Customer Service

Is Live Chat Worth It?

It was a phase, until it started costing money and taking time away from already busy schedules. Too many business owners had the wrong expectations, so links to the tool are seen less these days. I’m talking about live chat between online stores and visitors.

If used properly, though, a live chat tool can result in repeat visits and purchases.

Live chat software can run as little as a $100 license fee, or up to $100 or more per month via a service. What you will pay depends on the features you need, but let’s not forget about time—our most valuable resource. The software doesn’t run itself, which means time spent chatting with customers will cost significantly more than the software itself.

The time spent chatting with a shopper (chats can run from minutes to hours) is dependent on the shopper’s needs and understanding. It’s not for all visitors—some shoppers refuse to initiate chats, which are more impersonal. You can’t expect a high percentages of visitors to use the tool, nor can you expect a high percentage of those who do to make a direct purchase.

The key to finding the right tool is to know your needs. If you aren’t concerned with maintaining chat logs or statistics, you can expect to pay less than those who want in-depth analysis. Either way, you need a tool that works in the most environments and in secure mode (to avoid SSL alerts due to insecure calls).

Many site owners implement live chat thinking they’ll close sale after sale. But most small business sites I’ve studied handle only 1-3 shopper initiated chats a day. It’s not the quantity of inquiries, but rather the quality of the conversation that determines whether the service is a worthy part of your business.

Remember etiquette

I recently wrote in this space about email etiquette. The same rules apply to chatting. It doesn’t matter if shoppers correspond in abbreviated form, ALL CAPS or broken sentences. It’s your job to provide a service, so take the time to type as if you were speaking—coherently and simply. The experience for the shopper should be just as personable as a telephone call.

Also follow these simple rules:

  • The initiation of a chat should always be made by the shopper. While a floating “Need help?” window might get some takers, many will be annoyed at the equivalent of a pop-up ad.
  • Leave shoppers to end the chat—they may be studying content and plan to ask more questions. If you need to close the chat (give them 15 minutes), be sure to post a reason why, and invite them to chat again if they need more assistance.
    -Send the shopper a copy of the chat via email. This provides a record of the discussion, and stands as a reminder of their visit.
    -Be careful with URL Pushing—the practice of “forcing” the shopper’s browser to a specific page (which doesn’t always work). You may be loading over the top an important site, giving them good reason to close the chat window and leave.

So, is live chatting worth the expense? If your goal is to develop long-lasting relationships by providing key services to potential and existing customers, it’s definitely a move in the right direction. Since it provides the ability to multi-task, the overall time expenditure is less than phone handling for most sites. And if you were a night owl, how great would it be to land a customer at 2 a.m. because he’s been surfing the web all night trying to find something, and you were there to guide the way?

Pamela Hazelton
Pamela Hazelton
Bio   •   RSS Feed