As the worlds of business and e-commerce experience rapid digital transformation, one feature that has had to evolve quickly is how we communicate with our customers. A few years ago, we would mainly communicate by email or by a phone call in some circumstances. Today’s customers demand better service and more instantaneous communication.
Emails can often take time to be responded to, and phone calls may face the barrier of different time zones if a company spans several countries. The only way to avoid this latter issue is if your call centre operates 24/7.
And while self-service FAQ sections may offer solutions to some questions, they are limited in what they offer and which questions they can answer. With the increasing demand for better and quicker communications, companies must meet that demand to maintain good customer experiences.
The solution that most companies are opting for is live chat. But just what is live chat, how does it work, and what benefits does it offer your business? Live chat offers an option that provides great customer experience, but the statistics about online chat support tell only part of the story:
- 79% of customers prefer the instant communication aspect of live chats.
- Live chat support has a customer satisfaction rate of 92%, the highest of any channel.
- 41% of consumers prefer to live chat for contacting support teams.
- 63% of customers who access a website’s live chat will probably return to that site.
- More than half of all live chats originate on a mobile device.
- 47% of customers have experienced a negative live chat experience in the past month.
- 70% of all consumers prefer talking to a person rather than an automated system.
What is Live Chat?
Live chat is a communications channel that allows customers to speak directly with a company’s representatives—usually those in customer service and technical support and other roles. The format is usually a pop-up chat window within a company’s website.
In some cases, initiating online chat features may need action by the customer; in other cases, the chatbox may pop up automatically as a proactive way to engage with a customer.
Many businesses now use live chat as part of their SaaS (software as a service) infrastructure, as they recognise it as one of their must-have customer service elements.
By offering an instant way of asking questions or following up on information on the website, you are meeting your customers’ demands and helping them to a better customer journey. But your live chat service must be constantly staffed. That means being aware of demands on the service and avoiding long waiting times if possible.
It is also important that your live chat staff have the knowledge base needed to answer almost any query or at least a quick way of accessing such knowledge.
How Does Live Chat Work?
The first thing to know is that your live chat service is an integral part of your website. There is no need for your customers to download and install any software or mobile apps, as they would with something like Telegram.
If a website has a live chat included in its service, it will usually appear as a small widget in the bottom right-hand corner of the page. If a site’s live chat is proactive, you may hear a sound to advise you that a customer support rep is available. With or without sound, you click on the widget to open the chatbox, then type your question.
Visitors to the live chat (the consumers) can use the chat much like any of their favourite chat apps. They can type text; they can attach files (for example, they may be querying something on an invoice), they can send other files (for example, a video file or photograph to illustrate a fault with a product). They can, if they wish, also use emojis and the like.
Of course, the operator has a lot more abilities and powers at their side of the chat.
- They can access a variety of analytics dashboards and/or tools.
- They can track customers to see what they are looking at and how long they spend on the site sections.
- They can create a list of pre-prepared answers to speed up response times.
- They see what customers type as they type it.
- They can have a live chat integrated with mobile apps or platforms—for either Android or iOS—where it helps.
- They have ‘moderator’ powers and can ban a customer if abusive.
- They can ask for feedback during the chat.
- If a customer has used the service before or is registered with the site, they can look at previous chat histories.
- If needed, the chat can be conducted from a mobile app.
Do not just see your live chat as a communications tool. It is also a way of building a database of contacts for future marketing campaigns. But its primary function is to give your customers an instantaneous communication method, which enhances their experience and helps you identify any issues with your site.
Ecommerce businesses are always looking for ways to boost customer satisfaction, and live chat can be a major contributor.
How to Use Live Chat
The core function of your live chat is as a customer service or technical support communications tool. Customers want—and love—an almost instantaneous response time. And they definitely like the idea of a personalised approach. That latter factor helps to build relationships, and this, in turn, can lead to both conversions and customer retention.
One major decision to make when integrating a live chat service into your website is being reactive or proactive.
- Reactive: waiting for the customer to start a chat or ask a question. Akin to a customer having to approach a staff member in a physical store to ask for assistance.
- Proactive: initiating the chat from your end or making the customer aware you are there and willing to help. Similar to a sales assistant approaching you in a shop.
