Live chat for support has become a reliable and convenient way for people to connect with service and support online. There are a lot of upsides — like no more listening to terrible hold music, and quickly get answers to questions on the purchasing journey without leaving the company website.
That helps explain why 41% of customers prefer live chat over other forms of support.
But despite its advantages, live chat can be hard to do well. It’s harder to keep a conversation flowing over chat than it is over phone support, or even email, which may make the interactions less efficient. Automation can go from helpful to horrible alarmingly fast, and personalization is difficult.
Worse, one bad live chat experience can ruin a sale or turn customers off your support. Perhaps that’s the reason why 47% of customers report that they haven’t had a positive live chat experience in the last month. Half of those dissatisfied customers share with friends their poor experience, spreading the bad word about a company’s support.
But most of the problems that customers have with live chat aren’t inherent in live chat itself: they’re problems that arise from a poor live chat setup, and they can be corrected.
1. Bad canned responses
Canned responses can be a powerful tool for automating responses to common queries over live chat. They can save customer support reps time and quickly connect customers with the information they need.
The trouble surfaces when canned responses are irrelevant, stiff, and confusing for customers. This has led to some viral instances of poor live chat support, such as a terrible Amazon chat transcript that was widely shared. When Business Insider investigated, they concluded that “[Amazon was] responding to customers by cutting and pasting pre-written scripts.”
These instances, while on the sensational end of what can happen in chat support, aren’t isolated. In fact, 38% of businesses said that the live chat feature that caused the most frustration with their customers was canned responses.
So how can you use canned responses effectively without annoying your customers or forcing your live chat support team to answer every question in their own words?
To ease into canned responses that aren’t automated nonsense, create a cheat sheet that your reps can navigate by topic. The answers should be specific to the questions your liv chat support team receives most often and should be easy for reps to find and edit.
For example, an e-commerce company might set up the following canned response for queries about gift wrapping:
- Gift-wrap charge: Yes, an item can be gift wrapped. There is an additional charge of <enter the amt> for the service.
This response is easy for reps to find, it’s quick to edit for the specific items a customer wants wrapped, and it doesn’t sound robotic.
2. Chat windows are hard to find
If you search “live chat support,” every single suggested autofill is a company name. Related keywords for “live chat support” are also flooded with queries for specific companies:
What does this tell us? Well, that people aren’t sure where to look to find live chat support.
If you want a company phone number or email, you probably know exactly where to look. The “contact us” page on a company website and the bottom bar of most websites have contact information readily available. Take the “Support” page for Apple, for example:
Even when it’s the first place where most people will end up, it’s not very intuitive to find support over live chat. You have to click through to their online help library and scroll down that main page to reach a CTA to get to a live chat, but that directs you to a page that asks you what device you are inquiring about. Only after going through several rounds of preliminary questions are you even given the option for live chat:
No wonder Apple was the second autofill for “live chat support” on Google! It’s enough to drive someone to go through the inconvenience of calling support instead.
The fix to this problem is simple: If you’re using live chat for support, make sure it’s available as an option in the places where the rest of your support info can be found, like your website bottom bar or your support page. Clearly, customers are looking for live chat for support but are unable to find it. Make it easy on them.
3. Chat windows are intrusive
It’s your first time on a website for an HR software product. You’ve read the home page and are ready to dive into some of the features to see whether the product will be a fit for your business. But before you can read through a paragraph on their information page, you get a pop-up over the text asking if you want to live chat for help. But I don’t even know what the features are yet, you think, and hastily close out the box.
Sound familiar? It’s a common refrain and one that can be found again and again in discussions of the pros and cons of live chat for support:
Knowing when, exactly, to have a live chat box pop up can be tricky and can depend on your product and the average behavior of users on your website. If you are selling clothing, you might want to pop up a live chat box on a product page in the same time it might take someone to comfortably get through sales content on a software site.
Look at how users interact with your website, how much time they’re spending on pages, and when their user journey indicates they’re stuck with something. Then, choose strategically when to pop up a live chat box.
Regardless of when that point is for your company, one thing is for sure: You can’t just shove live chat in users faces on any old page as soon as customers navigate there. Give them a little time to poke around and absorb the information in front of them.
4. Responses are slow
You can be honest — raise your hand if you are like one of the 21% of companies that admit they don’t always answer live chat for support requests.
Keep your hand up if you leave customers waiting north of the average wait time — 2 minutes and 40 seconds — for live chat.
We probably don’t need to tell you that you should answer your live chat requests if you have a live chat button, but people still don’t do it, despite it being common sense.
Part of this could be because we don’t come face to face with a customer with live chat or even hear their voice. But think of it this way: If you walked into a store, needed help, and rang a bell on the counter but nobody appeared, how long would you stand around waiting for help before leaving and going to the store across the street?
Putting responses to live chat in brick-and-mortar terms makes it clear that if you can’t consistently and quickly answer customer queries, you should not put a live chat option on your website.
While live chat is a great option for live support, it’s not right for everyone. If you don’t have the team to support it, you’ll only frustrate customers who are trying to use it and end up turning them off of your company. Stick to more asynchronous support methods, like email, and introduce live chat when you’ve got the bandwidth for it.
Make your live chat for support helpful
Live chat for support can be a great, customer-friendly option for your company. It can be easy for support reps to deal with queries, and customers, who are increasingly reluctant to pick up the phone, are flocking to it.
And since we know what customers don’t like about it, you can easily avoid those mistakes. A little work now to make your live chat for support easy to find, unobtrusive, and responsive for customers means the difference between a live chat for support that works and a live chat for support that frustrates customers away from your company.
(Cover illustration and images by Karthikeyan Ganesh)