8 Live Chat Best Practices You Never Knew

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Live Chat Best Practices for Your Small Business

The popularity of live chat as a customer service tool is soaring. Some 45% of consumers used live chat to interact with a live agent last year, Forrester reports.

Using live chat on your business website can keep you from losing customers: according to Forrester data, half of U.S. online adults will abandon their online purchase if they can’t find a quick answer to their questions (I did it three times this past week alone). Chat can also boost your sales: Forrester says site visitors who use web chat are 2.8 times more likely to convert than those who don’t.

Live Chat Best Practices

Forrester examined the websites of 10 major retailers (Amazon, Best Buy, Dell, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Sam’s Club, Target, Walmart, and Toys R Us, before it shut down) to see how they’re using chat. Here’s what you can learn from these big names about best practices, both customer-facing and internally, for using live chat.

Customer-facing live chat best practices

Make it easy to use. All the retailers Forrester studied offer customer service chat, but it was typically not easy to find. In many cases, users must dig through the Contact Us section to find chat, or fill out a form before starting a chat session. Why not put chat functionality on every page of your website, or at least the pages where customers are most likely to have questions?

Be proactive. Reactive chat means the customer must find the chat tool on the website and initiate the chat. Proactive chat, in contrast, reaches out to engage customers even when they haven’t asked for help. You can add proactive chat to specific pages where customers tend to have questions, or set up triggers so that a chat window opens after a customer spends a certain amount of time on the same page. Proactive chat is a great way to help customers make a decision, instead of leaving your site to get the information they need. You can also use proactive chat to ask for feedback (especially after a purchase has been made) or to offer promotions and discounts to spur a purchase. Just one in 10 of the companies Forrester studied uses chat proactively for sales purposes, so clearly, there’s lots of opportunity here to get ahead of the curve.

Be responsive and communicative. The whole point of live chat is to reply to customers quickly, so make sure your business is set up to do that. Just starting the chat with a “hello” response lets the customer know there’s someone on the other end of the line. Once the conversation begins, customer service reps should communicate with customers throughout the process. Even if the rep needs time to research a solution, he or she should let the customer know (“Give me just a few minutes to find that information for you”) and keep them updated periodically (“Thanks for your patience”).  If you don’t want to offer 24/7 live chat, that’s fine; just make sure that your website clearly states when live chat is and is not available.

Internal live chat best practices

Use internal chat. When you combine customer service live chat with internal chat tools, your customer service employees can ask each other questions, collaborate on assisting customers, and otherwise be more efficient. Internal chat can also be used it to “broadcast” alerts or messages to the entire team, saving time.

Enable shortcuts. The chat tool you choose should allow your chat agents to quickly type common messages with just a couple of keystrokes. For example, “Hi, this is Alex. How can I help you today?” This not only saves time and allows for faster service, but also helps keep messages typo-free, so your business looks more professional.

Avoid overloading agents. Live chat gives customer service agents the ability to interact with multiple customers at once. However, there’s a limit to how much agents can handle and still provide quality service. Make sure the chat tool you choose has controls built in so you can limit how many customers can enter a chat queue, give agents automatic notification of new messages and otherwise help manage their workloads.

Collect and learn from data. Look for a live chat tool that records chats and saves them in customer history. This allows agents to quickly reference past conversations, and prevents customers from having to repeat themselves over and over. Review live chat records to uncover the most frequently asked questions your customer service team encounters. Use these questions to develop an FAQ section on your website for customers to use, and standard answers to common questions that your customer service reps can refer to. You should also collect data about how satisfied customers are with live chat, how quickly issues are resolved, what percentage of customers use it, and other indicators of how well live chat works for your business compared with your other customer service channels.

Integrate chat with your other customer service channels. Nextiva’s all-in-one NextOS communications platform incorporates live chat along with voice, email, customer surveys and more — all with robust analytics tools to turn data into actionable insights you can use to improve the customer journey.

Live chat is the wave of the future. Integrating these best practices into your customer service operations will help your business stay one step ahead of the competition.

Photo via Shutterstock

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Rieva Lesonsky Rieva Lesonsky is a Columnist for Small Business Trends covering employment, retail trends and women in business. She is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media company that helps entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. Visit her blog, SmallBizDaily, to get the scoop on business trends and free TrendCast reports.