to chat and reducing phone and email volume. Start removing your phone number from pages with a chat widget on it. Advertise chat as the best and fastest way to get support. The higher percentage of volume that goes through chat (instead of phone and email), the happier your customers will be.

You’ve got this

The best thing about chat support is how much control you have over it. If volume is high, remove the widget from some pages. If you have more staff available, turn on proactive chats. It’s totally up to you how busy your team is on chat. As your team gets more comfortable, resources improve, and AHT decreases, you can roll out chat to more and more customers.

Sarah Chambers

Sarah Chambers

Sarah is a customer service consultant and the founder of Supported Content. When she’s not arguing about customer service, she’s usually outdoors rock climbing or snowboarding. Follow her on Twitter to keep up with her adventures.