Deliver superior customer support in live chat

Current best-practice and what to expect in the future.

Customer experience is a tough game, what do you do or not do, affects it. However, it is also an opportunity to stand out. More and more companies are investing in customer support which is one of the most important environments where you can impact what your customers think of your brand, products, and service.

The research speaks clearly that even one bad experience can make a customer change services. Therefore, delivering great service is not a question of why, but how.  

Making your support accessible and timely is wise, and practical wisdom teaches us too that “be there where your customers are” – simple as that. Live chat has emerged as a powerful channel to offer speedy, convenient, and accessible service in customer support.

For support teams it has also added productivity. Many companies have harnessed live chat to drive added customer engagement and even new sales. A growing number of companies have also transformed live chat into a source of customer feedback to better understand their customers and make better development decisions.  

Join our panel of global CX experts who help leading companies around the world with best customer experience solutions. Read what they have to say about making your customer support stand out in the competition with live chat.

Massimiliano Meroni, Customer Experience Specialist of BE-Simple, Italy 

Henrik Heusala, Vice President of Pepron Finland 

Julio Farías, Director Comercial of Zerviz, Chile 

1. How to ensure a great customer experience in the chat channel? 

Massiliano:

It is important to have the basics – Speed – a quick response time, Compatibility – a chat that works with any device, and Integration – information from multiple sources.  

Henrik:

First of all, I would like to emphasize that Chat in the modern new Customer Communication thinking has evolved to be more about offering a centrified, easy to find place in your webpage/service wherever it is that you communicate with your customers at the web and where your customers can find answers to their questions fast and easily. 
 
Industry leaders such as Zendesk have started to talk more and more about conversations rather than chats. And modern “Conversation” actually includes Help Center article searches, AI, Chatbots as well as phone channel offerings, etc. to the customers on top of just the basic chat functionality.

Therefore, I’m talking about conversations, not just the actual chat channel as these other elements are an integral and intertwined part of the customer experience of the conversation channel. 
 
The most important thing to offer a great customer experience via chat is that there are agents who can answer. This can seem as self-evident but as chat is still many times presented and deployed as a thing and channel that has to be offered on top of other channels it is not self-evident. This means that we must make using and offering customer communications as easy as it is possible for the agents.

We can’t just add chat as a channel so that our agents have to go and open yet another webpage/service and if agents need to switch between channels they need to use many web pages/services. 
 
When we ensure this we can start thinking about how we make those hours our chat is offline as pleasant as possible for our customers – it can’t be so that when the customers visit us during the day there is a service button available but when they come back in the evening the button/service channel has vanished. So, we implement an easy way to leave your question which is the bare minimum. 
 
When we have these core elements ensured we can continue to implement Help Center Article searches, AI, and chatbots. 

Julio:

Through customization. It’s a channel that can be customized and, in this context, the integration of virtual assistants as a complement to the chat channel has emerged a lot. 

2. What are the service potholes and challenges in the chat channel?

Massimiliano:

A major challenge is asking the right questions to your customers in order to retrieve the right information to resolve their queries. You can only do that if you listen to your customers and regularly ask them about their experiences and how you can improve your products and services. Embedding surveys at the end of an interaction is a good practice.   

Henrik:

Before deployment, we hear again and again: “We don’t have the resources to handle chat”.  

The idea that we don’t have the resources is utterly wrong and happens mostly because of bad chat deployments and tryouts. Chat properly deployed offers us the most time and cost-efficient channel with the bonus of being able to share files and other things directly via the live conversation and as such makes our customer communication more efficient – Agent can easily handle 4 live chats at the same time but with a phone call, they are stuck in that call 100%, email back and forth is done instantly via chat, etc.

Agent can easily handle 4 live chats at the same time but with a phone call they are stuck in that call 100%.

Henrik Heusala

“We don’t have the resources to handle chat” in effect means “We don’t want yet another service. We need to keep an eye on top of all our other stuff”.  

When done properly into the already existing workspace of your agents this is not the case. Done properly Chat complements, Chat doesn’t add. We have customers who want to discuss with us and chat offers us the most efficient way of discussing with our customers. The sooner we can answer our customers’ questions the less we have questions.

Deploying chat properly always takes out heat from other channels. Sure there are a few more small questions that would not have reached you without chat but even those questions are still questions from your customer and answering those in the most cost-efficient way is what we need to do.   

The biggest pothole which we see happen again and again is that the Chat is deployed almost as a test to see “what will happen and can we handle it”. In effect, this means that some chat service is chosen, and some licenses are bought and a button is placed on the appropriate place.

In this approach what happens is we are not developing our customer communications effectively and offering a proper chat channel, but instead we are bringing yet another system and web services on top of all the 20 services all ready open at our agent’s workspace.  

In our agent’s mind, this creates yet another thing they need to take care of on top of all existing ones which creates huge change resistance. Badly and not thought out properly done chat deployments make up the most of the bad experiences companies have had with offering chat and why so many companies are not wanting to offer this channel to their customers.

Badly done chat deployments make up the most of the bad experiences companies have had with offering chat and why so many companies are not wanting to offer this channel to their customers.

Henrik Heusala

As a solution chat needs to be deployed properly and thought of first who and how is going to handle our chats – Remember for the customer this is equal to any other channel and they are talking to you regardless of the channel they use.

Properly deployed chat starts from not adding yet another service and yet another webpage to your agents’ workspace but instead bringing management of chats to their already existing workspace alongside emails, calls, social media, and other channels they are already handling and managing it so that your agents can easily move between channels while servicing the same customer. 

