Live chat support is a big upgrade to your customer service, both for your business and for your customers.
First, customers: They want to be able to reach your company without long wait times or having to navigate away from your website. Especially if the customer’s problem is simple, waiting 48 hours for an email response or sitting on hold for 20 minutes for a phone call isn’t a great experience. It’s much less effort to send a message in a chat window that’s already in front of them and get a quick response.
Your business also benefits from live chat: Live chat conversations focus on fast interactions and resolutions, meaning your customer service team can handle more customer questions in less time. And on top of being an effective support channel, live chat is a great way to increase sales on your site — more on that later.
If you’re considering implementing live chat support, this guide is a great primer. We’ll discuss live chat’s benefits and best practices, how to manage live chat as a small business, and help you start thinking about the best live chat solution for your business.
What is live chat support?
Live chat support is software that connects customers with support agents that can answer their questions in real time over a chat window on your website. It differs from other support methods like phone support or email because customers don’t have to open their phone or an email browser and wait for a response.
The basic version of live chat support is a widget that simply allows customers to start a chat session with a customer support agent. Here’s what these interactions look like for the agent (left) and the customer (right):
Some live chat software offer many more features, such as self-service menus and the ability to reach out to customers. Here’s an upgraded live chat widget — it gives customers self-service answers to common questions and lets them modify their orders without needing to speak to an agent:
Regardless of your live chat’s sophistication, live chat support makes a meaningful difference for businesses that use it: 79% of businesses say live chat support has a positive impact on sales, revenue, and customer loyalty.
How does live chat support differ from a chatbot?
Chatbots might look pretty similar to the end user, at least at first: They, too, pop up on a site and invite the user to type their problem into the box to get their answer. The difference is that chatbots are entirely automated, running predefined scripts and often using AI, machine learning, and natural language processing to determine customer intent and respond in human-ish ways.
While the two experiences look similar on the customer end, speaking to an unhelpful bot that’s mimicking an agent can be a frustrating experience. Instead, a better automated chat experience is other types of self-service in the chat window, such as the self-service menus pictured above.
The benefits of live chat for customer support teams and customers
Compared to legacy support methods (including phone and email support), messaging support channels like live chat feel like a breath of fresh air for customers and customer support agents alike.
Here are just a few of the elements that your teams and customers will appreciate when you add live chat as a support option.
Live chat problems generally get solved fast (~42 seconds)
Live chat is a great way for customers to get their problems solved quickly — 42 seconds on average.
42 seconds is not a lot of time, which is great considering 66% of customers expect near-instant responses to questions. Customers who pick up the phone to solve an issue will still be selecting 1 for English or 2 for español when the average live chat customer has gotten their problem solved.
Want to learn more about other instant-messaging channels like social media DMs, SMS texting, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp? Check out the individual links above or our post on customer support messaging.
Live chat still allows teams to use templates and automation
One of the potential downsides to live chat support is that it seems like it can be resource-intensive. But live chat support doesn’t have to mean that your human agents are manually typing every answer to every question.
Many live chat solutions can use bot-like software to automate responses to common, routine requests “Where is my order?” Even better, some solutions give customers menus to find answers without having to feign conversation with a “smart” bot:
Of course, some conversations will need that human touch no self-service solution can provide. When customers ask for a human agent, your human agents can either spin up a response from scratch or use a canned response as a starting point.
For example, you could create scripts for that same question, “Where is my order?” Something like, “We understand you want to get your items soon! Your order, [title or order number], is on its way to you now. You can expect to receive it within [timeframe].” Your agent will only have to fill in those two fields and send the response.
If you use Gorgias, you can upgrade your canned responses with Macros, which include variables. With variables, your agents don’t need to look for customer information to fill those fields — Gorgias automatically pulls the appropriate information for each customer from your ecommerce platform:
Live chat humanizes and personalizes support interactions
Live chat gives your support agents an opportunity to nurture new and existing customer relationships with a conversational, personalized service experience.
First, live chat by nature is more casual than many other channels. Unlike email, which tends to be more formal, the instant back-and-forth offers a more natural forum for emojis, friendly banter, and authentic conversations — of course, all of that is secondary to providing prompt, helpful service.
With the right live chat software, you can also achieve a high degree of personalization in live chat conversations. With Gorgias, for example, agents can see a customer’s entire order and conversation history with your brand in the customer sidebar:
This gives you an opportunity to use the customer’s name, reference past purchases and interactions, avoid asking for information the customer has already given your brand (like order number or shipping address), and understand whether the customer is a superfan or had a frustrating experience.
Live chat is an effective way to drive sales
Your primary goal as an ecommerce business is to sell more products to more people, and live chat can help you do just that. Live chat has been shown to increase conversion rate (visitors to sales) by 12% on average and website visitors who interact with your live chat widget become 2.8 times more likely to buy than those who don’t.
Why exactly is this the case? Say a prospect has a question about a product. They add it to their shopping cart, but are still negotiating the purchase in their head:
- Did I select the right size?
- Will the item arrive in time for the holiday?
- Will I be able to return the item if I don’t like it?
