Live Chat as a Support Medium

Chat-Icon-16-OnlineLive chat is a really interesting support medium that continues to get more and more popular. It’s starting to get right up there with phone and email for a lot of companies.

A lot of customers like live chat (I’m not really one of them) because it’s convenient, relatively real-time, and free. It doesn’t take up cellphone minutes, there usually isn’t much hold time, and you can more easily click on links, copy and paste answers, etc. Companies like live chat because it’s convenient, relatively real-time, and relatively cheap. When it comes to providing links, downloads, etc., it works much better than the phone and is still faster than email.

Live chat works well for a lot of companies. International customers really like it because it is much cheaper and easier than calling a US company. Companies like how good live chat representatives can do a couple of chats at once (there are varying schools of thought about how many is too many) and they like how they don’t have to pay for the international users to call them or for the telephone minutes. The best phone representatives can only do one phone call at a time, but a good live chat representative can probably handle two or three live chats without much of a problem.

Just like with phone support, the decision to offer live chat support should stem from customer needs and desires. If you have a lot of international customers who are unwilling to spend the money necessary to call you, live chat is a must have. If your customers are mostly in the United States and live chat is simply “nice to have,” then you might want to think about it some more. If your industry is really competitive and no one else is offering live chat, you should offer it to try and differentiate yourself from the competition.

And also just like phone support (and all other support mediums), don’t try to offer live chat until you’re ready to do so. If you don’t have the manpower, technical expertise, or time to implement a great live chat solution and process, you’re wasting your time, money, and customer goodwill. Customers can live with hiccups, but they don’t want the support experience to be a process of pure havoc and mayhem.

3 Responses to “Live Chat as a Support Medium”

  1. Larry Streeter said:

    Aug 07, 08 at 8:05 am

    Of the three support channels we provide (phone, live chat, and email), live chat is the fastest growing! Even without actively promoting the channel as a quick way to connect with a live support associate, word of mouth within our customer base has generated slow, continuous growth for this channel.

    Before moving an associate to live chat, we test them not only on their product knowledge, but also the ability to handle multiple customer interactions simultaneously. Our minimum requirement is that they can juggle a minimum of three simultaneous chats and we often find our more experienced reps handling as many as 5 customer interactions at a time!

    What’s most important to us though is the quality of these interactions as measured by our customer sataisfaction surveys. Live chat scores high for us with customers ranking their level of satisfaction higher than email and on par with telephone support.

    High satisfactions scores and productivity? That’s a definite win-win for us!

  2. Jean MacDonald said:

    Aug 11, 08 at 3:33 pm

    I recently had a very frustrating round of live chat with a large software company for a technical support question. The live chat broke down after 15-20 minutes, and I ended up having to go through all the same steps with a new representative. As we got to the point I had reached before, that chat closed unexpectedly as well. Your caveat that it’s not a good idea to deploy live chat until your system can handle it is an important one. I’d also suggest that the system have some kind of process to reconnect in case of connection failure.

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Aug 11, 08 at 5:58 pm

    @ Larry: Thanks for posting! It does sound like a win-win. A lot of customers do like like chat, but there are ones that don’t, especially when it isn’t a well run live chat department.

    @ Jean: Thanks for your comment as well. That does sound like a mess. I’ve never worked with an extremely large company that made use of live chat – usually medium sized companies where if necessary, someone could ask for the same agent. It’s incredibly frustrating to get disconnected, though – that’s for sure.