You see it all the time: you visit a website and a pop-up in the bottom right corner of your screen asks if you need help. That’s live chat, and a growing number of companies are using it as a form of online customer contact. It’s a valuable addition to online services, but for many companies it is still new and unknown. This article will explain what live chat is, its similarities and differences with other forms of online customer contact, and how you can get started with live chat.

What if we suddenly get a lot more questions?

When we talk to customers about live chat, two questions often arise: Can we still provide personalised service through live chat? And what if we suddenly get a lot more questions?

First, let’s look at personalised contact. Communication via live chat may be anonymous, but it’s also personal. Website visitors are talking to a real person; if you speak the customer’s language and show empathy, you make the conversation personal.

The second concern concerns the increased number of questions organisations expect to receive when using live chat. Indeed, there may be more questions from visitors, especially in the beginning. You’re making it easy for the website visitor, so they’re likely to ask more questions – or ask them earlier – than you’re used to. But the key question is, does that matter?

The advantage is that you better understand what people are looking for on your website and where they get stuck. In other words, it gives you tons of information you can use to improve your website. Apparently, things are not yet easy for everyone to find. And one thing is certain: all the messages you get via live chat will no longer reach you via telephone or email.

Live chat in practice

Before we dive into the similarities and differences between live chat and other forms of online customer contact, let’s briefly return to what live chat is. Live chat is one form of online customer contact. For some time now, you’ve probably been using your website, Facebook, Twitter and perhaps Instagram to stay in touch with your website visitors. All online channels are used alongside each other, making it easy for visitors to get in touch.

Live chat complements those channels. It’s a chat window on the website where visitors can ask questions immediately. Of course, live chat can be set up exactly as you wish. It might only appear during your opening hours or appear on all pages or only a few specific ones. Many organisations show live chat on specific pages, so they can help the visitor in a focused and live way (like when filling in a form).

The differences

There are three crucial differences between live chat and other forms of online customer contact:

  • The conversation starts immediately: the moment a question is asked, you’re in direct contact with the website visitor. That means someone must always be available to respond to an incoming chat. When that happens, the website visitor gets a quick answer to their question. As mentioned above, you can turn live chat on and off or set it to automatically match your employees’ work schedules.
  • Conversations are short: people want a quick answer to a specific question and don’t want to wait for things to be investigated. A live chat conversation consists of short texts, and it doesn’t last long. It’s different from a message received on Facebook or Twitter, where you have a little time to figure something out.
  • You set the tone of the conversation: unlike other forms of contact, you start the conversation yourself with live chat. The first question in the pop-up window sets the tone of the conversation. Do you address the visitors formally or informally? Make it personal by giving your name right away: ‘Hi, my name is Mark! How can I help you?’

The similarities

There are also similarities between live chat and traditional social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:

  • Answering questions works similarly: live chat can be added to the online media monitor. It provides an overview of all questions asked via various channels. You answer live chat questions just as you’re used to for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram questions.
  • Working agreements are important. For live chat, you also need to make working agreements about how questions will be answered. You’re in a live conversation with a person, so personal contact and empathy are important.
  • All messages are private: just like email, WhatsApp or direct messages via social media, all live chat messages are private.

Live chat leads to more conversions and greater customer satisfaction

We’re seeing more and more public authorities adding live chat as a service channel to provide a higher level of service. Our customers usually place live chat on specific pages, such as the contact page, or on pages about a specific subject (like applying for a passport, moving house or filing a tax return). This helps website visitors deal with complex matters online.

Our customers also use live chat as a tool to improve the customer journey. The questions visitors ask are a good indication of which information is still missing or is difficult to find on the website.

According to our customers, these are the three most important advantages of live chat:

  • It’s extremely easy for website visitors to use
  • Questions are answered quickly
  • It reduces the number of people who leave your website early

These advantages lead to more conversion and greater customer satisfaction.

Five tips for getting started with live chat

It’s less complex than it might seem to start using live chat. It begins with making choices (for example, on which pages do you offer live chat) and setting up good working agreements. My colleagues and I know exactly what you need to consider, and we guide customers through this process. If necessary, we can train your staff to work with live chat and use the right tone of voice. Live chat technology can be set up quickly: it can be up and running on your website in a week.

These five tips will get your organisation off to a good start with live chat:

  • Have sufficient capacity: live chat only works if you can respond quickly to a question. Ensure enough employees can work with live chat and adjust staffing levels at peak times.
  • Prioritise live chat: this channel demands an immediate response. If multiple messages come in from different channels, give live chat priority. Take a critical look at who you assign to live chat; don’t just hand it off to your receptionist or front desk staff to answer ‘on the side’. It’s better to combine live chat with answering emails or webcare via traditional social media channels.
  • Clarify working agreements: staff should respond to live chat differently than they do to email. With live chat, you give short and clear answers to the question and don’t go into too much detail. The goal is a quick and complete answer that lets the visitor continue their task.
  • Keep it personal: speak the customer’s language and show empathy.
  • Let the customer contact centre (CCC) be the driving force behind live chat: CCC is the department with the knowledge to handle most of your (online) customer contact.