- Is the item compatible with other products I own?
- Did I select the best product for my needs?
Without a convenient support channel, customers may just abandon the purchase. But when you give them the ability to open a convenient chat window and get an instant answer, you reduce friction and lower cart abandonment.
With Gorgias, you can take this a step further and proactively reach out to customers who display certain behaviors with chat campaigns. For example, you can set up a live chat campaign to automatically trigger when a customer adds a product to their cart but lingers on the checkout page. Likewise, you automatically reach out to customers who add items to their cart to incentivize them to add more to their cart:
Plus, if you use Gorgias, you can easily include product cards in your customer service responses within the platform, giving your customers an visual and easy link to product pages within the live chat:
Still not convinced? Read our deeper post on how to use live chat to boost sales.
Live chat resonates better with bigger spenders
If the main goal of any ecommerce store is to sell more products to more people, a close second is selling more (or more expensive) products within individual transactions — or raising average order value (AOV), a metric your customer support team has a surprising impact on.
One survey found that among those who consistently spend more online per month (between $250 and $500), 63% have increased loyalty to brands and companies offering live chat support experiences.
This makes sense: As you spend more, your pre-sales questions become more important. If you’re unsure about the product, shipping times, or refund policy, you won’t have the confidence to make a large purchase. The ability to contact support right before a sale is incredibly important for this reason.
Live chat could also help with enormous wholesale purchases, too. CROSSNET, a merchant using Gorgias, won a $450,000 sale because they promptly responded to a live chat conversation.
How stores with small teams can manage live chat support with Gorgias
One concern about adding live chat support is that you’ll get a flurry of messages from customers who expect an instant response and, like many brands, you don’t have the staffing bandwidth to keep up. The right live chat platform offers features to help smaller businesses reap the benefits of a live chat, even if they can’t staff it 24/7.
Here are a few Gorgias features that make live chat manageable for small teams:
Self-Service Flows are a type of customer self-service that lets customers track, cancel, or return an order within the live chat widget — no agent needed. This is a great way to reduce the number of tickets that actually make it to your agents. Plus, 88% of customers expect this kind of self-service functionality on your website.
Here’s an example of a Self-Service Flow built with Gorgias that lets customers track, return, cancel, or report issues with an order:
And here’s an example of the kind of flow customers will see once they click on “Cancel my order”:
You can customize which self-service options your customers can access within the live chat, too:
Quick Responses and article recommendations in chat
Self-Service Flows are great for order management, but other customer questions that would still turn into tickets for your agents: Questions like “What’s your refund policy?” or “Where do you ship?” Gorgias’ live chat also includes Quick Responses, which you can set up to answer common customer questions with a single click.
Here’s an example of Quick Responses for a customer who wants to know when the store will restock. After the customer gets the pre-written response, they have the option to say “No, I need more help” to get in touch with an agent.
On top of Quick Responses, Gorgias live chat can also use natural language processing (NLP) to understand a customer’s query and recommend relevant articles in your Help Center: Gorgias’ version of a knowledge base, or a super-powered FAQ.
Here’s an example of a customer wondering what size they should order:
Even with all of these self-service options, some customers will want to talk to an agent. And for stores that can’t staff live chat, this means you may get live chat questions that go unanswered. With Gorgias, you can include a field that asks customers for their email addresses so you can answer their questions when you come back online:
“The email capture feature on Gorgias live chat allows us to collect new email addresses on a daily basis! This is highly convenient and helps us drive sales!”
– Danny Taing, Founder & CEO, Bokksu
Set business hours
Finally, if your team can only cover live chat during certain times of the day, you can also set up business hours in Gorgias to either completely remove chat from your website or change the chat’s setting when you’re offline.
For example, you can require customers to include their email when they ask questions in chat whenever you’re offline:
This way, you’ll always get contact information to follow up with customers when you get online, even if it’s hours after their questions came through as a live chat ticket. Plus, you can include an auto-response to let customers know you’re currently offline and will respond the following day:
Live chat best practices for customer support
If you’re operating an ecommerce business, implementing live chat support is a strategic move that can catalyze growth and increase your sales (just like all support channels). But like anything new, you want to be sure to implement your live chat experience properly.
First, learn how to add live chat to your Shopify store (or Magento store) and read our guide to getting live chat up and running within two weeks. Then, follow these best practices if you’re just getting started — and if you’re already using live chat to a degree, use these as a check-up to evaluate the health of your live chat efforts.
1) Create an automated initial prompt to increase first-response times and customer confidence
As great as your live chat customer support team is, it’s not realistic to expect them to be able to respond to every customer in real time. One strategy that gives them a little more buffer is to create an automated initial prompt that boosts your first-response times.
This way, when a website visitor sends a message in your live chat widget, they get an immediate response that stops them from navigating away from your site. This also buys your team members a few seconds to pull up the chat request and respond.
Something like this could be a good place to start:
“Thanks for reaching out! My name is Greg, and I’m glad to help you today.” Here’s what that message would look like as a Gorgias Macro:
It immediately lets the website visitor know an agent is going to handle their issue, and it buys the agent 10 or 15 seconds to wrap up and get ready.
