The Case For Online Chat

Uncategorized Jan 17, 2020

Online Chat for Business – The Hidden Benefits

Online chat is a salve for many conversion woes and a simple and easy way to improve the performance of most websites. After we make our pitch to clients to consider and ultimately activate chat on their site, we hear a lot of the same questions. Here are some common questions and

What if we’re not available to answer the chats?

Then don’t answer them! There are two good ways to handle this:

  • The conservative approach, if you are concerned about not looking like all the lights are off, is to simply have the chat tab not appear unless an operator is logged in. This effectively makes it a total nonissue. Whether you have one or 30 customer service staff, chat can be configured to only show up when people are logged in, no one will have a bad experience of trying to chat and being unable to. (Although we would argue that this is not, in fact, a bad experience at all, or at least it’s not worse than only offering the contact form which is what most websites without chat are doing. Phones don’t count– this is the realm of low–barrier communications for people who don’t want to talk on the phone.)
  • The other approach is to simply allow the chat tab to become a mini contact form. This is a fantastic option and probably worth doing even if you never or almost never log in to man the chats in the first place. In our experience, the barrier to action between an off-line chat and a contact form still favors the off-line chat. In other words, there are people who will leave their information in an off-line chat that would not use the contact form.

What happens if we are offline?

Answered above. But stated another way, nothing worse than that which is happening already. Considering that there are people who will respond to chat that don’t want to respond to a traditional (read old-school/boring) contact form, even if you planned to never staff your chat and always let it go to a form it would probably still be an effective conversion improvement and therefore a good idea. More specifically, the mechanical answer to what happens is that site visitors can leave a message. Depending on your configuration,  these can be waiting for you in the chat tool and/or can be emailed to you. They are handled like “tickets” in a ticketing system. If that doesn’t sound familiar to you, don’t worry. It’s nothing exotic and email works just fine.

Who will answer them?

The same people who answer the phone or email now. This is based on availability and skill set; generally, anyone who can do a good job answering the phone can do a good job on chat. The exceptions are people who may be poor typists or exercise sloppily written grammar. Curse that social media and SMS for lowering our English standards!  (BTW, U R not cool 4 typing like this 2 customers.)


Unlike phones or email, it is very easy for a supervisor, business owner, or marketers like us to review communications both thoroughly and quickly. As a service, we go through chats for select clients and use them for the following "off label" benefits:

  • Identify, articulate and prioritize needs for site content changes or additions
  • Identify, articulate and quantify the difference in business effectiveness of different individuals communication style
    • In other words, informal process improvement, or "Do it like Jack does it; it works better."

Real-world scenarios:

(1) With a B2B client, we quickly identified that a particular staff member who was answering customer service was not very customer service oriented…In this case, they came from technical support and was obvious that that’s where they should have stayed. This would not have been surfaced for a long time had we not reviewed chat transcripts.

(2) With an e-commerce client, we found that the personal style of one individual on the sales team was to very consistently use proactive chats versus only responding. After a month of chat operations (without any intervention,) we analyzed the impact on conversion rates and found the following:

  • Adding chat significantly improved conversion rates
  • Sessions with customer triggered chats converted almost 3 times higher than the site's average
  • Proactively triggered chats that were responded to converted four times higher than the site average

…And a big concern was proactive chats that were ignored. We were concerned that people who were proactively prompted to chat but didn’t might be put off at the intrusion.

  • Proactively triggered chats that were not responded to converted higher than the site average

Upshot: We left the details of implementation to the sales manager, but providing all this information suggested that they consider making a specific protocol for proactive chats. The details of this are beyond the scope of this post but really cool.

(3) As an agency that has content production responsibilities for several clients and content clarity as well, we reviewed chat transcripts to find where information on the site is not clear. Using this we can go and fix the content directly. This provides efficient prioritization and we can fix content that no one even knew needed to be fixed.

How are we going to add this to all of our other work?

This is not new work. People who have questions are either: A) already asking via a contact form or phone (the latter of which is much more of an interruption and clearly takes the full attention of a team member during the call), or B) leaving without becoming a customer!  In other words, this is a very good problem. People with questions who have an easy way to get answers are closer to becoming customers than those who don’t have any questions. Put another way, if someone tells us that answering chats is a hassle to we are probably speaking to the wrong person. Sales calls are a hassle to tech support but no business owner would say no to inbound sales calls.  Business owners and salespeople on commission welcome chats, because they work.

Low-Barrier Q&A converts casual shoppers to buyers by removing barriers that phone can’t

BONUS HIDDEN BENEFIT: If a site visitor has a casual question they probably won’t call – but they may chat. If, subsequently they have one or seven more casual questions they probably still won’t call, because they’re ‘just shopping’, but they will continue to ask those other chats, because it’s easy. Keep in mind, most people are polite. ‘Easy’ doesn’t just apply to the shopper. When shoppers have a casual question, they also don’t want to take up a salesperson’s time on the phone, but a chat interaction is relatively ‘weightless’ and the barrier is lower. This is similar to wondering, but not asking, if those jeans are available in red. You weren’t going to ask, but when the salesperson came by anyway, you may as well.  Chat is kind of like that.  This is what we mean by 'low barrier.' Smaller questions get asked and then build up to larger questions as the potential of purchasing or becoming a customer becomes real.

Also, if there is a minute or two between those questions, there’s no need to ‘hang up’ or fill time. A dedicated customer support team member can answer many questions very efficiently, even if 2 minutes worth of chatting is spread out over 15 minutes. That would never happen on the phone.  This is a benefit of the inherently asynchronous nature of chat. This also means a rep can carry on chat conversations with multiple people at once at a reasonable pace but only one person by phone. Yes, this can be overdone and good chat platforms will allow you to set a maximum # of concurrent chats. When it’s reached, people can wait or leave a message. This too is a very different experience than being on hold. They just read their Facebook feed or keep shopping/working. Waiting on a chat rep isn’t necessarily a problem at all.


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