Are you nervous about adding live chat to your online store? It’s completely understandable, especially if you’re used to working with your customers over email.
Email is asynchronous, so customers don’t expect an instant reply and you can use those expectations to decide which emails to answer in what order. Live chat changes the game. It moves conversations into almost-real-time, and while that can be scary, it also creates new opportunities for delivering exceptional customer service.
You probably don’t have a huge team of support staff who can spend their days in chat conversations with your customers. So, is it possible to add a chat support channel to your store in a sustainable way?
It is, with a little planning and some smart implementation. Here’s how to get it done.
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Rolling out live chat for a small team
Add support-focused chat where it is most valuable
Chat doesn’t have to be enabled all the time, or on every part of your website. By being selective about when and where you enable chat, you can reduce the workload and improve the efficiency of the channel.
Start by identifying key points in your customer’s support journey where a short conversation could prevent a much longer email back and forth and possibly save a customer some trouble (and the sale from being lost).
A good chat opportunity is one where your customer’s initial question is unclear and lacking the information you need to resolve it, or one where what’s need is a little confidence building. A live conversation could be much more efficient at handling those situations. For example, consider adding a chat option to:
- Your “returns” page: A customer requesting a return might truly need a refund, but they might also be confused about the product they have, and just need some quick information to feel completely satisfied.
- Your VIPs pages: Integrate your chat tool with order history or lifetime value for your customers, and give your highest value customers access to your support chat channel without having to show it for every customer.
- Shipping FAQ pages: The period between ordering and delivery can be nerve-racking for customers, and having a live chat available can build confidence and shortcut a lot of “where’s my item?” emails.
Divert conversations to the appropriate channels
Adding chat will put pressure on your capacity to support your existing channels, so part of any chat rollout must include efforts to reduce the overall support load.
That means identifying the kinds of questions that could be either removed completely (by fixing the root cause) or greatly reduced through better documentation, page design, or copywriting.
Focus on having fewer, more impactful conversations with customers.
Your goal should be to use your limited resources to have more impactful and helpful conversations with your customers, instead of acting as a glorified search engine for confused people.
Invest in improving your self-service support to create the capacity you’ll use on chat support.
Manage customer expectations
Customers typically expect an email response within a day, but expect a chat response within a minute or two at most. Carefully consider the design and operation of your chosen chat system so that you do not disappoint your customers by not meeting their expectations for responsiveness.
A chat tool ideally should not make it look like someone is available when they are not, should let people know when to expect a response, and should let you control when and where it shows up for customers.
So review the settings in your chosen chat tool and look for the options that best suit your capacity.
- Can you only show the chat option during certain time windows (when you’re most likely to be available)?
- Can you publish specific chat hours, so they are visible to your customers?
- Can you have the chat window fall back to a “send a message” option if there are no staff available for live chat?
Get creative with your support chat staffing
For small teams and individuals, a lack of available time is the biggest roadblock to rolling out chat. While you may not be able to offer widespread live chat support, that doesn’t mean you can’t reap some of the benefits.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Could you commit to a couple of “chat blocks” each week, and promote those to your customers via your site and emails as a way to let people get help but also to share their feedback and suggestions with you.
- Do you have a set of common support questions that would be reasonably simple to train someone on? If so, it may be the perfect part-time gig for someone looking for work they can fit into their life situation, or a support pro looking to supplement their income.
- Could you hire a virtual assistant to handle time consuming tasks for you, and free up some of your own time to talk to customers directly via chat?
If adding some extra support can help you hold on to a loyal customer, or increase the average value of their transactions, spending a little to trial chat support could really pay off.
You don’t need to commit to adding new staff full time, there are plenty of ways to run some experiments on a tight budget.
Build your live support skills
Effective chat support makes different demands on your customer service skill set.
If you’re used to email support, you might need to retrain yourself a little to get the full benefits of a live conversation. Great chat support:
- Uses shorter messages: In email support, answering all the questions in one response is ideal, but a chat should be broken into much smaller segments, leaving room for quick clarifications and diversions.
- Is more personal: Use the real time chat to show some personal interest in your customer in a more natural way, as you work through problems together.
- Allows for more questions: Chat is a fantastic opportunity to understand your customers better. Respond to their interests and ask questions about their goals, about your products and service, and feed that information back into your decision making processes.
- Is responsive: Imagine a “real world” conversation where one person just stops responding for a couple of minutes. Don’t do that to your customers! If you need to step away, give the customer a heads up on what you’re doing.
Treat support as a sales channel
Large companies typically have hard lines between their sales and support departments. Separate goals, separate measures of success, and often very different incentives.
As an ecommerce entrepreneur, you should not operate in that way. Just like your site analytics and loyalty program data, every support interaction is an opportunity to understand your customer better, solve their problem, and discover what else you could do to help them succeed.
Every support interaction is an opportunity to understand your customer better.
If you’ve created the time and capacity you need to deliver great customer service over live chat, then you can use it to ask better questions and connect to the person on the other end of the chat.
Online shopping can easily feel impersonal and transactional if you aren’t careful, but live chat has the potential to insert personality and humanity back into your customer relationships. Your unique personality is something that your competition can’t easily copy.
Customer-driven support delivers long term value
Customers don’t care about the internal line between support and sales, and that’s a good thing. When you allow someone to have a genuine conversation with you, you can move from a transactional “fix the immediate problem” mindset to a “help you get where you need to get” approach.
Where a purely email thread can feel disjointed and formal, a discussion that can move fluidly between real-time chat and a messaging approach allows the conversation to be more natural, moving easily from topic to topic.
What begins as a “support” query can often turn into new sales as you get alongside your customer and really understand what they need and how you can help them get it.
If you’re thoughtful about how you roll out chat support, and put the work in to improve your skills, you can create stronger customer relationships, solve issues more quickly and increase your online sales.