On chat usage vs channels like email and phone a challenge is we might not have any confirmed details that we are talking with the person who he claims to be and without added services, there are sensitive issues that we can’t discuss via chat without there being some authentication service.

A big pothole is deploying chat for customer communication where most of the issues are these sensitive issues and almost always have to be reverted to other channels and chat might revert from your customer’s point of view to being just a “hello how are you” pointless communication channel. Fortunately, if this is the case, we need to again do the deployment properly and add services for authenticating the users and make it easy for our agents to see who they are talking with. 

Julio:

The “pothole” that I see in the chat channel is that there is little personalization of the attention. That is the challenge, and why does it happen? Because many times we do not identify who the customer is, their preferences or interests. So, what would be the point of action? To be able to identify the client to personalize the attention of that client.

3. What are the biggest differences in customer service between the chat channel compared to phone or email? 

Massimiliano:

The main difference is the expectation of response time. Today we are used to chatting with friends, family, or colleagues for any quick questions or information. Business chat should mirror the ease of conversation we have via chat in our everyday lives. A company should ensure its chat channel is just as fluid and fast. Features like allowing a customer to send audio or video or call in the chat are great ways to provide that same experience.  

Henrik:

Chat offers customers a way to get a hold of your life and have a conversation in real-time. A customer expects that chat will be answered almost instantly. Chat also offers a platform to provide files to customers and receive files in real-time from the customers.  
 
With the phone, we are glued to the phone and serving one customer at a time, and if we need to send them something or see something we have to do it via email afterward. With email, we many times have to go back and forth due to information we need from the customer, customer needs from us, and misunderstandings. With chat, we can fight effectively misunderstandings and we can get the needed information almost instantly. 
 
From a customer reach point of view, we need to make sure we offer chat in the places where our customers are having problems or where they come to look for our contact information. 
 

Julio:

The chat is a synchronous channel. The client expects an immediate response, whereas email is an asynchronous channel. The customer, when writes an email, doesn’t expect an immediate response. And I compare them because both are digital, but when we jump to the telephone channel  (synchronous) in many cases (depending on the industry or the age range of the client) it’s far from being one of the main channels.

Customers have strongly migrated to digital channels, especially those that are served in real-time (such as chat). I believe that the telephone channel is not going to disappear, it requires, depending on the industry, be it financial or health for example, that a person is behind, but less and less.

4. What are the steppingstones and requirements for successful customer service in the chat channel?

Massimiliano:

 Integration of the chat with a company’s systems is key (i.e. CRM, ERP, e-commerce, surveys, etc.). This allows your chat to pull information from various sources and consider things like a customer’s previous purchases, preferences, feedback, and questions to provide relevant information and an actual dialogue and conversation with your customer. This is what creates a relationship with your brand.  

Julio:

Define what that chat channel will be used for. In other words, having the possibility of explaining to the customer if it is a generic channel, a sales channel, a service channel, or a consultation channel, but making it clear what it is for. We have to set the expectation for the customer. And when the customer identifies you, you can indicate why you are contacting, and that why to allow you to send that communication to specific groups.

It makes no sense that I want to ask about the functionality of television (for example) and the company send me to customer service. That is the product, it is sale or pre-sale. Setting the expectation is key, giving the client the possibility of being able to identify the context in which they want to communicate.

5. How do you see the chat developing as a customer support channel and what trends have come apparent?

Massimiliano:

More and more companies are integrating chat as one of their points of contact and more and more consumers prefer to use it. The evolution of AI and chatbots are making it easier to answer simple questions before engaging agents. This of course drives down costs for companies but does require a human implementation to ensure an authentic experience.  

Henrik:

The current mindset is that chat is nowadays just one specific tool of how we have conversations with our customers. Chat means more and more even very complex real-time AI boosted self-service solutions where chat acts as the channel to which we guide users if our other paths have not given them answers.  
 
Self-service and AI chatbots will get better and there is a definite future there. 

Right now effective trends are adding as much as possible existing help articles and other documentation in a way it’s easy to find for customers and manage for agents and use chatbots in simple tasks such as asking for a flight number before getting a real agent. One acting trend is to centrify all self-service tools to the same point of contact where chat also is offered. 

Julio:

I think It has to do with the fact that chat is being the first line of attention through Artificial Intelligence lines. Chat is not going away, chat is becoming a front line in terms of self-service. There is a trend that comes with everything that is conversational commerce and virtual assistants through the chat channel as a source of guidance to the customer in their purchase process.

And when the client has a very specific question where the virtual assistant cannot necessarily give an answer, an agent is referred and then that agent can refer back to that virtual assistant where the client continues the conversation with artificial intelligence.  

Now, it is also key to measure the experience within the chat channel. And not only if you liked it or not, but also have different nuances, verticals, or items by which to measure this experience.

The verdict

The verdict is out – chat is here to stay and will grow in importance with the surge of AI and demand for self-service. It will not automatically take over other channels but complement your channel strategy. Knowing your customers and knowing what channels they want to use will decide what you should ultimately do. These choices can differ among industries, demographics, and the type of contact reasons.  

Though chat offers a wide range of possibilities to automate and interact with your customers – and can even blend support and sales – it is good not to forget the human connection and managing customer expectations. It is also good to remember that your live chat support is as good as your implementation.

Do not sell your customer support short but find the right partners and technologies to have success with live chat. And what is live chat without great customer feedback? We are happy to help you discover that and help you lead your customer support with even better customer insight.