10 Best Practices For Live Chat

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According to a 2013 article by Forrester Research, published in Forbes magazine, annual online retail sales in the United States are quickly closing in on the $300-billion-per-year mark. The 2013 figure was expected to top the previous year’s by 13%. Not only that, but more than 400,000 people in the U.S. are employed in some kind of web retailing function.

Why the rapid growth and large market share? Many industry analysts say it’s because of the technologies that are available to make the online buying process more efficient. One of those technologies is live chat.

Online shoppers want to feel as though they’re in control while they’re searching for information and deciding what products to buy. They’re often not keen on sending an e-mail, especially if that means typing in a lot of personal data that they know will be harvested. Online chat feels immediate, satisfying, and safe. The convenience and immediacy of this channel helps convert prospects to customers. If it’s done well, live chat can also be a powerful customer service tool that can help a business deliver outstanding service and retain customers over the long term.

Just adding a chat module to your website doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. Just as you have processes for handling phone, email and social media interactions, you need to put processes in place for your chat solutions.

Here are 10 best practices to improve your customers’ online chat experiences and convert more interactions into sales.

1. Never, ever keep your site visitors waiting for a chat. Ideally, your response time for a new chat session should be between 5 and 10 seconds—30 seconds at the absolute maximum. Make sure your chat operators are available and can respond to site visitors right away. If that’s not possible, the best practice is to use a chat-answering service such as WebsiteAlive’s AliveConcierge, where U.S.-based operators are available 24/7/365 to answer chat and phone inquiries.

  • In a pinch, you can turn off the chat module; WebsiteAlive’s chat windows can be toggled to an “out-of-office” state and collect contact information so the visitor can be contacted later. However, this is not a best practice for an e-commerce site where customers are making immediate decisions, because it lets sales slip through your fingers.

2. During busy times, provide users with a notification of expected wait time. Even in a worst-case scenario, don’t make them wait for more than five minutes. We all know things happen and it’s not a perfect world—but customers are busy and can’t be expected to sit there forever. This is another compelling reason to consider a chat concierge service.

3. Make sure you give your customers accurate answers. If they ask if a product is in stock, make sure you answer correctly. If you don’t know the answer, tell them you’ll find out… and then actually do it. Nothing grinds a customer’s gears more than a customer service agent who doesn’t care enough to provide accurate information.

4. Use the customer’s name during the chat session to personalize the conversation. But don’t overdo it—it can get annoying, and customers will start to suspect your agents are robots.

5. Don’t use industry jargon and acronyms. Many of us use jargon terms in-house to refer to our products, services, and procedures, but those terms are not always the same words that are used in the outside world. If you talk to customers the same way you’d talk to your colleagues, you’ll confuse them.

6. Read the customer’s questions thoroughly, and answer them directly. Be brief and to the point. Again, they’re busy people, and they don’t have time to wade through a lot of verbage. Chances are, they’re chatting with you while working, talking with a friend, or ordering a sandwich for lunch. Keep it simple for them.

7. Always, always, always be polite. Say “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.” Wish your customers a great day or tell them you hope they enjoy the weekend. Make them feel valued, and leave a smile on their face.

8. Be sincere. Let your tone match the tone of the conversation. If the customer has a problem or concern, don’t be overly bubbly or flippant, because they’ll feel they aren’t being taken seriously. The best thing you can do to connect with customers is to really address their issues and make them feel you’re on their side.

9. Be professional. You’re helping a customer, not sending a text to your best friend. Represent your brand respectably by using proper grammar, punctuation, and capitalization. If an operator is great with customers but can’t write a sentence, they should probably stick with the telephone.

10. Be well prepared to answer questions. Train new operators fully so that they know how to navigate your website, are familiar with your inventory, and know your chat scripts and scenarios. Be ready to link customers to videos, reviews, product sheets, and white papers, if applicable. An unprepared, flustered operator will only frustrate customers… but a nimble, well-prepared operator can generate sales like crazy.

Live chat is becoming a standard part of the online sales process, and for good reason: it happens in real time, and it gets results. But those results will only be as good as the customer service you provide through this channel. Use these best practices, and make the most of it!

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