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Best Practices for Implementing Live Chat Support

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins

When your customers have questions, they want answers right away. With live chat software, you can make that a reality.

One of the major tenets of good customer service is the ability to quickly help someone find what they need, whether it be something they can purchase or answers to their questions. While that may be possible in a physical retail location, your company website would benefit greatly from the use of live chat support software to handle those requests. Thanks to advances in live chat technology, and artificial intelligence in some cases, it doesn't matter where your customer is in the world or what time of day it is – with the right tools installed, you can ensure a smoother experience for your website's visitors.

What are live chat support best practices?

There are certain practices you can follow to ensure your customers get the most out of live chat on your company's website. The following are some tips to keep in mind if you decide to use live chat. [Looking for live chat software? Check out our recommendations for the best live chat options for various needs and types of businesses.]

1. Be welcoming.

Just as you'd welcome a customer as they walk through your business's front door, you want to ensure your live chat window offers a friendly greeting. Employees who handle your live chat service should be trained on the proper greeting to use. An even better option is to set an automated greeting within the live chat software itself. This ensures you give the proper greeting at the start of each interaction.

2. Be quick to respond.

No one likes waiting for service, so you should do everything in your power to reduce waiting times. Establish a way to start a conversation as quickly as possible when a person reaches out with a question, whether via live person or chatbot. Slow responses can hurt the overall customer experience on your site.

You can speed up response times by using canned messages and/or chatbots, or setting up a pre-chat survey to give your employees a good idea of what the customer needs. Another way to answer your customers' questions more efficiently is to encourage them to send screenshots and other forms of rich media – if your chat software allows – to demonstrate their issues instead of long-winded messages.

3. Be transparent about wait times.

If you're experiencing a particularly high volume of requests, your response time may be longer than normal. If you can't be fast, be honest. By letting customers know how long they might have to wait for a response, you temper their expectations for when they'll receive service. If your live chat service is only online during business hours, you should make that information known upfront.

4. Implement live chat throughout your site.

You should strive to make customer service accessible no matter where a person goes on your site. Generally, you want your live chat solution to work on every page of your website. Many chat services can track where a visitor is and has been on your website in real time. This helps you understand what they may already know, so you'll have a better idea of how to help them. That only works if you offer live chat on every page of your site. (If live chat support is a feature you afford only to certain customers, such as subscribers to your highest-priced plan, this particular practice doesn't apply.)

5. Use proactive chat on certain webpages.

Proactive chat is the ability for a live chat service to immediately reach out to a customer based on where they are on your site. Proactive chat allows you to set guidelines that determine when that preemptive message is sent. One example scenario is when a person visits a specific page on your site that you know yields a lot of questions from customers. You could set up a proactive chat measure so that when someone goes to that page, a message pops up asking if they need help or want to know more.

What is live chat support?

Thanks to the immediate nature of most aspects of the internet, the potential customers who visit your small business's website likely want a quick and easy browsing experience. Live chat support helps in that pursuit by letting visitors instantly begin a text-based chat with either a live person or a chatbot trained to respond like a person.

In a Kayako study that surveyed approximately 1,000 U.S. residents, more than 52% of respondents said they were "more likely to repurchase from a company" with live chat support. The researchers also found that 79% of businesses that have offered live chat said it "had a positive effect on sales, revenue and customer loyalty."

"As a small business owner, our live chat feature has been a major asset for us," Matt Schmidt, co-founder of Diabetes Life Solutions, told business.com. "Many people don't want to speak verbally, nor exchange multiple emails to find answers to their questions. Having a live chat option with a 'real' person has separated us from our competition."

When embedded on your website, the live chat software functions like any other instant messaging service. During normal working hours, this service allows support agents to answer questions directly as they come in. The same can be said for the chatbots, which can respond in real time, though this service generally requires more attention and finesse to set up properly.

What are the pros and cons of chatbots and live chat agents?

When implementing a live chat support system on your website, one of the first decisions you need to make is when to have actual people manning the system or if you'll eschew that service altogether and use a chatbot. There are benefits and drawbacks to either solution, so it's important to weigh your options.

Benefits of having an employee handle live chat

An actual person controlling your website's live chat service automatically scores points with customers looking for a human touch when companies address their problems. Thanks to the many tools today's live chat systems offer, any employees you trust to use it will be armed with an array of information about the customer as soon as a question is asked. That information can help your employee understand the issue and organically help the customer arrive at a solution. With this personal approach to problem-solving, the consumer is more likely to feel that their problem was taken seriously.

