Live chat support has a lot to offer, both for your business and for your customers.
First, customers: They want to be able to reach your company — a real person who really works for you — quickly and consistently. They don’t want to wait 48 hours for an email response, and they definitely don’t want to sit on hold for 20 minutes or more for the next available phone agent.
Your business also benefits from live chat: It creates a support avenue that can be simple and streamlined, and it can even increase sales (more on that later).
If you’re considering implementing live chat support, this guide will get you started with benefits, best practices, and helpful tools and strategies for winning customer support through live chat.
What is live chat support and how does it differ from a chatbot?
Live chat support is a software and website utility combination that connects customers with human support agents that can answer their questions in real time over chat or instant message. It differs from other support methods like phone support or email- or ticket-based support in that it happens quickly and via text.
Live chat support makes a meaningful difference for businesses that use it, with 79% of businesses indicating a positive impact on sales, revenue, and customer loyalty.
Chatbots might look pretty similar to the end user, at least at first: They, too, pop up on a site and invite the user to type their problem into the box to get their answer. The difference is that chatbots are entirely automated, running predefined scripts and often using AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to determine customer intent and respond in human-ish ways.
While the two experiences look similar on the customer end, they produce different results — and the backend systems supporting them are extremely different as well.
What customer support teams and customers love about live chat experiences
Compared to legacy support methods (including phone and email support), messaging support channels like live chat feel like a breath of fresh air for customers and customer support agents alike.
Here are just a few of the elements that your teams and customers will appreciate when you add in live chat as a support option.
Live chat humanizes and personalizes support interactions
First, live chat brings a human touch to support interactions because it personalizes the experience in real time.
Customers love interacting with a real person, especially for more complicated customer service requests. Live chat support allows them to do that, even while they continue to take care of other responsibilities through multitasking.
Even in situations where the ultimate resolution is sending the customer over to a FAQ or knowledge base or even creating a support ticket with the help desk for a problem that can’t be solved immediately, customers will find the encounter to be a better customer service experience because of the humanization and personalization they experience through live chat.
Check out our guide to social media for customer service to learn how to provide personalized service on more channels.
Live chat still allows teams to automate with scripts
One of the potential downsides to live chat support is that it seems like it can be resource-intensive. But live chat support doesn’t have to mean that your human agents are manually typing every answer to every question.
Many live chat software solutions can be used in tandem with automation, allowing the system to automatically respond in bot-like fashion to common, routine requests, such as, “Where is my order?”
Your human agents can also rely on scripts and macros, which allow them to quickly paste in stock answers or phrases where applicable.
For example, you could create a script that supplies routine order tracking information:
“We understand you want to get your items soon! Your order, [title or order number], is on its way to you now. You can expect to receive it within [timeframe].”
At minimum, now your chat support agents need to fill in just two pieces of information. Ideally, even those fields can be automated by pulling information from your CRM or other systems, if you’re using the right software tools.
You could also create a script for questions about returns:
“I’m sorry to hear your purchase isn’t working out for you. If you’re sure you want to return it, simply [whatever the process is for your business].”
Live chat has been shown to improve conversions for online stores
Your primary goal as an ecommerce business is to sell more products to more people, so anything you can do to increase conversions is a strategic move. Live chat does exactly this: One recent report showed that live chat increased conversions (visitors to sales) by 12% on average and that users who interact with your live chat widget become 2.8 times more likely to buy than those who don’t.
Elsewhere, another survey revealed that nearly 4 in 10 consumers say they’re more likely to buy from a company that offers live chat support than from one that doesn’t.
These are big numbers that show massive potential to improve your conversion rates and boost sales.
Why exactly is this the case? It’s easy to think of live chat as primarily a post-purchase support tool, but it need not be limited to that.
Say a prospect has a question about a product. They add it to their shopping cart, but then they hesitate. When you give them the ability to reach out directly and instantly to ask their question about the item to a real person, you reduce friction and generally lower cart abandonment.
Still not convinced? Read our deeper post on how to use live chat to boost sales.
Live chat problems generally get solved fast (~42 seconds)
Also, live chat is a great way for customers to get their problems solved quickly. How quickly? 42 seconds on average.
42 seconds is not a lot of time. Customers who call into a phone tree or IVR system will have hardly gotten through selecting 1 for English or 2 for español before a live chat customer has gotten their problem solved!
Live chat resonates better with bigger spenders
If the main goal of any ecommerce store is to sell more products to more people, a close second is selling more (or more expensive) products within individual transactions — the fabled average ticket value or average customer value.
Live chat solutions help here too. One survey found that among those who consistently spend more online per month (between $250 and $500), 63% have increased loyalty to brands and companies offering live chat support experiences.
This makes sense: The more you’re spending, the more you want to be sure you’ll be seen and heard. The ability to contact support right before a sale is incredibly important for this reason. Plus, the information and confidence from those shoppers may even result in an upsell.
Best practices for offering live chat support
If you’re operating an ecommerce business, implementing live chat support is a strategic move that can catalyze growth and increase your sales (just like all support channels). But like anything new, you want to be sure to implement your live chat experience properly.
First, learn how to add live chat to your Shopify store (or Magento store) and read our guide to getting live chat up and running within two weeks. Then, follow these best practices if you’re just getting started — and if you’re already using live chat to a degree, use these as a check-up to evaluate the health of your live chat efforts.
