Live Chat is growing as the preferred channel for customer service, especially with a younger generation of customers. Call center agents can also make excellent chat agents, but each channel offers a unique experience and its own set of challenges. With this in mind, I created the GREATER method of Live Chat support which exemplifies many of my own best practices and observations.
Greet, Read, Express, Ask, Tempo, End, Re-assess
Even before the customer is connected, most live chats begin with a pre-chat form asking the customer for vital information like name, email address, account number, and their reason for contacting us. If the customer has provided their name, greet them by name! Personalize your service by periodically and sporadically using their name throughout the conversation, but be sure to follow the Rules for Using Your Customer’s Name.
Don’t make me ask you again! Much like their name, customers often provide information about their question or problem before they begin chatting. If the customer has provided this information to you, read it and pick up where they left off. Don’t use “How may I help you?” in your canned greeting, which forces them retype everything they had already entered in the pre-chat form. It is okay to let them know you’re taking a moment to review their question, if appropriate.
You’ve probably heard that it’s important to be purposefully over-friendly when working with customers, because you have such a brief interaction in which you can make an impression. This is even more critical for Live Chat support, because the customer cannot see your smiling face or hear your cheerful tone of voice. Clearly express your desire and willingness to help!
To get started on the right foot, I like to acknowledge my customer’s initial question with a message like, “I would be happy to help you with your email!” or, “I’ll get this taken care of for you right away!” It’s always good thank the customer for providing necessary information, but this isn’t an appropriate way to respond to every message. To keep it fresh, I like to begin my subsequent responses with a little interjection like Great!, Super!, Awesome!, Excellent!, Fantastic!. This demonstrates that you’re energetic and upbeat and it reassures the customer that they’ve done Great work!
Asking progressively close-ended, clarifying questions should already be a part of your process to understand the customer’s needs. It’s tempting to ask more than one question in each message, assuming this will speed up the process. It doesn’t. Overloading your customers will cause them to respond more slowly and less completely, so stick to one question at a time.
Additionally, always end your statements with a question to verify receipt and the customer’s understanding of the message. Simply making a statement that does not require the customer to respond will leave them unsure of how to proceed with the conversation. This leads to delays in their response or abandoning the chat prematurely. Does that make sense?
Chat is binary, on or off. The customer either has a new message from you or they’re recalling the childhood trauma of being separated from their mother in a large department store. The customer cannot see you working or hear the sound of your clicking keyboard over chat, but “Live Chat” implies real-time communication. Keeping a fast tempo is crucial, because customers get bored, feel abandoned, and develop a negative perception of your speed much more quickly through chat than any other service channel.
To keep the tempo high, be prepared to respond to a customer’s message immediately even if it’s just an acknowledgement that the information they provided was helpful. This is the inverse of ending every statement with a question, and it serves the same purpose. Failure to maintain a high tempo will result in customers abandoning the chat. Worse, they might think you’re preoccupied or just slow.
Like everything else in chat, the end must be explicitly defined to ensure the customer understands that the conversation is ending. The pleasantries of wrapping up can be awkward, even over the phone, because it’s unclear who should have the last word. Once you have finished your closing statement, disconnect from the chat immediately to spare the customer any uncertainty. They can always start another chat. Your closing statement will also be the only message that does not end in a question or require any response.
Another nuance of chat is the potential for the session to remain open and connected even when the customer is not paying attention or has moved on. Experienced chat agents will develop a sense of how long it normally takes a customer to carry out a particular task. Once that time has been reached, it’s wise to check in with the customer and ask if they’re having any trouble completing the steps you’ve provided.
If the customer has never responded or if they have abruptly stopped responding, check in with them to see if their still connected. Some chat systems play a sound or send a browser notification to remind the customer they have a chat open. I generally send two warnings spaced a few minutes apart, and avoid assuming that the customer has resolved their issue. For example, my first warning message might read, “Andrew, are you still there? I’d like to answer any questions you may have. Please let me know if you’re still connected.” followed by the gentle but firm, “If I don’t hear from you, I’ll have to disconnect from our chat to assist other customers. Please let me know if there’s anything I can help you with.” If the customer still does not respond, send a closing message and disconnect from the session.
Because chat is text-based, it’s one of the easiest forms of communication to review again later. Make a point to review your own chat transcripts after the fact to discover places where improvement can be made. If you supervise others, encourage them to do the same. Explaining difficult concepts through text can be tricky, especially if your audience is very broad. Trial, error, and evaluating the performance of your own words are the best ways to improve your message. Over time, your messages can become more targeted and succinct as you understand your customer better.
Andrew Gilliam is a passionate customer experience innovator and change agent. His vision: deliver Amazing Customer Service and Technical Support™. Learn more at andytg.com, follow @ndytg on Twitter, and connect on LinkedIn.