Live Chat Support: Is It Within Reach for Small Businesses?

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / Customers / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Live chat is a more effective way to handle customer service than phone calls. Is it right for your small business?

According to Graham Charlton of Econsultancy, live online chat has the highest customer service satisfaction levels, while phone response is rated the lowest.

"Automated answering systems and long waiting times are the main source of frustration for phone users," he writes.

"People appreciate live chat... because they get their questions answered quickly."

Perhaps people who complain about being put on hold, listening to inane music and getting frustrated pressing numbers for options that don’t address the reason for their call, are showing their age.

Among Millennials, using a smartphone to actually to talk to someone is almost hardly ever an option. They much prefer to text.

Regardless of age, the fact is, as pointed out by one online chat provider, "When customers engage with a live chat representative, the overall experience is quick and simple. Customers welcome the ability to enter order numbers and confirmation codes into a chat box for faster service.

Customers can continue browsing and view online content while chatting easily. And they can carry that support all the way through checkout. Overall, live chat brings very few interruptions to the customer’s online experience."

So, if your small business involves any kind of online retail operation, and probably any kind of business where you invite potential customer inquiries, you need a live chat application, right?

Well, maybe.

Related Article:The Evolution of Online Customer Service: Where We Are Now?

Small Business Trends point out that there are pros and cons to live chat. Here are some, outlined below.

Pros

  • Shorter wait times and faster answers to questions increase customer satisfaction and probability of purchase.
  • Ease of access. The chat button is one click away, as opposed to having to look up a phone number and dial.
  • Preliminary programmed scripts can "ask" for certain information that pre-screens the call before an actual person needs to get on the chat. (Yeah, it’s the same thing as those annoying voice prompts, except it’s not nearly as annoying. In fact, it feels natural since it’s what people do when they text.)
  • Ability to multi-task. Customers can be directed to product pages, FAQs, and other online information.
  • Lower phone bills and reduced workload for the customer service staff.
  • Reduced bounce rate and higher sales conversion rate. The chat representative can walk customers through what they need to know or do to complete a sale if they become confused or have a question that can make or break a sale. It helps ensure that full shopping carts make it all the way through the checkout.
  • Ability to save transcripts to both evaluate quality of customer interaction and provide a reference if customer continues to have an issue.

Related Article: Live Chat and Your Business Website: 6 Do’s and Don’ts

Cons

  • Requires staff to work outside the "normal"  nine-to-five schedule because expectation is that chat is 24/7. While you can outsource, there is of course an expense to this. And the risk of outsourcing is that nobody knows your business like you and your staff do.
  • If you rely too much on scripted responses, chat support can seem impersonal and robotic.
  • Not always great on mobile platforms. As ChatToolTester notes, "iPhone users who are not able to type at lightning speed won't have much fun using live chat. In addition, not all mobile devices are able to support live chat applications." If the majority of your customers access your site via mobile devices or apps, a live chat option may not be worth the investment in time and money. That said, given the growth in mobile shopping and Millennial preferences and experience with texting, there are live chat software applications for mobile platforms, such as Boldchat, worth checking out. As always, it all comes down to knowing who your customers are.

Perhaps the biggest con is that if a live chat service isn’t properly executed, it can be just as frustrating to customers as putting them on hold on the phone for interminable wait times. Here’s how your small business can make live chat customer support work live up to its full potential, based in part on recommendations provided by Kissmetrics.

Top Tips

  • Train your reps. It’s more than just knowing how to text fast without spelling/grammatical errors. Yes, they need to know how to write short, to-the-point sentences. But your reps also need to be thoroughly knowledgeable about both your products/services and how to navigate your website. Customers know when the reps are looking up help screens to answer questions, and delays in doing this are just as bad online as on the phone. It doesn’t give customers confidence that they’re getting the best advice.
  • Provide sufficient coverage for peak periods. Your regular business hours aren’t always going to align with your customers'. For example, a West Coast-based business may find most of its sales originate from the Northeast, so you’d need to consider the time zone difference. Develop a profile of your heaviest periods of customer inquiries and staff accordingly. If you don’t plan for surges, you’ll have too many people waiting in queue, which defeats the whole purpose.
  • Outsource for slow periods only. For many small businesses, it may be unrealistic to try to staff a live chat service 24/7. Consider outsourcing or even some kind of automated live chat software for off-hours. Just don’t rely on it during your peak periods where you really need to maintain the feel of person-to-person interaction, with someone who truly is representative of your company. Worst case, disable live chat and provide a polite message that chat services are only available during certain hours with a link to a detailed FAQ page.
  • Avoid canned responses. The whole point of live chat is to provide the experience of human interaction. Scripted greetings and responses will appear robotic because they are. Give your reps some latitude to add personality and adjust to varying situations.
  • Employ people with sales experience. Salespeople are accustomed to thinking about how to make the sale, while customer service reps are about pleasing the customer. Both are important, but the object is to get people to buy. Reps with sales experience are not only more likely to close a sale, they’re better at upselling.
  • Encourage using social media. After every successful interaction, the rep should ask customers to post a social media comment. You want the word to spread that you’re easy to deal with and quick to address customer concerns. If you find you’re getting negative feedback, address it in a professional, responsive manner. Particularly if it’s a legitimate complaint, fix it for the customer, and fix it so it doesn’t reoccur.

Related Article:Freelancers to the Rescue: Top 5 Tasks to Outsource for Small Businesses

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