Live chat has been a popular customer service tool for some time now. And that shows no sign of stopping. In fact, the live chat market is expected to grow 7.28 percent per year from 2020 to 2027, to reach $1.28 billion, according to Verified Market Research.
That’s because chat is an easy way to offer fast customer service with a personal touch. And with all this growth, there’s still plenty of room for companies to try new solutions or make improvements to how they offer live chat support services to their customers.
If you’re thinking about how to get the most out of live chat or how to choose the right live chat technology, here’s everything you need to know.
What is live chat?
Live chat is an app or platform that enables real-time, online communication via written messages. If you've ever noticed the little pop-up window that appears at the bottom right of webpages, that's a live chat widget. Businesses can also offer live chat inside mobile apps.
For customer service, it’s an effective way of rapid support, as customers can easily reach out to agents from a business’ website and receive immediate answers.
Live chat vs. messaging
While we’re talking about the definition of live chat, a certain question may have entered your mind: how is this tool different from the type of messaging most of us are using? In fact, if you already have the option to message a company over WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, why use live chat at all?
Here are the two main differences between live chat and messaging:
- Live chat is synchronous. That means if a customer leaves a chat, then that chat ends on the customer’s side (although tools like Acquire may still show the visitor their chat history provided they don’t clear browser cookies). Messaging, on the other hand, is asynchronous, so your conversation history is always saved and customers can come back to it anytime.
- Live chat can be used proactively. Unlike messaging, you can use chat to proactively address issues. You can set up your chat so that your team can reach out to a customer and ask if they need help if they’re browsing the site. This live online help chat is instant and doesn’t require customers to switch windows or reach for their phone to type their question.
In reality, most companies will need to maintain a presence on messaging platforms and have a live chat option. The challenge is integrating the customer communication journey across both.
With the right technology, they can even be integrated to weave a single interaction history that helps you service customers even better.
Live chat vs phone support
Live chat has long been seen as an alternative to calling in for customer service. Typing a question in a chat is much more convenient than picking up the phone and then being forced to listen to lounge music for half an hour before anyone even answers. And, there’s ample evidence that the younger generations, at least, generally prefer to text rather than call.
But, phone calls offer a very different type of service, in many ways better than live chat. Here are some key differences between live chat and phone support in the table below:
- Convenient: Customers don’t need to switch platforms when browsing your website or app.
- Proactive: You can send a chat message to help proactively.
- Faster: Agents can have multiple chats open at the same time.
- Personal: Agents can pick up nuances of tone and emotion.
- Accessible: Certain people or generations often choose this channel.
- Better for complexity: Many people prefer to explain or describe complex issues verbally.
As is the case with messaging, both live chat and phone support should be readily available side by side to serve your customers. And that’s easy to do if you have an omnichannel customer service platform at your fingertips. Not only can you set the channels up in the first place, but you can also integrate them so it’s easy to transition smoothly from one to the other when needed.
5 main benefits of live chat software
There are many benefits of having live chat on your website or app, regardless of how you use it. Here are the most common ones we encounter:
1. Reducing costs
We already mentioned that agents are able to handle multiple chats simultaneously. This represents a reduction in service costs compared to phone calls (which have to be dealt with one at a time for obvious reasons!)
Of course, in order for your company to reap this benefit, you need to be careful about how juggling multiple chats impacts customer experience. If, for example, an agent is chatting with two customers who are taking a long time to respond, they can easily pick up a third chat. But, if the existing chats are complex or fast-paced, it might be better to focus solely on them. Routing rules can also help you avoid having agents getting overwhelmed — for example, with Acquire, you can set up every chat to go to the next available agent if one is busy.
2. Offering customers what they expect
After years of using chat, people now expect you to offer it — many use it first before they consider other options. For example, a survey among U.S. female Internet users found that people from 18 to 49 years of age prefer live chat over phone, email, and other channels.
Live chat also seems to produce decent levels of customer satisfaction — steadily at around 85 percent in the past five years. Older surveys have even suggested that live chat has the highest customer satisfaction rate among channels, surpassing emails and phone.
