Until a few years ago, only few websites integrated live chat and boasted of their instant online customer support. Today that is not the case, just about any website that you see is offering live chat. So, you cannot claim any special credit or expect any special mileage out of your live chat support. Live chat has become a very normal or regular feature online.
If at all, you want to make a difference and you want to stand out in the industry, then it has to be through the quality of the live chat service that you offer. When we talk about the quality of the live chat service, then it immediately points to the quality of the chat agents. In this post, let us look at certain important factors that will help your chat service and your brand in general to stand out from the rest of the competition.
Adequately staff your chat support desk
Before we could move to the best-kept secrets of chat etiquette, we should address an important factor, which is adequate staffing of your chat support desk. Very often companies that invest a lot of money on advertising do not realize the importance of providing good customer support. They spend just fraction of their advertising budget on their customer support expenses. As a result, chat support services are often found to be very poorly staffed. This increases the chat load on the existing team. Every agent is forced to handle more chats than what they could possibly handle. When your team is understaffed, then the overall quality of the service provided by your team will be easily noticeable. When your customer desk is not up to the mark, then it is a bad advertisement for your brand. In other words, whatever you are spending on advertising your products and services is nullified by your poorly staffed, badly supported chat service. You need to be mindful of this fact, if at all you want to get some positive results.
For every business, there will be peak traffic rate and you should be prepared to handle such hours effectively. You should have more agents in place at least during such hours of the day or night depending on the nature of your business. If you have budget constraints instead of having the team uniformly staffed for all 24 hours, you could increase the number of agents only for the specified hours to handle the expected traffic surge during the peak visitors’ hours for your business.
Use Positive Terms
Make it a habit to use only positive terminology in your chat service. Avoid using negative terminology such as ‘we don’t accept’ ‘it is not possible’ ‘that is not correct’ ‘we don’t offer’ ‘we don’t have’ and so on. Are you wondering then how to communicate such details to the visitors if negative terminology should be totally avoided. You could say the same thing in n number of ways. Let us look at some of the above examples and see how we could communicate those details in a positive tone.
We do not accept – Instead of saying that you do not accept something say what you accept. In this place, you could use “We accept.” Let us take for example if a customer is asking whether you accept ‘PayPal’ payment and if your organization does not accept PayPal, then instead of saying we don’t accept PayPal say we accept credit cards, debit cards and internet banking, etc.
Similarly, it is not possible – could be communicated in a positive tone telling your customer what is possible. If a customer is asking whether it is possible for you to give 50% discount, tell the customer how much discount you could offer. For example, “it is possible to give 30% discount on this package.”
If you are wondering whether such minor details would make any difference then you need not doubt, yes they do. It is the finer details that will make your chat agents stand out from the rest. Your customers may not even noticing that you are not using any negative terminology in your chats but they will have a good feel about the entire chat experience even though they may not be able to pinpoint what makes the difference. Your customers need not know the reason but it is enough that you know them. If you have not tried so far, try it out, as it could not possibly harm your performance in any way.
Chat to support, not to sell
One of the main goals of the chat service is to provide the customers with the required support. Sales should not be your only motive. When a customer clicks on the chat button, they are essentially having some doubt or question. When they are busy trying to get their doubts clarified your chat agents should not be forcing your products and services down their throat. They will feel stifled and would want to leave the chat as quickly as possible. On the other hand, if you try to help your customers and show genuine interest in resolving their issue then who will not be impressed? Even if they do not tell you that they are impressed with your service, they will certainly remember your brand whenever they should be in need.
This however does not mean that there should be no promotional element at all in your chat. Your chat agents have to be taught to give priority to support factors and then they should sell your products and services in a subtle way. This is applicable to all aspects of selling namely upselling, cross-selling etc.
Appropriate choice of words
One of the biggest challenges that you are likely to have as a chat support agent is that your customers do not get to see you face to face. You need to choose your words very cautiously when you are chatting because we communicate not only through spoken words, but also through our body language, tone of voice, eye contact, etc. In live chat situation, you are left only with words. Your customers will not be able to interpret your communication 100% correctly because they are missing the other cues that are normally present in real time, face-to-face conversations.
You should double check every sentence you typed before sending it to check whether the communication could be misinterpreted by the customer. At times, if you do not fail to punctuate your sentences then there are very good chances of misinterpretation.
As far as possible, use short sentences. Only long windy sentences require many punctuations to make the sentence meaningful. You can avoid such problems with the use of short sentences.
Wait until your customer is finished
Wait until the customer has completed their query. Do not rush to respond when he or she is halfway through their question. In an effort to respond quickly, chat agents with limited experience just pick a few words here and there and respond based on their assumptions.
Most of the customers have the tendency to send out their queries in bits and pieces. They type a few words and send it to you while they typed the remaining words. You should not respond if the sentence or their query is incomplete. No matter how experienced you are and no matter how similar this question looks with some of the previous customers’ queries, you should allow your customers to finish their question fully.