The problem with being only reactive is that if you use this approach, you may lose sales. Not every customer with a question or problem will initiate a chat. If they can’t find an answer themselves, they may leave the site and seek their products elsewhere. Thus, you have lost a customer, possibly a repeat customer, and they may now have a negative view of your site.
Many people find a proactive approach in a physical shop annoying. Sometimes you want to browse for a while first. But in a digital setting, proactive does not have to mean intrusive. By simply letting the customer know you are there to help if needed, you may well reduce the number of customers who leave your site.
While we have mentioned how customers love the idea of instantaneous chat, the reality is that there will be times where your live chat service is busy. This is unavoidable in many cases, especially with busy sites and certain sectors (such as banking). If a customer gets no response, then they will leave, so you have to look at ways to avoid this.
The best way to help with this issue is to have a degree of automation in your live chat. Install chatbots in your service. They can offer simple greetings, alert you to a waiting customer, and advise the customer when the service is busy and at what position they are in the queue. This can also include an estimated waiting time.
Another potential advantage of being proactive is selective targeting. As you should have an overview of site activity, you will see if any customers are browsing high-value products or spending a lot of time on one particular page. In these cases, initiating the chat may lead to a lucrative sale.
Benefits of Live Chat on a Website
Don’t just see your live chat as a communications tool. It is also a way of building a database of contacts for future marketing campaigns. But its primary function is to give your customers an instantaneous communication method that enhances their experience and helps you identify any issues with your site.
Live chat can have a major positive impact on your business, and not just from the perspective of improving your customers’ journeys. If you harvest details of the people who use your chat service, you build a database for generating leads, comprising people you already know are interested in your products or services. If you generate leads, you can capture leads, too!
But from the customers’ perspective, it’s all about communication. You are offering them a simple conduit between buyer and marketplace. Somewhere they can pose questions or report problems without playing an interminable game of email ping pong. It makes their overall experience better and more satisfying and means you are more likely to retain them.
Another positive aspect for customers—and you—is that with repeat visitors who regularly use the chat, you can store all their details on your customer relationship management (CRM) system. Like that offered by RingCentral, the best live chat options integrate with top CRM software such as Salesforce and Zendesk.
The data you can then access could include chat history and chat transcripts, what pages they visited, and what products or services they have purchased.
This not only helps you, but it also adds to that feeling of personalised service and can be a major factor in improved conversion rates and customer retention.
Live Chat Effectiveness
Is live chat worth integrating into your website? Is it actually effective? The answer to both these questions is a resounding YES. You only need to browse some websites at random to see how many businesses have chosen to have this service. All now have a live chat as part of their customer service from small local companies to multinational corporations.
It’s not only effective, but it can also save you money and generate revenue. Research has shown that opting for a live chat in place of traditional phone calls can save you between 17% and 30%. Whereas with phones, a chat agent can only handle one call at a time, with live chat, a well trained and experienced agent can handle several chat conversations simultaneously.
But for many businesses, it is the potential for increased revenue that can be the deciding factor. Live chat has been shown to increase conversion rates by a factor of between three and five. And in some cases, your ROI can increase, with as much as 6000% recorded.
So the primary effects you hope to see from integrating live chat into your online portal are:
- Increased conversion rates.
- Better sales figures.
- Targeted sales.
- Higher ROI.
- Better relationship building with customers.
- Enhanced customer journey.
- Increase in levels of customer satisfaction.
Live Chat Service Providers
Once you decide that you need to live chat as an online service, how do you decide which provider to go with? Who will offer the best service that meets your requirements and needs? As with many digital solutions, there is no one size fits all.
You may need different functions such as omnichannel integration, a ticketing system, and more. Different providers offer different types and levels of service. We look at ten of the best available.
1. Ringcentral, instantly connecting you.
Knowing a customer’s information helps your staff provide a better service and convert prospects more easily. Ringcentral Live Chat lets your agents see how long a customer has been on a specific page, how often they have visited the site, what pages they have visited regularly. Unlimited custom options to suit your business.
Customisation is a major advantage of Ringcentral’s Live Chat, and it’s one that businesses will love. Not only can you customise the customer information fields, but you can also customise your widget to match your brand, as well as setting up behavioural targeting to set when your widget invites the customer to the chat.
Another great feature of Ringcentral is that you can configure the Live Chat programme to send out a survey at the close of every chat session. That way, you can monitor your customer satisfaction score (CSAT) and your net promoter score (NPS), allowing you to gauge how positive the customer experience has been.