3. Better response times
We say “better” not “faster”. That’s because there are interesting nuances when it comes to response times. For example, live chat decreases response times compared to channels like email, because it’s real-time.
But, when it comes to benchmarking live chat response times themselves, it seems that a faster response time isn’t necessarily better. A 2019 report found that organizations that scored 90 percent or higher for customer satisfaction had an average response time of 46 seconds while those with the lowest customer satisfaction had an average response time of 25 seconds.
While correlation isn’t necessarily causation, this insight makes sense. If you take some time to assess the issue correctly before responding, you’re better equipped to help customers.
That’s especially true if you’ve coupled live chat with a chatbot. Automation will take care of routine issues that don’t take a long time to resolve, but your team will use live chat to handle the more complex requests that require a human touch — and this will take more thought and preparation.
4. Increasing sales and conversions
Live chat can increase conversion rates because it helps your business provide instant information customers need to make a purchase. Imagine a customer wants to buy an item, but has questions about delivery in their area or shipping costs. Instead of leaving the site without buying, they can get answers by chatting instantly.
In fact, according to Forrester, visitors who use live chat are 2.8 times more likely to convert, and spend 60 percent more with a brand.
5. Build trust
Although people do like self-service options and chatbots, we still can’t understate the importance of having the option to talk to a human. People prefer it for issues that aren’t easy to answer with a simple FAQ page.
So, live chat is a window to more human service and that helps you build trust with customers. They see you’re available for them as humans and won’t just leave their service to machines.
How to use chat: Types of live chat you can try
If you’re wondering how exactly you can use live chat as part of your customer service strategy, here are the best live chat examples to take inspiration from.
Live chat for customer support
This is a very common use case. When a customer has an issue, they can drop a question into the live chat widget without wasting time looking for support emails or contact numbers. These questions could be anything from product availability and order returns, to prices and store open times — and many more.
As an example, HLC, a leading bicycle distributor in North America, used live chat to handle thousands of daily customer questions, often on technical queries or shipping issues. This has helped them significantly improve customer experience as a whole.
Live chat for sales
Live chat can be both a proactive and a reactive sales tool. For example, if a customer is browsing a particular type of item (e.g. sports apparel), a live chat agent can pop up and ask if they need any help. But even if you don’t want to proactively use live chat, the tool can still be there waiting in the wings until a customer decides to get assistance.
For example, take Elevate, a U.S.-based company that’s active in the non-prime lending industry. They used Acquire’s customer service platform that included live chat in combination with cobrowsing technology to help customers submit loan applications. This has enabled them to guide customers easily through the loan process, improving customer experience. Live chat analytics also helped them better assess their service process and identify improvement areas.
RELATED: Read the full Elevate case study to learn more about using live chat and other tools successfully.
Live chat for marketing
Not every live chat conversation has to immediately end up in a sale or an action. Treat it as an important step in the customer journey. With live chat, agents can help customers get information they need, or navigate your site better, even if they don’t plan on making a purchase.
For example, you can use live chat to promote your newsletter subscription, host contests, or rate your products — all activities that can be vital for your brand’s growth.
Live chat for customer data
If you’re keen on collecting visitors’ opinions, demographics, or other information, use live chat. Many chat platforms enable you to launch pre-chat and post-chat forms to collect data.
For example, pre-chat forms will help you collect information about your customers or the reason they’re reaching out, so the right people in your team handle the appropriate conversations.
Live chat for everyone
In general, your live chat helps you cover multiple bases of support and service. Some big companies even make chat a central part of customer service. Consider Dell’s chat options that have different categories based on the type of queries they usually get.
How to establish an effective live chat process
Offering live chat support services should be part of a well-thought-out strategy. In fact, that’s the only way to make the most out of any tool. With that in mind, here are some practices to follow:
- Determine your use cases. The platform can be used for sales, support, and marketing. Which do you want to use it for and with what goals in mind? Lead generation, facilitating purchases to reduce cart abandonment, sending discounts, resolving technical issues — make sure you set out your vision for live chat and how you’ll measure success.
