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Fix These Four Live Chat Mistakes or Lose Customers

Chat has been around forever, and customers love the channel. They choose chat when they need to multitask, when they want a written record of the agent’s instructions they can refer to later, and when they prefer not to be overheard. A 2021 survey of over 1,000 US customers found they prefer chat to email, phone, or social media. The same survey showed that businesses know the value of chat: 79% of them said that offering live chat had a positive effect on sales, revenue, and customer loyalty.

So, it just doesn’t make sense when companies give customers less-than-stellar live chat experiences. With all the built-in love for this channel, we must do better. Below, I’ve listed four all-too-common live chat mistakes. Is your organization making these errors? Fix them now, or you’ll risk losing customers.

Forcing customers to have a fruitless interaction with your chatbot before they can chat with a live person.

Great chatbots or automated assistants have improved the chat experience, but bad chatbots have made it much, much worse. Here’s a surreal exchange I had recently with the state of Indiana’s IN.gov chatbot.

  • Me: How do I start an LLC in Indiana?
  • IN.gov’s chatbot: Here are some articles that may help:
    • Why is Indiana called Indiana?
    • I am an Indiana resident in the military. My spouse is not an Indiana resident...
    • Who can perform a marriage in Indiana?
  • IN.gov's chatbot: You can ask another question. Or you can get in touch.
  • Me: How does my business become an LLC in Indiana?
  • IN.gov’s chatbot: Here are some articles that may help:
    • I need assistance in starting a small business, can the ICW help?
    • Where can I get Indiana travel information?
    • Where can I obtain current Indiana roadway or other maps?
  • IN.gov's chatbot: You can ask another question. Or you can get in touch.
  • Me: Get in touch. Live agent!
  • Stacie: Good morning, Leslie. Ok. With questions relating to your business structure (LLC, LLP, Corporation filing) contact the Secretary of State, INBiz direct at 317-234-9768 (opt. 7) or email questions by visiting the INBiz Contact Page: https://inbiz.in.gov/about/contact for assistance.

Just because it's possible for a chatbot to offer customers links to FAQs before the customer interacts with a live agent doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. This sloppy chatbot gave me a terrible experience. And pity the poor live agent, Stacie. No doubt most customers who’ve interacted with the IN.gov chatbot will be coming in hot when they reach a live agent.

Shutting chat down when your contact center is open.

The Customer Support page at your website says chat is available Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 pm Eastern, but a customer needing help with her online account tries to chat with you on a Wednesday at 9 am, and chat is nowhere to be found. Confused, she checks the time on her laptop, phone, wristwatch, and wall clock. Yep, it’s 9 am, but no chat. What’s going on?

Inconceivably, some contact centers shut chat down when wait times get too long or when they need chat agents to take phone calls or answer emails. This is simply a bad practice. You can’t “kind of” offer a customer service channel. It’s either one way customers can contact you, or it isn’t. Though chat volume can be irregular, which makes staffing for chat challenging, if you want to really understand how to staff for chat, you’ve got to leave the channel on!

Withholding the chat transcript.

As far as I can tell, the reason some companies won’t provide a transcript of the chat is that they don’t want to be legally or practically bound to what the agent wrote in the chat. Let’s just sit with that fact for a moment. Companies withhold the chat transcript because they don’t stand by the advice the agent provided in the chat?

It’s painfully ridiculous when agents must tell customers they cannot provide a chat transcript. Here’s the opening of a chat I recently had with my bank:

  • Bank: Welcome to Sandy Spring Bank! This chat may be recorded for training purposes. Please do not share sensitive account information such as your full social security number until the representative authenticates you to chat freely.
  • Agent: Hello, my name is Eboni. How may I assist you today?

And here’s the end of my chat with Sandy Spring Bank:

  • Me: Thanks, that would be great! Please send the fee schedule to me. My email address is [email protected]. Can you also send me a transcript of this chat?
  • Eboni: I’ll email you that fee schedule. I am unable to forward a transcript of this conversation to you.
  • Me: Um, ok.

Of course, it makes no sense that the bank is willing to record the chat for training purposes but unwilling to share a transcript with the customer. This practice forces customers to screenshot or copy-paste in-progress chats. Just imagine the answers customers will give to this question, “On a scale of ‘very easy’ to ‘very difficult’, how easy was it to chat with Sandy Spring Bank?”

Using technical terms that confuse customer.

Granted, it’s easy for customer service agents to become so accustomed to technical words, business jargon, or insider’s language that they’re no longer able to recognize terms that may confuse customers in chat. However, using terms that customers can’t easily understand makes chat sessions longer and customers work harder.

I consider myself an adequately intelligent person, but here’s a list of statements drawn from a variety of chats that caused me confusion or made me work harder to understand:

  • Web hosting company: While reviewing the bounce, I could see an error with 550 P address sending this message does not have a record setup, or the corresponding forward DNS entry. Further, I have checked the DNS records. I could see the DKIM record needs to be updated.
  • Cosmetics manufacturer: The ingredients in our hand lotion are declared on the label in descending order of predominance.
  • Insurance company: A COI may be required by an entity with whom you work directly, but it may also be requested as part of an indirect relationship.

All customer service interactions—including live chat—should use plain language. The customer service agent must adjust the technical complexity of what they’re saying or writing to help the customer understand. Checking for understanding is difficult in email (asynchronous communication), but easy in chat (synchronous communication). You’re wasting the chat’s innate value—the ability to have a written conversation—if you don’t check whether the customer’s understanding your words and simplify when necessary. And the worst outcomes of using terms customers don’t understand? You lose a prospect, or you have the pleasure of answering the customer’s question a second time, in another channel.

* * * * *

Here's a weird but true fact about live chat. It benefits from many customers’ vague confusion about customer service channels. When they reach out to your company via Facebook Messenger, they may think they’re chatting with you. When you’re replying to customers’ Twitter DMs in real time, they may think they’re chatting with you, and when you’re texting with customers back and forth, some of them will think they’re chatting with you. In short, customers may feel like they’re chatting any time they’re engaging with you, in writing, in real time. So, when you’re actually chatting with them, please do it right. Your other customer service channels will benefit too.