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Online Chat Software - Customer Support Etiquette in Live Chat
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20 March 2014

Gemma Baker


Online Chat Software - Customer Support Etiquette in Live Chat

Any business that interacts with people to conduct business will appreciate that customers can be peculiar creatures with hard to predict buying habits and motivations. This is why customer service plays such an important role, not just in encouraging sales, but in fostering brand loyalty and gathering valuable feedback.

As online chat software providers we are always interested in optimising the results of our clients through actionable and industry-specific improvements that have an immediate impact on results. In our 8 years of experience we have collected and scrutinised thousands of live chat engagements to work out the best strategy for improving the customer service skills of our clients’ live chat operators.

The following suggestions focus on how to handle visitor enquiries once they have accepted an invitation to chat. For more information on improving the CTR (click-through-rate) on the chat invitation, please browse our live chat blog

The Basics

Once wildcards have been accounted for, like the visitor receiving a phone call mid-chat or discovering a better deal on another site, the operator should follow basic live chat etiquette to ensure the best possible outcome to their conversation.


1. Reply Promptly

Customer Service is all about responsiveness. A live chat request is the equivalent of a phone call, i.e. there is a narrow window of opportunity in which to pick up the call and engage the customer. It is vital to pick up live chats within 10-15 seconds of the visitor’s request. Since visitors will likely be able to tell the difference between scripted and non-scripted dialogue it is also advisable to use a personalised greeting (on top of the default welcome message).

This is just as important for replies. When dealing with multiple visitors, operators should use message timestamps to note when the last message was sent. While every visitor should be dealt with as quickly as possible, it is acceptable to be away for 1-2 minutes at a time if the visitor is aware that the issue is being tackled.


2. Identify Yourself

Just because the visitor has made it as far as the chat button does not mean that they wanted to be there. Live Chat etiquette dictates that the operator should identify themselves and the company they represent before helping to direct the visitor to their intended destination.


3. Know the Product

Speed isn’t everything. It goes without saying that Live Chat Operators also need to be armed with product-specific knowledge so that visitor questions can be answered accurately. In the event this isn’t possible, operators should politely ask the visitor for a moment to look into the question.


4. Keep it Simple

Operators should keep their responses as short as possible to avoid inviting further questions that might side-track the conversation or confuse the visitor. This is especially true if the Live Chat Operator is repeating information that is already available on the site. If other visitors are waiting to chat and a conversation reaches the 7 minute mark, the operator should try to bring the session to a close.


5. Keep them Informed

During the chat it might be necessary to invite another operator, transfer the chat or push the visitor to a different page on the website. Whatever the scenario, it’s important to ask the visitor for permission and to keep them informed on what is going to happen next. Ignoring this simple courtesy will leave the visitor confused and/or irritated. Pushing visitors to different pages without warning is particularly intrusive and might give less IT-literate customers the impression they’ve caught a virus.


6. Limit Canned Responses

Pre-defined replies are great for saving time but should be used in moderation. Live Chat Operators may be tempted to make excessive use of pre-defined messages during busier periods but this will likely be noticeable to the visitor. Customer service is about making someone feel valuable – this won’t work if every answer is clearly just an edited template. This is an easy trap to fall into if your online chat software provides you with tempting dialogue shortcut functions.


7. Be Human

Every live chat is unique – they need to be treated as such. Grammatical blunders and spelling mistakes are forgivable as long as the operator’s meaning remains intact. This can actually reassure visitors that they are engaging with a real person. It is also important to remember that the rules of a face-to-face and phone conversation also apply to live chat; the visitor’s tone and type of industry should dictate whether the operator adopts a formal or informal approach. The best chat customer service experiences are when the operator’s personality can shine through the online chat software.


8. Soft Skills

There is always one dissatisfied customer – even if the Live Chat Operator has done their outmost and provided a correct answer. Live Chat Operators need the capacity to understand a visitor’s grievance and sympathise with them. Being seated behind the software allows visitors to be uninhibited about venting frustration but also helps operators to keep their composure as they apologise and perform damage control – calmly explaining the reasons behind their answer.


9. Go the Extra Virtual Mile

Not so much good live chat etiquette as good chat customer service. Every operator should go above and beyond to create a memorable live chat experience for the visitor. For example, if a foreign customer requests a chat and nobody in the team speaks their language, it is still important to try and engage the customer by using tools like Google Translate. Online chat software gives customer services an unprecedented advantage, allowing operators to run useful tools alongside their conversations and even forward files to the visitor.


10.  Take it on the Chin

The big one. If the operator make a mistake or has done everything within their power and still fails to resolve the situation they can still earn points by directing the visitor to third parties that might be able to help (complaints department, legal advisers, governing bodies, etc.). Knowing when to take responsibility is the very essence of outstanding chat customer service.


11.  The Sign Off

Live chat customer service might seem like an informal channel but it’s important that the operator doesn’t rush off after answering the visitor’s initial question. Every conversation should end with the operator asking whether they can offer further assistance. It is also advisable to wait until the visitor has closed the chat box before the operator shuts down on their end of the live chat software.


We have been successfully providing Online Chat Software to SME and corporate organisations for more than 8 years; helping them to converse, monitor and engage with online customers. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt, it’s that a poor live chat service is worse than no live chat service. To find out more about how online chat software etiquette and our flexible software can convert leads, start our free 14 day, no obligation trial


UK providers of live chat software and online communication tools to a range of industries, we offer a cutting edge, resilient and proven live chat solution backed-up with first class support and advice.


Live Chat Software Author


Gemma is a Marketing Executive for UK web chat Provider Click4Assistance, with a range of knowledge in live chat software and customer engagement channels, customer service methods and improving online business.


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