Live chat is an increasingly important communication channel as customers come to expect more real-time service and support in their customer experience.
Live chat enables customers to talk directly to an agent via a text-based, web application. Many websites have a live chat option available through the customer service page, while others have a live chat window that pops up when a customer first visits a site or when a particular action indicates that the customer might need help.
"It is used across the customer journey to be able to proactively engage with customers as they are looking for products to buy and to help them through the purchase process and support," said Kate Leggett, vice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service at Forrester Research. "If you are able to help the customer make the right choice, not only will you see your conversion rate increasing in a quantifiable way, it also provides better customer experience."
There are many live chat benefits, both from the agent and the customer perspective:
1. Many vendors
Live chat is not a new technology. Organizations looking to implement live chat have many vendors to choose from, such as Intercom, Drift and Zendesk.
"Live chat as a technology is fairly commoditized," said Leggett. "Chat technologies have been around for a good decade or more, and there are lots of vendors out there both big and small that support different use cases."
2. Cuts costs
It is considerably cheaper for contact centers to support live chat than other customer service channels.
"Most of the time customer service organizations start with the question 'what can I do from a cost reduction perspective?'" said Brian Manusama, senior director and research and conference chairman at Gartner.
Kate LeggettVice president and principal analyst for CRM and customer service, Forrester Research
Phone support costs an organization between $10 and $15 per call, while messaging costs a couple of cents per interaction -- so it is the obvious choice for many organizations, Manusama said.
Furthermore, contact centers can use chatbots as well as agents to communicate with customers via live chat, which saves money on labor costs.
3. Agents and customers can multitask
Live chat enables both agents and customers to multitask. Agents can work on multiple chats at once -- which is another cost-reduction measure -- and customers can follow up on service issues while going about their day. A phone call requires the full attention of both parties.
"We see chat rates increasing year over year because, not only do chat interactions have less friction, but you can also get to the point more quickly," Leggett said. "A customer can multitask, they can walk away and come back to the chat, and agents as well can work many -- two, three, four -- simultaneous chats at once."
4. Quick resolution
Skip the small talk and get to the point. Live chat is generally quicker than phone calls and emails. Because chat is a synchronous communication channel, meaning that both the customer and agent have to be available at the same time, the customer does not have to wait on hold for an agent or wait for an email response.
"Live chatting is a way to be able to cut through the conversational clutter or an [interactive voice response] where you don't get stuck in a queue," Leggett said. "You are able to more directly connect with the agent to be able to get your issue resolved."
With live chat, customers can send agents their confirmation codes, contact information and any other information they might need directly, rather than saying it verbally over the phone and having agents read it back to them to confirm.
5. Flexible and convenient for the customer
Whether it is an agent or a chatbot responding, live chat is available 24/7. Particularly in the context of customer support, customers want speed and flexibility even more than personalization, Manusama said.
"[Live chat] is at our fingertips, and that gives us the ability to do a lot of things ourselves, which is an important element from a customer perspective," Manusama said.
Companies used to have to push customers to use self-service options -- for example, banks used to charge customers if they went to a teller for transactions that could be done online or at an ATM -- but now customers often choose this option because then they can do banking on their own time.
6. Proactive customer service
A proactive approach introduces live chat at pain points and moments of friction in the customer experience. Manusama suggests approaching implementation of live chat as if it were an interaction in a physical retail store.
"If I walk into a shoe store, it is lovely if you can greet me, but then I just want to look around and see if I can find a nice pair of shoes," Manusama said. "When does it make sense for a store attendant to come and help me? If I ask for help finding the right size, or they are proactively offering their assistance, that is where it makes sense. For me, it is no different in a digital environment."
Manusama said that, currently, many organizations use live chat reactively -- for example, a live chat window pops up as soon as the page loads. This approach may be distracting and frustrating for the customer, but the potential for a proactive approach and a pleasant customer experience is there.