Firstly, it is bad manners to interrupt while someone is talking and the same is applicable to chat communication. Secondly, you will unnecessarily invite trouble by misunderstanding their query because we need not be correct with our presumptions all the time.
Take a break when you are tired
Never handle a chat when you are tired and feeling worn out. This happens frequently if your team is not staffed adequately and you are overloaded. When you are tired, you are likely to misread the messages and even misinterpret them. Consequently, you could give wrong replies, provide your customers with inaccurate details, which in turn will result in a bigger problem that could even affect the reputation of your organization. It is best to take a short break than to invite such problems.
When you are tired, you will lack enthusiasm in helping your customer. Your customers too could pick that up during the chat and misinterpret it for your lack of interest or for the company’s lack of commitment to provide good customer service.
As a customer, you need to be highly engaging to your customers. Your enthusiasm should be contagious. You should not make the chat a mere ritual, but an enjoyable experience to your customers. You will be able to emulate such a spirit only when you are fresh, energetic and totally present during the chat. Make sure that you and your team has regular scheduled breaks. Added to that there should also be room for unscheduled breaks if anyone should feel burnt out during the day. The team members, however, should not misuse this freedom, but be responsible agents.
Encourage visitors to take part in post chat survey
As part of your post chat survey, incorporate a short questionnaire on the performance of the chat agent. Get ratings from the customers. Take the feedback from the customers serious and continually work on their feedback to ensure continued improvement in the quality of the chat support that you have provided. Do not think that if they leave negative feedback it will affect your profile. You need to know where you stand. In addition, you should not get upset when you get bad ratings. Just because a single customer has given you bad rating, it does not mean that you are a bad chat agent. However, if this has to become the order of the day, you should act immediately in rectifying the problem.
Weekly review of chats
As a team, you should make certain that you have a weekly review meeting with all the chat agents. This should be a platform where all concerns of the chat agents are addressed. Also, during these meetings if there are any blunders committed by the chat agents they should be addressed. The idea here is not to embarrass any individual but to ensure that such mistakes do not happen in the future and that the learning is transferred across the team so that even others make the same or similar mistakes. This will also create a healthy and transparent environment that will make the chat agents improve their skills.
You need to have an effective follow up protocol as part of your life chat operations. On any given day, there will be different types of chats. Some of them will be enquiries about your products and services, some of them will be grievances and some of them would require you to get back to them with more information and so on.
There should be standard email templates to take care of the follow ups. Some of the chats may have to be transferred to a different department or escalated to other departments or people at the higher level of the hierarchy for clarifications, approvals, etc.
You should follow up promptly and do not keep the customers waiting. It is often the prompt follow up from the sales team that closes the deals faster when compared to laid-back and a lethargic approach to follow up.
In case you have promised to send any further information or quote or other similar correspondence from your end, make sure that you get back to them as fast as you could, which will impress your customers.
Alternative communication platform
Not all customers would like to chat and type their entire story. Some people would prefer to talk to you. In such instances, if you should notice that your visitor is reluctant to share information through chat, offer them alternative solutions. Give them a contact number that they could call. You need to have all these thought through so that there is someone to answer your customers when they do call. This does not mean that you should give your personal number. Exchanging personal contact details with the customers is totally unprofessional and it should be avoided at all costs.
In case the support number that you are sharing is not a toll free number, then make certain that you tell your customer that it is a paid line and not a toll free number because most companies today have a toll free number. Therefore, customers could easily presume that it is a toll free number. When they realize that they have been charged for the call then they might complain. Therefore, it is best to tell them when it is not a toll free number.
Regular test chats
To ensure that your chat agents are on the edge all the time, you need to continually hone their skills. Periodic test chats with simulated customer situations will prove to be helpful. It could be handled either by the team lead or by someone designated for this purpose. The chat agents, however should not be aware that it is a test cut. Therefore, the chat has to be initiated from a different IP so that the chat agents do not recognize that it is a test chat. The strengths and weaknesses of the individuals could be addressed here helping the agents see the issues with their chat style and the response rate.
Test chats work best when there are surprise chats. Try to simulate the most difficult chat situations to check how well your chat agents are able to cope with pressure. If any gap is identified in the skills required and the expertise exhibited then the chat agents gets a chance to improve their skills by working on it instead of exposing such gaps to customers, which could possibly upset the customers.
Be systematic and organized
Ultimately, the overall quality of the chats will depend on how systematic you are and how organized you are. If you are systematic in your approach, you are less likely to be tensed. When you are relaxed, you will be in a better disposition to effectively respond to your customers’ concerns and queries. When we say that you should be relaxed, it does not mean unenthusiastic approach. The professionalism goes a long way in impressing your customers.
We have discussed at great length things that will make your chat support team stand out from the rest of the competition. You should have a feedback loop, which helps you to constantly assess the performance of your team as a whole and also of the individual chat agents. All these should not put your team of chat agents under stress. If the team operates under stress then they will end up becoming under performers. You need to create a healthy working environment where the agents have room to make mistakes but correct them without delay.