2) Promptly respond to messages, but don’t rush
People value knowing they’ll be interacting with a real person, not a bot. So they don’t expect instantaneous responses — but they don’t want to be kept waiting, either. It’s always important to be prompt (and the definition of “prompt” varies depending on your industry’s expectations), but support agents should take enough time to be sure they fully understand the question or complaint so they can respond appropriately.
In other words, customers who get their problems solved correctly the first time are happy to wait slightly longer. Prompt and accurate is better than rushed and incomplete.
3) Be transparent and honest, just like other support channels
Not every problem can be solved instantly, and that’s OK. Customers come to live chat because they can’t solve their issues with self-service resources, and that means live chat support often gets more complex questions.
It’s important to have an open dialog with customers, especially skeptical customers. It’s 100% OK to let a customer know that you need a little time to look into something. Telling them is certainly far better than appearing to ghost them or trying to trot out a pat answer that won’t satisfy them.
Similarly, there will be situations where an agent doesn’t have the resources or approval to move forward with an issue and needs to push the concern to another agent or supervisor or even to your other support channels. Agents should be transparent, clear, and honest when this happens: People appreciate honesty and follow-ups — and they despise overconfident wrong answers or a lack of clarity about next steps.
4) Keep the conversation focused
One of the disadvantages of text-based conversations is that you can’t control the clarity of the other party. They might be wildly unclear about their problem or they might start branching off into multiple topics within a single thread or encounter.
Support agents need to keep conversations focused on a single problem at a time and may need to guide customers along to this end. Once the first problem is resolved, then it’s great to tackle the next one. But letting things devolve into a confusing mishmash is a quick way to end up harming customer satisfaction.
5) Keep responses concise, and prompt customers with questions
Encourage your live chat agents to keep responses brief yet friendly. The longer and more complex the messages you send, the greater the chance of confusion or missed points. The customer could respond to just half the message, and then the agent has to awkwardly repeat the unanswered half.
Most of the time, you want to make sure that any individual message has just one thing to do or respond to in it. Falling into a call and response sort of pattern, where the customer responds to each prompt, is a good way to keep things streamlined.
6) Have specific live chat support hours
Your business might not have a 24-hour customer support team in place and may never need to, depending on your market and your competition. If you aren’t offering 24-hour support, then set and advertise a specific set of hours that your team will be available for customers.
Some businesses set up a chatbot to take on the after-hours work, solving simple queries and pushing more complex ones to the next-morning queue for your human agents. This can be a good strategy; just make sure your customers know that that’s what you’re doing.
7) Follow through with customers until the conversation has reached a meaningful conclusion
Follow-through is key as well during live support interactions. There’s nothing worse than thinking you’ve completed the interaction and moving on to another task or customer only to realize that you’ve left the customer hanging, still waiting on some crucial piece of information.
Be sure your agents aren’t unintentionally walking away too soon. The best way to do this is to proactively check with the customer to make sure they agree that everything is resolved.
And if you use Gorgias, you can automatically send the customer a satisfaction survey to gauge the success of the interaction:
8) Share helpful resources and content when possible
Sometimes, the customer’s comments reveal that they need something more complex than what will fit in a little chat box. Maybe they’re struggling with how to use some core functionality in your device or your mobile app or they have a technical question about a product that’s answered in some technical documentation already on your website.
When customers need more education or detailed instructions, leverage your existing self-service resources, like knowledge base articles, tech specs, or even product pages. Your agents should feel free to offer links to your team’s content assets, allowing customers to solve their own problems.
Of course, invite them to contact your company again if they still can’t figure it out. And if you can give them clear routing instructions, such as a specific phone number to call that lets them skip the IVR phone tree, it makes sense to do so at this point.
Choosing live chat support software for ecommerce companies
Of course, integrating live chat support into your website (and into your customer service and support workflows) requires some form of live chat support software. That’s a whole discussion in itself, but the most crucial factors are feature sets and integrations.
You certainly need software that accommodates everything you want to do with live chat. Beyond that, ask these three crucial questions for any software you’re considering:
- Does this integrate with my ecommerce platform?
- Does the live chat tool come bundled with a larger helpdesk?
- Does this integrate with my other customer service channels?
- Does the tool’s pricing make sense for my business?
- How easy is it to install?
And good news: We have answers for you. Read about the best live chat apps for a variety of use cases:
- Best live chat apps for Shopify
- Best live chat apps for BigCommerce
- Best live chat apps for Magento 2 Stores
- Best live chat apps for overall ecommerce
- Best live chat apps (industry agnostic)
Install Gorgias live chat in a couple of clicks
Gorgias is a leading all-in-one ecommerce customer support and helpdesk platform that’s laser-focused on the needs of ecommerce businesses like yours. Our live chat feature is flexible and powerful thanks to numerous automation features, plus it can be enabled in just a few clicks.
Gorgias’s proactive chat tools can help you meet your customers’ needs, improve your conversion rates, and consistently improve the customer experience.