2. Hubspot, best free option on the market.
HubSpot Live Chat is perhaps the best free option available and may be ideal for smaller businesses who are not ready to spend money on a service until they are sure there are benefits. It allows you to chat with visitors to your site in real-time, and your widget can be customised to match your brand. It also allows easy storage of customer details and history.
3. Olark, ideal for sales and marketing teams.
Olark is a great choice if your business is sales and marketing orientated. It offers a range of flexible, per agent pricing options to suit the size of your team. You get the same core features regardless of how many team members you have, but can then customise your package from their ‘a la carte’ menu to get any added features you feel you need.
4. ChatBot, AI solution in the digital age.
If you are worried that staffing levels place restrictions on what you can offer, ChatBot could be the solution. It is one of the best AI-based chat programmes that allow you to provide a virtual version of your FAQ section. The easy to use interface means you can create entire conversations for the most common scenarios that arise in your customer service interaction.
5. LiveChat, reliability and performance.
LiveChat is one of the most used and reliable chat tools on the market. It is the first choice of many major global companies such as Ikea and PayPal so that you would be in good company. Its beauty lies in how it combines chat from various sources into one destination, allowing your staff to cover omnichannel platforms. It has almost 200 integrations, including Facebook Messenger and MailChimp.
6. ClickDesk, bringing something different to the table.
ClickDesk is a little different from the other options on this list in that it does not focus purely on text chat but also prioritises voice and video options. In fact, it is not so much a live chat solution as a product that allows communication on several levels. It also allows integration with several social media platforms and is free for up to 10 users, with various numbers above that.
7. LiveAgent, an all-round performer that may suit your needs.
LiveAgent is a good all-around customer service programme with great chat functionality and provides helpdesk options that give a seamless one-stop customer journey. Their chat widget is also noted as the fastest on the market, and the flexible plans to offer to allow for quick and easy automation let you customise your service.
8. Chaport, the perfect option for startups.
Startups can often be wary of opting for major packages that will impact their balance sheets. The chart is a great choice for those smaller companies that want versatility and scalability. And if you are watching the pennies, you can take their free plan until ready to upgrade. It offers customisable widgets, basic analytics, a 30-day chat history, and support across several platforms.
9. Podium, offering SMS messaging as well as text chat.
Podium Webchat is a great choice if you want to chat with your website visitors and have the option to do text messaging. As with other programmes, it is easy to use, and the widget can be customised to your brand. But the unique quality of Podium is that customers enter their phone number to start a conversation, allowing you another contact option after a chat.
10. Freshchat, the chat option for enterprises.
Freshchat is a superb choice if you run an enterprise and want something more than a simple live chat. It offers the usual integration tools to enhance experiences and allows you to scale your team by way of automation and further integration. It also comes with multi-tier data security, so it is perfect for data encryption, credit card payments, security, and any needed compliance.
How to Have Live Chat on Your Website
So you’ve looked at your website and how you currently communicate with customers and have decided that you need a live chat to improve things. So pick one and sign up, right? No, not quite yet. It is not a decision to rush into a long term perspective. Committing to a long term contract, then discovering the software could not be a costly decision.
Most live chat software packages will offer a free trial; some will even offer ‘free forever’ options. It is well worth trying out different options to find which one offers the features you need and best suits your requirements. Think of it as being the same as buying new shoes. You may try on several pairs till you find the ones you buy, or the first pair may turn out to be a perfect fit!
Before you even sign up for a free trial or free package, spend some time listing your wants and needs and discussing your marketing or sales team’s options. Then make a shortlist of the providers who offer the features and functionality you like. Lastly, decide an order (of sorts) and see which offer free trials or free forever packages.
If you provide any form of the online offering and customer service matters to you, then live chat is something you must integrate into your processes. The evidence is undeniable that it improves the customer experience and brings benefits to your company.
A happy customer is a customer who will use your service again and again. Providing efficient live chat customer service allows the customer to contact you in real-time. It also lets you, as a business, increase conversion rates, see impressive ROI, and expand your customer base as word of your impressive customer experience spreads.
Integrating a live chat option into your customer service provisions is an easy decision, but choosing which provider to opt for may be slightly more difficult. Take time, research each provider in detail, and read customer reviews where available. Making the right choice will make a real difference to your business’s profitability.
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