Making Live Chat Effective

“Very few people use landline phones for much of anything. So when you talk about things like online chat and social media messages and emails, what you’re really talking about is the full extent of human communication”. – Glenn Greenwald

We have discussed previously that live chats are adding that ‘something extra’ to businesses when used effectively. When companies focus on customer service, they would also need to focus on the ‘decorum’ that must be maintained when providing the on-line chat service. Chat histories can be preserved and used for later and therefore, making live chat effective for customers through interactions that are helpful and professional is of prime importance. Making live chat effective must not only be from the company’s perspective – making a sale. It should be focused on providing well-rounded information to the customers, building sustainable relationships and provide so much value that they would come back to you, with repeat business, for more information and also refer other prospective customers to you.

Making live chat effective or for that matter any other communication in customer service effective does not happen by fluke or as an innate characteristic of the personnel involved. It entails imparting training and constant coaching for them to achieve the goals of customer service. They should know how to treat customers such that customers can completely be pleased about all the benefits they receive through your customer service. New employees, even with prior customer service experience, would often need guidance in understanding what your company and customers consider ‘right’ communication and follow that to provide the best levels of service and making live chat effective.

What would you consider as an effective live chat? Let’s consider some points that would help in making live chat effective for customers and serve the purpose it is meant to.

– As far as possible, companies must have a round the clock on-line chat service. Whatever the number of hours provided, the agents must first know how to use the most appropriate opening or start to the chat. A greeting using the name of the customer (if known) usually helps. The agent can ask the customer their name if not provided by the customer at the outset. A professional and courteous greeting sounds clichéd but is very often done wrong. An incorrectly done greeting will be seen as a lack of respect and courteousness by the customer, even if it is not intended to be so. The opening of the live chat must be professional, personal and courteous – a tough combination to get right, but must be done.

– Post a response from the customer, it would be correct to ask the customer what help they seek through the live chat. Remember to respond appropriately as this sets the tone for a friendly and less formal interaction yet in a professional way. Making live chat effective is all about drawing out the customer in a way that they clearly describe the nature of their problem and are receptive to the possible solutions offered.

– It may sound unnecessary, but even in this ‘written’ interaction it is possible to misunderstand what the customer is actually saying or wanting, therefore the agent must state back their understanding of the customer’s problem. It is better to be completely sure of what the customer needs rather than providing them with answers that will serve to irritate them by thinking that the agent is an incompetent half-wit.

– Even if the on-line chat agent is highly competent and knowledgeable, there could be some ‘bouncers’ posed by customers that cannot immediately be answered since the agent may not know the answer. However, rather than saying a blunt ‘I don’t know’ the agent must be trained to be candid about not knowing. They can say that although they do not have the answer they would appreciate if the customer waited while they find the answer. This allows the customer to see the intent to help. Making live chat effective is about providing the most appropriate answers even if it means taking the help of colleagues while the customer waits a bit. If the question belongs to a technical department, for example, then let the customer know this and ask for permission to put them on to the relevant department.

– Anyone working in customer service knows that the biggest irritant for customers is waiting and or being transferred on to someone else without prior intimation. If the question is beyond your understanding or responsibility area, let the customer know that even though you are unable to answer you could transfer the request to someone who can. Let the customer know to whom you are ‘transferring’ them to and why before-hand. It is also vital to ensure that you let the agent, to whom the chat is being transferred, know what the issue is and the name of the customer. The customer must never need to repeat their name or problem.

– As a customer it is their right to expect answers and in the shortest possible time and if the agent is unable to answer the request or problem, ensure that the customer is informed. If the response will take time, ask for their permission to be ‘put on hold’ while you get the appropriate response. Only if the customer agrees, must they be made to wait and if not someone would need to call them back with a response. If the customer accepts to wait, the agent must apologize for the wait time when they do get back on-line and provide them with the solution / answer immediately.

– As the representative of the company, the agent must accept any errors the company may have made and any personal errors. Apologizing to the customer without excuses is a very important part of customer service and helps in making live chat effective too. Be open and honest about the mistake and let the customer know what will be done about it and by when. If there has been significant inconvenience to the customer, ensure that you offer some compensation / discount or value-added service to them.

– Making live chat effective does not mean that the agent must accept everything the customer proposes. It would be necessary to say no sometimes but how it is put across would make all the difference. Ensure that you let the customer know why their request cannot be fulfilled rather than saying an outright no. Offer to help in some other way thereby keeping the ‘conversation’ polite and positive at all times. For example, if the customer says that the product is too highly priced, the agent could express the inability to lower the price but could inform the customer of similar products that would be within the price range mentioned by the customer.

– Just as with any customer query or request, it is important to provide timelines for requests and queries that cannot be resolved instantly even via live chat. It is the responsibility of the live chat agent to ensure that the customer receives a response within the timeline mentioned and also arrange for a follow up to make sure they were serviced and that they are pleased with the response they received. In case the customer connected at a time that the live chat service was unavailable, the agent that does receive the chat when back on duty must apologize to the customer through a call back explaining why the chat was missed and also a response / solution to the customer’s request.

– Any customer service agent knows that dealing with irate customers and their complaints is the toughest part of the job. Just like with every other method of communication, making live chat effective in dealing with these angry customers is of prime importance. It’s important that the words used display sincere empathy and a concerned understanding of what the customer is experiencing. Give them a patient hearing without interrupting their part of the chat. The advantage of a live chat is that while the customer is typing out the issue, the agent can solicit the help of a senior person such that they are able to provide instant responses to appease the angry customer.

Making live chat effective is an important part of customer service. An agent could be dealing with several customers at the same time but the trick is to never let anyone of them feel that you are in a rush. Find the right balance between each customer chat and respond within acceptable time-frames. Last but certainly not unimportant is ending the chat on the right note – ensure that you thank the customer for their time and let them know that they are welcome to chat again. Ask the customer if there is anything else they need and if not end the ‘conversation’ with any good bye expression. As per customer service courtesy, let the customer sign off first. If your company is providing an added benefit under customer service, ensure that it is executed well. Making live chat effective is just one of them.

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