10 Best Practices to Improve Live Chat


Here are some key pieces of advice for improving the quality of communication on live chat and providing better customer service.

1. Remember That It’s a Chat

This is not a transaction, a letter from a lawyer or a set of terms and conditions, it’s a chat. So, it needs to sound like a natural conversation between two people.

Ask advisors to think about what they would say when speaking to a customer face-to-face.

Neil Martin

For advisors that struggle to do this, Neil Martin, the Creative Director at The First Word, suggests asking them “to have a conversation with the customer on the phone, while typing what they say directly into the live chat. Ask advisors to think about what they would say when speaking to a customer face-to-face.” 

Don’t Be Too Formal 

According to Neil, a major problem that many advisors have is being too formal over chat, and he suggests inviting the advisor to consider asking themselves “would I say this at home?” before pressing Send.

To highlight this point, the following is a real live chat comment posted by an advisor at a well-known utilities company:

“Please ensure you provide an in-date reading from your meter to assist in generating a bill for the property in which you reside.”

No one speaks like this. It is very formal, contains a lot of jargon and is far too long. Each of these factors makes the customer feel as though they are talking to a robot.

Why doesn’t the advisor write what they would be inclined to say? Perhaps something like the below:

“Could you give me your meter reading please?”

It can be as easy for the advisor as typing what they would say on the phone directly into the chat window.

2. Show Real Empathy

Empathy is just as important on live chat as it is when speaking to a customer on the phone, but it’s something that’s easy to forget.

Neil Martin

Neil Martin

Neil Martin says that “it is easy to jump into the solution or the fix when the customer has just said something that was really upsetting or important to them. In these scenarios, however, showing empathy must be a priority.”

To demonstrate how this lack of empathy can damage a brand’s relationship with its customers, Neil uses a serious complaint that went to a train company via live chat. The complaint read:

“A member of your staff asked my daughter to leave the train at 9.30pm last night at an unstaffed, empty station because she could not show her ticket, despite her explaining that she’d lost her ticket and did not have any money to pay for a new one. This was extremely upsetting for her and I’m appalled that you’d ask a teenage girl to leave the train late at night.”

To this message, a response that should NOT be acceptable would be something like this:

“Please accept our apologies for any distress caused. In order to investigate, I require the station your daughter alighted the train.”

The advisor who makes a comment like this is going to have to work hard to win the customer back, as they’ve missed a golden opportunity to show that they’re really listening to what is important to the customer.

In fact, highlighted below are four key parts of the statement which Neil found issue with.

Our – Why not “my” or change it to say “I”. By using the word “our” the advisor can be seen to be hiding behind the brand and not personally taking charge of the situation.

Any – There is no doubt that this situation caused distress, but the word any suggests that the advisor might not really believe the customer.

I require – Require is a really formal word, but it also sparks a sharp turn in conversation. Suddenly, it’s all about the company and the information needed to close this case down, before any real empathy is shown.

Alighted – Alighted is a piece of railway jargon, which breaks rapport. Just as when building rapport on the phone, it is important to mirror the customer’s tone and demonstrate commonality on live chat. Using company jargon goes against this principle.

So, as an alternative, another advisor from the train company suggested saying:

I’m very sorry to hear this, Frank. I understand this must have been very upsetting for your daughter. So I can look into this, could you let me know which station your daughter got off at please?”

This is a much better example and highlighted this time are the words and phrases that make this a great empathy statement.

For other examples, read our article: 18 Empathy Statements That Help Improve Customer-Agent Rapport

3. Avoid Passive Writing – Stay Active!

Politicians love to speak in the passive. “Mistakes were made” became a mantra of the Clinton US presidency and has been used by a series of politicians since to get out of sticky situations.

Removing personal pronouns, like in the statement above, is essentially a tool to deny responsibility. So, while this may work in politics, it definitely should not be used in the contact centre.

Using this logic, make sure advisors take personal responsibility for a customer’s issue and use words such as “I” and “you”, to ensure customers feel as though they have someone inside the business personally working to resolve their issue.

Also, just as an advisor is encouraged to do on the phone, use active verbs to signal to the customer that their issue is a key priority to the company. Saying that “your contact is a priority” will likely irritate the customer, as they will realise the number of contacts an advisor takes each day and may think they are being lied to. So, an advisor should use active language to show them instead.

For example, compare the statements: “This will be processed by [X]” with I will ask [X] to process this for you”. The second phrase is clearly an improved version, with activity and personality.

But how can advisors ensure that they do not cross from the active to the passive?

To do this, Neil Martin recommends the “by robots” test, which works by requesting that advisors review each sentence mentally adding the words “by robots” to the end of it. If the statement still makes sense, the words that the advisors have used will be in the passive voice. If they cannot add “by robot” to the end of each sentence, it is active and the advisor can press Send.

For example, here are a few common phrases that are used in customer service:

“Your complaint is being investigated… by robots” – Makes sense, so it’s PASSIVE and should not be used.

