About Mike Sullivan

Mike Sullivan is an entrepreneur and marketing professional who tries to keep things humming along as best as possible. From time to time, he updates the AVO blog, but mostly he can be found on Skype talking with someone about virtual offices. Connect with Mike Sullivan on LinkedIn.

We’re Getting Closer to Live Chat Best Practice: Here’s What We’ve Learned So Far


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Our take on live chat best practice

By Mike Sullivan, Chief Marketing Officer at Alliance Virtual Offices

The Internet is full of “top tips” on how to do pretty much anything. But have you ever noticed that most of these so-called guides carry more fluff than real, substantially useful stuff?

I have. While researching ways to improve our sales and service team’s use of Live Chat, I searched online for some help in putting together a list of best practices.

I found lots of posts on “best practices” but it was always focused on management implementation rather than actual day-to-day use by front line staff. Our sales team is busy, so I needed something that got right to the point.

That’s easier said than done.

My favorite useless “Best Practices” post was one I found on Salesforce.com. The number one best practice was “Live Chat Offers Immediate Solutions”. There was nothing on how that relates to best practice, much less something that could help a team improve their ability to interact with customers to increase sales or service capability.

So given that, our team decided to write our own best practices.

Before we go any further, I’m not saying this is the best ever guide to Live Chat on the Internet.

Nor is it comprehensive. In fact, some people might even take issue with a few points (I’m pretty thick-skinned, so go ahead and share them). It’s not perfect, and that’s mostly because every company is different, and every sales team has its own unique culture. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. Plus, it’s not finished yet.

So what is it?

It’s a line in the sand. We are always learning and evolving, so it shows us where we are right now in the process, and it shows us where we need to be.

First, always be a student.

I’ve watched the Alliance Virtual Offices team evolve and get better, but even as we weed out the bad habits and junk, there is usually something else to replace it. It’s mostly less egregious though.

Second, review all transcripts.

This is more of a business best practice than a Live Chat process, but I would recommend it to anyone who has a website. A review of all transcripts is not to see how your team is doing, but to see how your customers are doing – and whether your website is answering their needs.

Third, roll your sleeves up and get stuck in.

One thing I’ve learned is that managers or business owners need to spend time on the front line. Read chat conversations and even participate from time to time. I’ve done it myself – in fact I’m still doing it – and I believe a lot of insight can be gained by doing this.

While you’re scanning chat transcripts you can learn a lot about the performance of your website. Ask yourself:

  1. How is the customer doing?
  2. Can they find things on the site?
  3. What are the top three recurring problems?

Don’t underestimate the power of live chat to help you make massive improvements to your site. Heat maps, usability testing, analytics… those are all good, but what about actually listening to the customer’s questions? This can help shape your website, and how you communicate on it.

Here are some ‘best practice’ Live Chat points that I’ve learned along the way:

(NB: I don’t want to rehash what’s already been done. Check out Live Chat Inc’s post from 2012. I will try not to discuss anything there unless there is new insight.)

  • Respond quickly, both initially and within the chat. Chat session experience is often impacted dramatically by how well and how quickly the customer can be serviced. The best experience is either a brief chat, or a long extensive one. The ones in between have slightly lower satisfaction results. See Live Chat inc’s info graphic section on Customer Happiness by Chat Duration for info.
  • Be precise – The team should be well trained with weekly reviews of products, services, policies, etc., to enable less effort in communication. Nothing is worse than going down a rabbit hole of question-and-answer because of poorly trained staff.
  • Be Kind – This should go without saying, right? Yes, well, sometimes website visitors can be antagonizing jerks for no reason. We had a visitor recently talk about how amazingly awesome he was, then asked our team member what she looked like and mentioned that he had a wife but he didn’t care. Outrageous behavior like this can trigger a backlash response in even the steadiest members of your team. Address it ahead of time because you know it will happen. Since your team knows it will happen, they are less likely to respond poorly. In this case, tell your team to have kindness for this poor lost soul by finding out if there is a problem that can be solved; if not, thank him for his time and move on.
  • Use Canned Messages – Everyone is already using canned messages with their live chat system, right? I sure hope so, but a lot of them are used quite poorly. Customer I Care has a detailed post about how to use canned messages properly. Our priorities around using the canned messages are to ensure our team knows how to find them quickly (Zoho SalesIQ uses hashtags as an automatic search operator) and to use them consistently, unless a specific scenario calls for a custom answer.

You’ll find some more excellent pointers about Live Chat on the Kiss Metrics blog.

Like I said, we’re eternal students. So we’ll continue to share our evolving best practice must-dos and don’ts with you as they happen. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll graduate… Until then, and even after then, we’re always learning.


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