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Live chat: no longer the optional extra

There are plenty of reasons to be cynical about technological offerings. Remember Google Wave? But live chat is not just another dot.com fad. It is a tried and tested product which should form an essential part of your online business’s customer service offering. Why? Because when used properly, live chat increases your conversion rate, your team’s productivity, and your turnover. That’s why. Resulting, of course, in more happy customers.

How about email instead?

Email? Well, sure – if you’re prepared to let your potential customers wait days (or even forever) for a response. More and more customers prefer live chat because it allows them to deal with an issue when it arises. These days live chat is getting the highest levels of customer satisfaction of any customer service channel.

Anyone who’s tried it can tell you why. When I contact a business that has live chat, I can deal with a problem while it’s fresh in my mind. I don’t have to write an email, send it off and remind myself to follow up on it later in the fairly likely scenario that I never hear back.

I’ve also noticed that (at least at the companies I’ve chatted with) there’s a fairly low occurrence of macro overuse syndrome. The customer service representative is far more likely to read my query carefully and give me a tailor-made reply, not a canned response that doesn’t actually answer my question.

And while some people still prefer phone support for just that reason, many of us are not in a position to pick up the phone while dealing with a problem. I can live chat on a crowded train, in a busy office or while my children are fighting playing, situations to which phone support is just not suited.

That's cool and all. But I can’t afford to have dedicated chat staff.

Don’t think that you already know how live chat works and that it isn’t going to work for your business. For small to medium-sized businesses, this is where hybrid chat is essential – it means you don’t need to have a team member sitting there day in, day out just waiting for a chat request to come in. And while customers love the convenience of live chat, you need to realise that live chat is a great way to boost conversion.

It turns out that website users who take part in live chat are up to 15 times more likely to convert than users who don’t. One reason for this is that they are able to get their queries answered on the spot, rather than being left wondering about the answers and possibly wandering off to think about it some more before they make a purchase.

So you’re telling me that live chat will increase my turnover?

Yes. But not on its own. Having the best live chat software in the world isn’t going to help you if the customer service you’re providing isn’t up to scratch. However, when you have interested visitors on your site who have a query about a product or service, offering live chat and using it to provide stellar advice is likely to turn them into customers. Absolutely.

One study has shown that the majority of a group of 2,000 online shoppers accepted a proactive live chat invite, with more than 90% percent of those chats ending positively. Using live chat and applying an effective customer service strategy will have a positive impact on your bottom line. When your staff are on the spot with the answers at hand, conversion is far more likely.

The question then becomes, can you afford not to offer live chat?

Once you decide to go for live chat, don't forget to think about your chat button!