Best Practices for Customer-focused Chats

by Diane Berenbaum

According to Forrester Research, online sales in the United States will reach $250 billion by the end of 2014. And, 44% of consumers say that connecting with a live person during their purchase is a vital website feature. However, only 14% of consumers report being "satisfied or very satisfied" with their live chat interactions. Clearly, there is an opportunity for organizations to strengthen and deepen customer relationships, if they master the art of chat.

Why Chat?

Chat allows you to connect with your customers, prospects and site visitors in a far more personal way than a static website. It provides a human touch to a traditionally one-way experience, so you can make a personal connection with every visitor. There is also no doubt that they make an impression. And, a positive impression at this early stage of the buying process can not only help encourage repeat visits and purchases, but also positive word of mouth too.

But the most important benefit is customer retention, according to Jeff Robinson, vice president of Customer Care & Operations at online computer back-up firm Carbonite. "If you can do things to continually improve the customer experience, the average customer lifetime will increase – and we have seen that particular effect with chat. There is a strong correlation between good support outcomes and customer satisfaction and retention."

How do you ensure that your chats create fans instead of foes?

Four Best Practices for Customer-Focused Chats

1. Demonstrate Knowledge and Accuracy
Customers chat with you to gain information. If they can't get the right answers, then it defeats the whole purpose of their interaction with you! Ensure that all chat agents are trained on your products/services. Develop a set of common questions and responses, so they can offer relevant and accurate suggestions or alternatives.
But, don't rely solely on your promotional copy or canned answers—chances are, your customers will know they are canned. They're not using chat to get a template response. They want to connect with a live representative who can help. And, if your responses don't directly apply to your customers' requests, then that will just frustrate them further.

2. Ensure Tone is Aligned with your Brand
What is your brand known for, and how can you communicate an image consistent with your brand via chat? To create a warm, friendly tone, be sure to use the customer's name. Make your responses conversational, but not overly wordy. Be sure that your language is clear and grammatically correct, as well as free of typos and confusing acronyms. Use emoticons sparingly and appropriately. Not everyone likes them or understands the message behind them

Even though chat is more casual than email or phone, it doesn't give you license to use overly casual language either. Peppering your chat with curt responses like, "Yup," "Will do," "Unfortunately, no," or unprofessional comments like  "Sorry, I was busy," or "I don't know" and "you have to call another department" will send mixed signals and distract from the experience. And, chances are those customers will share their disappointment in a variety of media.

3. Create a Consistently Professional Impression
Each chat makes an impression. Think of a live chat as a face-to-face meeting—you want to be clear, concise and helpful...and remembered for the right reasons. So, write complete sentences with proper punctuation. Keep your sentences short—under 15 words on average—so your customers get the message quickly. Be sure that your responses are grammatically correct, and free of typos and overly casual language.

Also avoid using complicated terms, confusing acronyms or jargon that will just distract your reader. Poorly written, unclear and irrelevant messages will confuse your readers and undermine your reputation.

4. Add a Human Touch
Customize the dialogue so it feels like your conversing with a friend, rather than a "robot" providing short, cryptic answers and no sense of relationship. When appropriate, express empathy to demonstrate that you care and you "get" their concerns.

For example, if a customer is upset about a product or unhappy with delivery delay, don't just say "we'll get back to you with an update when we know more." Instead, share your concern and highlight what you will do to help. For example, "I can understand your disappointment with the delayed shipment given your upcoming meeting. I can suggest an alternative that will definitely arrive on time."

Also, be sure to use the customer's name during the conversation. But don't overdo it—that's when it begins to look unnatural and feel insincere.

A recent study of internet shoppers by BoldChat revealed that 70 % of customers could not recall a recently memorable chat interaction. And, only 20% could recall a memorable interaction because it was good! Apply these four best practices and your customers will be chatting your praises.
Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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Before and After
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