I’ve installed Live Chat on the Web sites of a number of clients. Most of those clients — especially those who hadn’t used Live Chat themselves as “consumers” — initially pushed back when I suggested they offer this particular form of customer service.
They had lots of common preconceptions.
Now that I have a fair amount of experience as a Live Chat “agent” under my belt (I provide Live Chat support on behalf of most of these clients), I can tell you that most of those preconceptions were misconceptions.
Here’s what I’ve learned about Live Chat, in no particular order.
Note that my experience to date is with low- to medium-traffic Web sites with small or no online ecommerce. Although my descriptions of how the software works is based primarily on my experience with the Tawk.to Live Chat system, most Live Chat systems offer the same basic functionality. (A few years ago I wrote about Tawk.to here: Offer Live Chat for Enhanced Customer Engagement and Sales.)
1. Live Chat isn’t a prison sentence.
Installing Live Chat on your Web site doesn’t mean you must be available 24x7x365.
You can monitor and respond to inquiries on whatever schedule you want — or no schedule at all.
When you can’t or don’t want to be “on duty”, you can place the system into email mode. In email mode, when visitors want to initiate chats, they’ll fill out a form, and the contents will be sent as an email to designated parties.
Another off-duty option is to turn the lights off and pull the shades down. In other words, you can hide that little “Let’s Chat” bug in the corner, and no one will be the wiser.
And if you choose to stay “on-duty”, you’re not restricted to sitting at your desk, because…
2. You can serve your visitors even easier with your smart phone.
Although the smartphone apps for these chat services are more limited than their desktop counterparts, there’s still plenty you can manage when mobile. What’s more, with text-to-talk software (like Siri on iOS), it’s actually easier to chat with my visitors from my iPhone. As long as auto-correct doesn’t do too much damage, that is.
3. You’re probably not going to be swamped with inquiries.
Unless you’ve got an extremely high-traffic site and have an online store with lots of products, you’re probably not going to engage in that many chats. Activity levels can spike if you’re offering a special promotion that’s about to expire or you’re about to close registration for a Webinar; but most of the time the traffic will be very manageable.
4. People don’t read.
Okay, this isn’t a lesson I learned from Live Chat. I’ve known this for a long time. But serving as a Live Chat agent has reinforced the lesson.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a chat request from someone who wants to know the email address of the president of the company, even though that someone is currently viewing the “Contact Us” page which prominently displays the email address of the president of the company. (How do I know this? Because the Live Chat monitoring screen shows you the pages your visitors are navigating through.)
I simply reply with the president’s email address and a link — “for future reference” — to the very page the visitor is currently on (not letting on I know he/she is currently there).
I don’t bemoan the fact that my visitors don’t read. Instead, I take is as confirmation of another lesson of Live Chat:
5. People crave immediate real-time human contact.
Live Chat is real-time human contact*. And sometimes all it takes to get people to make those calls or send those emails is a little bit of cordial human contact advising them to do so.
*Yes, Live Chat software can use automated responses and bots. But if you don’t overdo that stuff (and you shouldn’t), your humanity will shine through.
6. Surrogate agents can do just fine.
Your agents (the people monitoring and responding to inquiries) don’t have to be employees of your organization or even terribly knowledgeable about what it does or how it works. This may sound like heresy. But it’s worked for me. Time and again.
My most active Live Chat site is one for a private school for whom I’ve been doing Web work for years. So I am fairly familiar with the school’s operation. But I’m definitely not qualified — and not authorized — to definitively answer many of the questions people submit.
So what do I do when people ask me questions I can’t answer?
First of all, I greet them cordially and like a human.
When necessary, I’ll paraphrase their questions for clarification.
For simple questions, and whenever possible, I’ll research the answers on the client’s Web site and pass them along.
For more complex issues, I’ll ultimately end up doing 2 things:
- giving visitors the telephone numbers and email addresses of the people who will have the answers; and
- trying to obtain their contact information so that the proper school officials can contact them.
Invariably, these people are grateful and happy.
7. Most visitors just need a little nudge to make that call or send that email.
I’m repeating myself from Lesson #5, but this bears repeating. Just because people are surfing the Web doesn’t mean they don’t seek real-time human interaction. Sometimes, a timely and cordial reply to a Live Chat request is all it takes to keep that visitor from going elsewhere.