To Chat or Not To Chat?

Friday, September 14th, 2012
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Like it or not, much of the communication in our society is quickly evolving into a series of short text messages. From SMS Text Messaging on phones to Twitter posts that are 140 characters or less, people often want to relay a quick message without an involved conversation. Offering a Live Chat system on your web site is one way that customers can quickly communicate with your company or find out answers to questions without feeling like they are being sold. Surprisingly, many online merchants still do not offer a live chat option on their site. This article will discuss some advantages of offering Live Chat as well as some best practices.

Let’s first define Live Chat as a service that enables your online customers to engage in real-time text conversations with you. This is very similar to instant messaging where both entities type messages that the other can instantaneously view. Although most Live Chats are initiated by the customer, there are programs that allow the merchant to initiate the conversation. This article will refer to some Live Chat features that are available in LivePerson (one of the most popular live chat services) although there are many potential vendors in this category.

The primary reason an online retailer should consider offering Live Chat is to increase sales. This can be achieved by increasing the number of orders on your site (conversion), increasing the average order size on your site (up selling), or by improving customer service (hoping satisfied customers will return). If used effectively, Live Chat can do all of these things. Another advantage to using a Live Chat service is that you can see visitor information in real-time including where they came from and often times where they are geographically.

The most important element in determining the success of your Live Chats is the operators themselves. First and foremost, your operators must be knowledgeable about your product line. Most of the time when someone initiates a chat, it is because they have a question. If you operators can’t answer the customer’s questions, the customer is going to get frustrated quickly and will abort the conversation. Secondly, your operators must be friendly. You may be wondering how a typed conversation can come across as unfriendly, but it does happen and can reflect poorly on your brand. Next, your operators must type fast. Many of the people that click the Live Chat button on your site are impatient and want a quick answer. If your operator takes too long to respond, he or she will lose the customer.

Once you find and train the Live Chat operators, there are several best practices these operators should adhere to:

1. Create canned responses for greetings and answers to common questions. Doing so saves your operators time and provides consistency.
2. Answer questions quickly and accurately.
3. Let the customer end the conversation – most of the time. Generally speaking, you want to let the customer end the conversation so that your operator doesn’t come off as being rude. There are however, exceptions. If it is obvious that the customer is chatting for their own entertainment such as flirting or asking about the weather, politely end the conversation and move on.
4. After answering some of the customer’s initial questions and pointing them in the right direction, ask them some open-ended questions that might allow you to learn about other products they might be interested in. This is a great way to create an up-sell opportunity.
5. Use a “push” feature whenever possible so that customers do not need to copy and paste URLs that an operator might direct them towards.

Many times merchants don’t implement a Live Chat program because they feel it will take too much time. However, many of these same merchants pay employees to work in their brick and mortar stores providing information and recommending products. The online world should be similar, only rather than saying words, you simply type them.

If you are interested in trying Live Chat after reading this article, a free trial can be found here:
While it may not be ideal for every company, you’ll definitely learn a lot about your own business by interacting in real-time with potential customers.

Coming from a medical and non-profit management background, Taryn has extensive experience in customer service and marketing. She is a Senior Account Manager for Nexternal and loves working with her clients to develop social media and marketing strategies to improve their online presence. In her spare time, she also runs a successful eCommerce jewelry and essential oils business.