1) Create an automated initial prompt to increase perceived response times
As great as your live chat customer support team is, it’s not realistic to expect them to be able to respond to every customer in real time. One strategy that gives them a little more buffer is to create an automated initial prompt that boosts your first-response times.
This way, when a customer first types something into the chat window, they get a prompt response that gives your human agents a little more time to start the process.
Something like this could be a good place to start:
“Thanks for reaching out! My name is Greg, and I’m glad to help you today.”
It’s basic, but it gets the job done: The customer knows that a real person named Greg is going to handle their issue, and real-person Greg gets an extra 10 or 15 seconds to wrap up and get ready.
2) Promptly respond to messages, but don’t rush
People value knowing they’ll be interacting with a real person, not a bot. So they don’t expect instantaneous responses — but they don’t want to be kept waiting, either. It’s always important to be prompt (and the definition of “prompt” varies depending on your industry’s expectations), but support agents should take enough time to be sure they fully understand the question or complaint so they can respond appropriately.
In other words, customers who get their problems solved correctly the first time are happy to wait slightly longer. Prompt and accurate is better than rushed and incomplete.
3) Be transparent and honest
Not every problem can be solved instantly, and that’s OK. Customers come to live chat because they can’t solve their issue on their own, and that means live chat support often gets more complex questions.
It’s important to have an open dialog with customers, especially skeptical customers. It’s 100% OK to let a customer know that you need a little time to look into something. Telling them is certainly far better than appearing to ghost them or trying to trot out a pat answer that won’t satisfy them.
Similarly, there will be situations where an agent doesn’t have the resources or approval to move forward with an issue and needs to push the concern to another agent or supervisor or even to your other support channels. Agents should be transparent, clear, and honest when this happens: People appreciate honesty and follow-ups — and they despise overconfident wrong answers or a lack of clarity about next steps.
4) Keep the conversation focused
One of the disadvantages of text-based conversations is that you can’t control the clarity of the other party. They might be wildly unclear about their problem or they might start branching off into multiple topics within a single thread or encounter.
Support agents need to keep conversations focused on a single problem at a time and may need to guide customers along to this end. Once the first problem is resolved, then it’s great to tackle the next one. But letting things devolve into a confusing mishmash is a quick way to end up harming customer satisfaction.
5) Keep it concise, and prompt customers with questions
Encourage your live chat agents to keep responses brief yet friendly. The longer and more complex the messages you send, the greater the chance for confusion or missed points. The customer could respond to just half the message, and then the agent has to awkwardly repeat the unanswered half.
Most of the time, you want to make sure that any individual message has just one thing to do or respond to in it. Falling into a call and response sort of pattern, where the customer responds to each prompt, is a good way to keep things streamlined.
6) Have specific live chat support hours
Your business might not have a 24-hour customer support team in place and may never need to, depending on your market and your competition. If you aren’t offering 24-hour support, then set and advertise a specific set of hours that your team will be available for customers.
Some businesses set up a chatbot to take on the after-hours work, solving simple queries and pushing more complex ones to the next-morning queue for your human agents. This can be a good strategy; just make sure your customers know that that’s what you’re doing.
7) Follow through with customers until the conversation has reached a meaningful conclusion
Follow-through is key as well during live support interactions. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve completed the interaction and moving on to another task or customer only to realize that you’ve left the customer hanging, still waiting on some crucial piece of information.
Be sure your agents aren’t unintentionally walking away too soon. The best way to do this is to proactively check with the customer to make sure that both the customer and the live chat rep agree that everything is resolved.
8) Share helpful resources and content when possible
Sometimes, the customer’s comments reveal that they need something more complex than what will fit in a little chat box. Maybe they’re struggling with how to use some core functionality in your device or your mobile app or they have a technical question about a product that’s answered in some technical documentation already on your website.
When customers need more education or detailed instructions, leverage your existing self-service resources, like knowledge base articles, tech specs, or even product pages. Your agents should feel free to offer links to your team’s content assets, allowing customers to solve their own problems.
Of course, invite them to contact your company again if they still can’t figure it out. And if you can give them clear routing instructions, such as a specific phone number to call that lets them skip the IVR phone tree, it makes sense to do so at this point.
Choosing live chat support software for ecommerce companies
Of course, integrating live chat support into your website (and into your customer service and support workflows) requires some form of live chat support software. That’s a whole discussion in itself, but the most crucial factors are feature sets and integrations.
You certainly need software that accommodates everything you want to do with live chat. Beyond that, ask these three crucial questions for any software you’re considering:
- Does this integrate with my ecommerce platform?
- Does this integrate with my other customer service apps?
- How easy is it to install?
And good news: We have answers for you. Read about the best live chat apps for the three big ecommerce platforms:
- Best live chat apps for Shopify
- Best live chat apps for BigCommerce
- Best live chat apps for Magento 2 Stores
- Best live chat apps for overall ecommerce
- Best live chat apps (industry agnostic)
Gorgias offers live chat customer support for ecommerce companies in a couple clicks
Gorgias is a leading all-in-one ecommerce customer support and helpdesk platform that’s laser-focused on the needs of ecommerce businesses like yours. Our live chat feature is flexible and powerful, plus it can be enabled in just a few clicks.
Gorgias’s proactive chat tools can help you meet your customers’ needs, grow your conversion rates, and consistently improve the customer experience.
Ready to take the plunge and start reaping the benefits of live chat support? See more of what life is like with Gorgias live chat.