How social media predicted the rise of live chat for support

Social media may have started as a place for us to poke our friends and share LiveJournal updates, but when companies arrived on social platforms, they turned to an unlikely direction to treat these platforms as live chat for support channels.

This was unprecedented territory for businesses. Suddenly, customers had access to any company 24/7 and they expected instant support in the same way they were talking to their friends and family. This changed the way that companies had to conceptualize a robust customer support suite.

As support on social developed, companies realized that they needed to offer a type of support with the UX of social but through an official channel. Customer expectations around support had shifted and companies needed a way to give the customer what they now expected, even when they weren’t on social. Live chat for support evolved to fit this very niche.


Rise of live support on social

In their infancy, social media sites were places to connect pretty exclusively with people that you knew in the real world. This quickly ceased to be the case. And as these platforms opened up, companies got on board to advertise, to connect with their customers, and to provide extended online services.

From commenting on Facebook pages to sliding into DMs, as soon as companies got on social platforms, customers used them to contact companies about their complaints. By 2013, 67% of consumers had used a company’s social media site for customer service. Knowing how to respond well on social was vital because customers who were unsatisfied with service or support would post their complaints where everyone could see.

An unsatisfied customer publicly tweeted at United about their poor service.

Social platforms slowly responded to the needs of companies by implementing features or options that helped companies deal with customers through their platforms. In 2015, Twitter allowed users to receive DMs from strangers, helping companies start chats with customers in a more user-friendly way than the 140-character limited tweets. Facebook integrated Messenger features for Business soon after.

Customers could now have private chats with companies. This social chat medium affected the way that customers interacted with businesses. Rather than making a phone call to an official number and dealing with an automated helpline and hold music, customers could contact companies instantly with their name displayed from their computer or their phone wherever they were.

This fundamentally changed the way that customers wanted to interact with companies and it changed the rules around how to best structure support.

Best practices for virtual support evolve

Connecting with customers on social required tweaking best practices for support. There’s a tension between the impersonal medium of chat and DMs, and the hyper-personal nature of social media. Companies needed to be able to walk this line without the help of clear customer signals, like hold music or facial expressions, that had been staples of building good support interactions.

It’s no surprise, then, that best practices for offering live support on social acted as a startup guide for best practices for live chat. The problems that can cause bad live chat experiences are similar on social and live chat:

Everlane order confirmation

Customers want personalized service

When you call or go in-store, it’s easy to feel like a support agent cares about you. A warm greeting, a compliment or a smile can ease the way. But on chat, a customer can easily feel like they’re just being treated like a complaint ticket on a screen. Social media heightened the expectation for personalization, because people were using their personal profiles, with their names and faces, to reach out for support. Things as small as asking a customer for their name and using it in conversation can go a long way. With chat support, you can also pull information from social profiles or customer logs to further personalize the experience.


Customers want speedy responses

If a customer reaches out on social, they expect that someone is going to reply to them quickly. A company social media presence means you’re always reachable and always accountable for replying in a timely manner. Remember that if a customer calls or walks in, they expect to know right away if someone is available. They want the same courtesy in an instant chat setting, so speedy responses are key to getting started on the right foot with customers on chat.


Customers want convenient support

When a customer reaches out on social, they are connecting with a company where they live online, and where companies are easily found. The search bar on a social platform can get you to a company’s DMs faster than going to their website can get you a support number. Social platforms are also easy to use on mobile, and on the go, when customers might not be able to comfortably have a support conversation. Live social chat is uniquely positioned to take advantage of these circumstances, especially if your chat is easy to find and available on mobile.

The expectations for support that incubated on social media are now applicable across support mediums, and nowhere is it more similar than live chat for support. Like it or not, social has changed companies’ playbooks on how to respond to customers.

Live chat for support picks up where social leaves off

We’ve seen that the expectations that surround support on social are now present on all forms of support, but we haven’t fully laid out how clear a successor live chat is to support on social. While companies will still have to provide support wherever they have a presence on social media, chat is becoming more popular precisely because it offers what customers want out of social and provides an overall better service.

When your live chat is available on the side of your website or in-app, customers can easily contact you without searching around. A customer having an order problem already knows what your website is, but they probably don’t know your support email or phone number. Simply navigating to the website or app and knowing help will be available is an experience as easy as searching for a brand on social.

The customer experience on live chat for support has a lot of the same basic features as support on social. It’s a two-way message conversation where a customer can multitask while getting help. It’s text-based and available 24/7 and people expect that when they reach out, they will quickly be connected with a company representative.

From the company end, though, live chat for support is much easier to build into an efficient, helpful machine. It’s easier to automate intake, and easier for service agents to pull up a customer’s history, preferences, orders, and profile from this quick intake form because it lives within a company’s support ecosystem. Social platforms are secondary spaces that aren’t as smoothly integrated into a customer support suite.

Freshchat offers contextual chat
Freshchat contextualizes customer chats, so you can see their profile and information, previous support tickets and more for a better customer experience.

This means that live chat for support options tap into the parts of social that customers want while upgrading the overall support experience for customers. It is the natural next step for convenient, customer-friendly support.


Evolve with your customers

Understanding how support evolved on social media is critical because it plays into current expectations of your customers. With the world instantly available at their fingertips online, customers now expect that they will have immediate online support as well. This is one of the reasons that live chat for support is such a compelling option.

Seeing the link between social support and live chat can also help you structure your live chat for support better. You can learn from the best practice on social, like speedy responses, and correct social’s mistakes, like difficulty in contextualizing customer information. Sometimes, customer support truly is the best of both worlds.

Cover illustration by Karthikeyan Ganesh