6 Important Live Chat Tips for Email Support Pros
Illustration by Saskia Keultjes

You are an email artisan. You hand-craft perfect paragraphs, and you launch them off to land gently in your customer's inbox where they'll be read sometime between right now and the next Spider-Man reboot.

But now you're being asked to provide live chat support — and sure, most of those skills are going to transfer across — but live chat has its own rhythm and riffs. Delivering high-quality live chat support requires, as Liam Neeson might say, “a very particular set of skills.”

Build on the email support experience you already have with these six live chat tips.

1. Manage the conversation

Email support is like old-school letter writing with really fast mail carriers, but chat support works more like a live conversation. People can talk over each other, or one person can really dominate the discussion. So guiding a live chat to a successful end means keeping control of the conversation.

Follow these tips to keep live chat on track:

  • Get everyone on the same page. Make sure that you and your customer are clear about what they need and what you need from them.

  • Set accurate expectations. If you're going to need to step away from the chat, tell customers what's happening so they don't freak out and think you've disappeared.

  • Build firm boundaries. Don't be afraid to ask customers to focus on one thing at a time so that you can best help them. And be sure to have some prepared responses for cases of abuse or inappropriate behaviors.

  • Know when to transfer channels. Some questions are just best handled in email or on the phone, so think about what those might be for your team. And when they come up, make that transition as graceful as you can.

"You want to make sure you’re in control. Rather than letting the customer inundate you with questions or information, tell them what you need and what they should do."

Diana Potter - Customer Support Team Lead at Qwilr

2. Increase your speed

In email support, sending a response within 15 minutes of receiving a request would be amazing. Even a 45-minute response might be amazing most of the time because your customers mostly aren't hanging out hitting refresh on Gmail.

But if you were in a face-to-face conversation and the other person suddenly stopped talking, well, you would be rightly concerned. The same goes for support chats. Responsiveness matters more in live chat support.

Follow these tips to speed up your support:

  • Improve your typing speed. Mitchell Brown, Customer Experience Rep at Tommy John, says, "Typing speed is definitely an important part of offering chat support, especially when you are managing three or four conversations. You can be a little more brief with replies to get the resolution needed on both sides."

  • Remove friction from your support systems. Maybe you can integrate customer details into your help desk or a chat tool so you don't have to manually look them up. Or maybe you can build a new tool and automate a manual support task.

"Make sure you use the metadata that chat apps can give you (e.g. the pages the user visited, knowledge base articles they read, their email address, name, etc.) so you can avoid asking for repeat information."

Craig Stoss - Manager, Client Support at Bonfire Interactive

"We built a Chrome plugin to look up account info by the customer's email address so we had fast access to their user level, pricing plan, timezone, etc. all in one click instead of searching in multiple systems."

Chelsea Stroh - Head of Customer Engagment at Recruiterbox

  • Use saved replies and text expansion tools. These tools quickly insert information for you so you don't have to type the same things over and over.

  • Focus on self-service. Build out your self-service content so that you can help customers help themselves. A picture's worth a thousand words — a video could be worth even more — so make use of them.

  • Provide estimates for delays. Breetel Graves, Support Specialist at Campaign Monitor, says, "When you don’t know something or have to troubleshoot, provide estimates for how long it might take, and don’t be afraid to suggest transferring to a different medium (email/phone) if chat is not the best for their issue."

3. Write concisely

In chat, conversations can scroll past quickly, and they're often squeezed into a pretty small frame surrounded by all sorts of distracting things. So it's vital that you get to the point quickly and clearly if you want to be understood.

To get better at writing concisely, follow these tips:

  • Build up your knowledge. It's when you try to teach something that you discover if you really understand it. You need to know what information is the most important to get across and what could be safely left out.

  • Ruthlessly cut the fluff. Waffling explanations and rare edge cases can get in the way of understanding. Get to the core answer quickly.

  • Always use simple language. Avoid using internal jargon or quirky marketing terms. Stick to the words that your customers use, and be sensitive to their different cultures and different language backgrounds.

  • Be specific in your directions. Instead of saying "jump over to the user preferences area," say, "click account, then click billing." That precise word choice is going to avoid a whole lot of customer confusion.

4. Break down long answers

In email support, you get really good at taking your customers big block of questions and then comprehensively addressing them all in the hope of resolving it for them with one reply. And that's because it might be hours before they see it.

But with chat, you have an opportunity for real-time feedback. Just like you wouldn't give a baby a whole bowl of food all at once — you would give them a little spoonful and you see if they're going to spit it out — similarly, you can break down your support answers into small chunks.

Give customers one idea or action at a time, and then let them respond. You can see if they're getting it or if you need to try and explain it differently.

"Chat messages can tend to be less clear, so practice the ability to read between the lines and figure out the real issue/question without requiring so much back and forth."

Jarratt Isted - CoFounder at HelpDocs

5. Take time to teach

Sometimes, your customer just needs your help to take an action that they can't take. But other times you've got an opportunity to help them understand your service or your product more deeply — or to teach them how to solve their own problem.

In these cases, you should:

  • Promote your self-service help documents. Let them know where they are and how they can search them and find them.

  • Encourage exploration. Point them to product features or items that they may not have seen yet.

  • Share tips or tricks or setups that are particular to their usage. You want to help your customers kick butt instead of having to drag a butt over for you to kick it for them.

6. Close the conversation elegantly

Endings can be hard. If you don't close them out well, conversations can drag on like the last bit of The Lord of the Rings movie. To close a live chat conversation elegantly:

  • Check for any other issues. Make sure that they've got what they need. Ask: "Did you have any other questions for us?"

  • Leave customers with clear directions. Do they need to take some action? Do they need to get back to you with other documents?

  • Give them genuine thanks. Thank them for their time and their business.

  • Add some personality. You've already been friendly, now you can make a connection. Share something fun, and then finish it off.

  • Create a clear end point. Don't just ghost on them. Let them know that you're leaving and that you'll be there if they need help again in the future.

The right tool will help you rock chat support

Adding a whole new channel can be challenging for a support team, but you’re opening up real-time communication with your customers. That is an incredible opportunity to give them a better experience and to have conversations that are less likely to happen over email.

Help Scout's live chat tool, Beacon, was built to enable those conversations in a way that sets clear service expectations and helps direct customers to self-service channels where it makes sense.

If you’ve been interested in offering live chat to your customers but scared of the impact it may have on your team and your existing quality of service, Beacon could be a really great option to consider.

Chat support can be fast-paced — and it can be challenging at times — but the research shows customers love it. And when it's done well, it can deliver great business value.

If you can work on your live chat skills, you can be more valuable to your customers — and also to your company.

Next Chapter: 10 Live Chat Examples for the Entire Customer Journey

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