“I am looking into your complaint… by robots” – Doesn’t make sense, so it’s ACTIVE and can be used.

“All complaints are taken seriously… by robots” – Makes sense, so it’s PASSIVE and should not be used.

“We take all complaints seriously… by robots” – Doesn’t make sense, so it’s ACTIVE and can be used.

As these examples demonstrate, the passive statements remove that sense of ownership and the active statements are more believable.

4. Offer a Survey for Feedback, But Keep It on the Same Channel

Using customer feedback to improve service should be done across all contact centre channels, ideally using the same metric.

Customer Effort is a good KPI to use across all channels, as the contact centre can ask the customer the same question on each: “How much effort did you personally have to put forth to handle your request, on a scale of 1-5?”

This helps the contact centre track the performance of its advisors. But if the scores are fed back to the advisors, the team can self-learn, as they discover which techniques can help to reduce customer effort, for example, as is done in HomeServe’s contact centre in Walsall. So, on live chat, advisors can self-learn the best language, techniques and tricks to use on the channel.

But what is the best way to run a customer feedback survey on live chat?

Aruf Khan

Aruf Khan

Aruf Khan, a Senior Manager of Client Engagement at NICE| Nexidia, believes that “the best way would be to keep it within the same platform as the chat, as it’s a better experience and the customer is more likely to leave a response. This would also make it easier for data analysts to join the results with the interaction itself.”

However, the customer may feel awkward giving feedback directly to the advisor, and this could also produce biased results. So, the advisor could instead send the customer a link at the end of the live chat interaction to a site like SurveyMonkey, where they may feel more comfortable relaying honest feedback.

This feedback can then be used by advisors to self-learn and by the contact centre to gauge any changes to customer satisfaction when a process has been altered on the live chat channel.

For more on this subject, read our article: 9 Ways to Encourage Customers to Give Feedback

5. Find Ways to Personalise the Conversation

Personalisation is about understanding what the query is and trying to link it to something that the organisation already knows about the customer, which may sound simple, but is difficult to do in practice.

Mike Murphy

This is according to Mike Murphy, an Account Executive at Genesys, who says that “this kind of personalisation gives that kind of wow factor, as the customer thinks ‘you’ve thought about me, you’ve made me feel special today’.”

So, the contact centre should look to keep track of previous engagements with customers, from how often they call to recent purchases and complaints, to make it easier for advisors to deliver a personalised interaction.

In addition, advisors on the live chat channel can make a note when the customer reveals a piece of information such as “I have two dogs”, and log it in the knowledge management system. Then, during future interactions, advisors can casually mention that information to help demonstrate commonality and build rapport.

Nicola Millard

Nicola Millard, who is Head of Customer Insight and Futures at BT, adds that “as many companies are putting more into self-service and automation, the last thing an organisation wants is for advisors to become robots.”

As many companies are putting more into self-service and automation, the last thing an organisation wants is for advisors to become robots.

Nicola Millard

“It is all about using those lovely things that we have within chat, rather than giving customers a standard set of responses.”

So, it is arguably most important for advisors on the live chat channel to provide a personalised service, as while chatbots are starting to emerge on this channel, this is something that they cannot yet do.

Bonus Tips From Our Readers

6. Don’t Ask for Too Much Information at Once

Don’t ask for too much information about the customer before they start a chat. This may put them off starting a chat to begin with.

It is good practice to only ask their name to begin with. If more information is needed, this can be done later in the chat.

Thanks to Stuart

7. Treat the Customer as a Friend

It’s vitally important for a business to keep the conversation flowing in a personable way. Contact centres that do this often receive a lot of compliments for never offering canned robotic responses to their customers.

So, try encouraging live chat advisors to treat all customers like they would a friend!

8. Make Sure the Live Chat Team Have the Right Personalities

Try to hire the right personalities to work with live chat.

Don’t allow the live chat team to hide behind the screen by writing responses formally, as if writing a letter, allow them to be themselves!

It may also help to keep teams on live chat for shorter periods of time to keep the conversations fresh and the chat advisors fresh too!

9. Mirror the Customer’s Use of Language

Just like when building rapport over the phone, mirroring language on chats is always a good way to talk with customers.

Also, on live chat, a good principle to have is that if the customer uses emoticons, for example, then we do too!

Thanks to Steve

10. Tell Customers That Webchat Responses Are Faster Than Email

To increase live chat take-up, make it the most prominent/visible onsite channel for customers to contact.

If the contact centre wants customers to move away from email, let them know with an onsite message that email queries take longer to respond to and therefore resolve. Obvious I know, but it’s working for us.

Thanks to Lesley

What other best practices would you recommend on the live chat channel?

Please leave your suggestions in the comments section below.

Published On: 1st Dec 2017 - Last modified: 13th Dec 2017
Read more about - Customer Service Strategy, , , , , , ,


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