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Blog Posted in avatar   James Duval's Blog

Live Chat 101: What Is it, and how does it help online businesses?

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By James Duval
Posted Dec 14, 2012 in Business
Live chat is a form of customer service which is embedded straight into your site, and promises easily accessible service to your clients. For this reason, it's a useful way to answer questions and troubleshoot problems there-and-then rather than allowing the customer to become frustrated and simply walk away.
Does it work? Well, according to the top rated answer on StackExchange, that's an emphatic yes.
Live chat is pretty flexible if you're tech-savvy, and fairly foolproof if you're not. You can use it to track what someone's doing, and if they come up against a problem, automatically ask them if they need help.
In this way, you can even extend its use and use it as a free user experience monitoring tool! If a lot of users are taking up your customer service staff's time with the same questions, that's a sure sign that you need to change the way your site works.
What Not To Do
Live chat shouldn't replace services like FAQs, resources and conventional customer service you already have in place. That's not an efficient use of your time, or of the customers' time!
Live chat is there so that you can fix relatively complex problems on the fly, and leave with a happy customer.
You should also be careful to make sure that you don't add a live chat without specifying when your staff are available.
If a customer is already annoyed with what they perceive as a failure on your part, failing to be around when they ask a question means they're unlikely to give you another chance – and may even badmouth you to their friends.
How To Use It
Before you let it go live, make sure that your live chat widget or app will do exactly what you want it to do.
Cover abnormal cases and deliberate attempts to abuse live chat. Make sure that your standard prompts to the user sound humble and human.
Edge cases, no matter how obscure, will crop up. In a way, the point of live chat in itself is to cover edge cases. You can't be too prepared.
Once it's up and running, though, you might be surprised at how efficiently the system runs itself.
What App?
Depending on the platform, you might need one of many apps. I definitely rate the Comm100 offering as the best android chat app, but I have to admit I haven't tried their offerings for other platforms (mostly iPhone and Windows mobile).
Ultimately, you should first make sure that you've found a trustworthy software provider who caters for your platform. Everything past that is a bonus!
Now What?
Once you've got your software up and running, be creative in your usage. As I said, flexibility is the strength of live chat, and having real humans able to make real decisions is a great asset which could lead to some amazing PR.
Unexpected generosity to customers can go viral very quickly, especially with brands which are already somewhat known.
Live chat can be integrated into a lot of other types of customer service and marketing, so experiment and see what works. You could end up a whole lot richer because of it!

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