Disadvantages of having an employee handle live chat

Conversely, having one or more employees operating your live chat solution can be a drag on your company's overall productivity. If those employees are committed to the live chat experience, they'll have less time to perform other tasks for your company. That's not a problem if they were hired specifically for this role, but small businesses are less likely to hire dedicated live chat personnel than larger businesses.

Another big issue is the fallibility of people. Not only are your employees limited by what they know, they can only respond so quickly if they receive multiple messages at once, which is an issue an AI chatbot doesn't have.

Benefits of using a chatbot

Chatbots are the other way live chat solutions can connect with consumers. Whether you rely solely on machine learning for them or establish chatbot behaviors triggered by certain customer actions on your website, chatbots can be the ultimate chat handler. They never sleep, they never need a break, and they can usually find what the customer needs at near-instant speeds online (as long as the request is easily understandable).

"With a massive influx of visitors using the live chat feature, it can get overwhelming for staff to answer all issues within a short time," said Sherry Mae Mantajos, chief marketing officer at Tankarium. "In this scenario, many customers will leave the queue or lose their temper and rant to your agents."

Disadvantages of using a chatbot

While chatbots have a lot of upsides, they do have some downsides. For those previously mentioned customers who prefer speaking to a human over a robot, an automated system is going to be a turnoff. Even though they are often powered by a sophisticated machine learning or artificial intelligence system, chatbots sometimes give imperfect responses and limited insights, which frustrates customers. Chatbots are also usually more expensive than live chat solutions that eschew these digital assistants.

What are the benefits of live chat support?

At face value, live chat support options can provide a bevy of benefits to nearly every small business's website. Giving your customers a way to have their questions answered without leaving the page they are on or picking up a phone can be a major boon. Add the shorter response times and a better customer experience, and you have a winning equation for customer satisfaction and retention. In fact, 83% of respondents to a 2019 survey by Helpshift preferred this style of consumer-company communication.

1. Live chat can be a lead generation tool.

In many circles, small businesses have adopted live chat for lead generation. Since live chat solutions can track a customer's journey through your company's website, you can set proactive chat messages to get information from that customer, based on their progress within the site. Armed with the visitor's responses, you can reach out to them in an attempt to start or close a sale.

2. It allows quick responses.

Regardless of its general use, live chat allows for speedy responses to customer queries. This is particularly important, since a survey from HubSpot found that the average consumer expects answers within 10 minutes.

3. Some live chat features help with regulation compliance.

Depending on the nature of your small business, you may be beholden to certain government regulations that dictate how you communicate with people and protect their sensitive data. Through security-minded live chat providers, you can more easily ensure your compliance.

Logan Rae, founder and marketing specialist at Argon Agency, also pointed to the flexibility of live chat's various features to help businesses in certain industries.

"There are a few features that specifically makes it a good choice for particular clients," she said. "The first feature is HIPAA compliancy options for the medical industry, while the second feature is their automation for unattended chats and guiding a website visitor to the right information while collecting their information to provide a strong follow-up."

As a piece of technology, live chat can work as a sort of Swiss Army knife for customer service. As with any important tool, though, you need to know and follow the established best practices to increase its efficacy.

What are some live chat support services to consider?

There are many live chat solutions available online. To help you find a live chat service that could work for your business, business.com conducted its own research and recommended these programs:

LiveHelpNow

Selected as the best overall live chat software, LiveHelpNow stood out among the competition thanks to its large feature set, which includes built-in analytics, 256-bit SSL encryption and native support for mobile devices. You can customize certain elements of the chat interface to fit the overall aesthetic of your company's website, and LiveHelpNow can scale to fit your company as it grows.

Comm100

If you're looking to provide a more face-to-face solution with your live chat service, Comm100 can help with its native support of video and audio chat. Available as either a web-based or on-premises solution, Comm100 shines in our current era of Zoom meetings, thanks to its easy-to-use platform and robust tool set.

LiveChat

Today's small businesses rely on a wide range of software to get things done. If you're looking for a live chat solution that can easily hook into the software you use daily, you'll likely be interested in LiveChat. Boasting more than 170 integrations through its open API, LiveChat is a customizable chat widget with 24-hour customer service.

Provide Support

For small businesses that are unsure if a live chat solution is right for them or looking for a budget-friendly option, Provide Support may be the right choice. Its prices are among the lowest we found in our research, yet it doesn't skimp on too many features. It has built-in multilingual support and an intuitive interface, making it easy to manage incoming chats from your customers.

Andrew Martins
Andrew Martins,
business.com Writer
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I am a former newspaper editor who has transitioned to strictly cover the business world for business.com and Business News Daily. I am a four-time New Jersey Press Award winner and prior to joining my current team, I was the editor of six weekly newspapers that covered multiple counties in the state.