- Customize automated messaging. Live chat can pop up with automated messages to customers depending on the page they’re on. Tools like Acquire enable you to set conditions to display custom messages. For example, if someone is on your homepage, you can message them to encourage them to check out products, while if they’re on your events page, you can serve a popup alert about an upcoming sale.
- Connect live chat to other solutions. Chat shouldn’t stand alone. For instance, by integrating it with chatbots, the bot can triage requests and only pass on the most complex ones to live chat agents. Also, by integrating live chat with video chat, cobrowsing, your knowledge base, or even other standalone apps (e.g. Typeform) your team is much more likely to resolve any customer query that comes their way.
- Give your team time to assess requests properly. Remember what we said above? Just a few more seconds added in your average response time — from 25 seconds to 46 — may increase customer satisfaction. Make sure your team knows that average response time is a metric to watch out for (if you track it), but it shouldn’t come at the expense of quality customer service.
- Facilitate rapport-building and good communication. Live chat can often feel more impersonal than video or phone call. This is why you need to train agents with the right live chat skills to build rapport with the written word, as well as get the message across clearly.
- Choose the right technology. Your tech stack matters. Not just in terms of design and usability, but also with the availability of useful features like chat tagging (to route chats to the right person). Make sure you pick what works for the particular use case at your business.
RELATED: Learn more about live chat best practices.
What to consider when choosing live chat solutions
Here are a few important considerations when choosing a tool:
- User experience. Both from the customer point of view (e.g. ability for branded design), but especially from the agent's perspective. Acquire’s dashboard, for instance, makes it easy for agents to identify incoming chats, accept them, and see the interaction history that informs their communications.
- Omnichannel capabilities. When looking for chat software, ask yourself: do you just need a chat widget or is a comprehensive platform that improves experience on every channel a better option? The answer may depend on your customer base, your industry, or the particular stage your company is at. If omnichannel is what suits you best, opt for a robust platform that will enhance your live chat with AI chatbots, and other tools.
- Suitable live chat analytics. Some companies may need robust analytics, custom reports and complex insight. Others may only need to track a few non-negotiable metrics accurately (e.g. response time or handle time). Make sure the live chat solution you choose meets your reporting needs.
Live chat features to look for
Not all live chat software is created equal. To get the best solution for your site, consider looking for features such as:
- Effective chat routing. Look for the ability to route chats automatically to sales, support, or other departments, as well as individual agents, based on specific conditions (e.g. a customer question). This way visitors can get the most relevant service faster without having to repeat themselves.
- Smooth transfers. The chat tool should be built to enable smooth transfer between agents or departments if needed — as well as between tools. For example, if an agent wants to jump to video chat, phone or cobrowsing, then they should be able to do it at the click of a button right from the chat.
- Ability to easily tag conversations and leave notes. This is helpful for categorizing chats into useful segments (e.g. product defects, shipping delays) and adding case-specific comments.
- Effective message triggers. We already mentioned how useful automated messages are — you should have the ability to send relevant messages to customers based on their behavior (e.g. the page they’re on).
- Multimedia capabilities. It’s very useful for both agents and visitors to have the ability to share PDFs, images, audios, or videos if needed. This speeds up and facilitates communication. Emojis and special characters are also great for giving real-time chat a more personal touch.
- App integrations. You’ll be able to engage customers more effectively by integrating apps you use (e.g. online forms, scheduling and content promotion apps) with your live chat.
- Template answers. Suggested answers and templates can increase the speed of chat resolution and help ensure consistency with your brand voice and tone.
- Automatic translation. This is important if you have customers from multiple regions that speak different languages. A live chat with automatic translation will help you engage every customer better.
Want all these features and more? Check out Acquire Live Chat.
The power of live chat
Chat is but one way to engage customers. Still, it’s one of the most important ones. You get to strike up instant conversations and prevent customers from leaving your site dissatisfied. Just make sure you have the right tech stack and train your team to be live chat champions.
What do you think about live chat? How have you implemented it? Let us know in the comments below.