The history of communication has always been about reducing friction. Humans have always looked for better and faster ways to connect with each other.

We went from the pony express, to snail mail, to phones, texting, emailing, instant messaging, Snapchatting … the list goes on.

Live onsite chat has been around almost as long as websites. It was used for years by customer service teams before sales adopted bots. And now, it's the hot new tool in many marketers' arsenals.

→ Access Now: 5 Free Customer Support Templates

Today's buyers want real-time engagement, and they're asking for it at a time where most marketers are seeing acquisition get harder. So software that connects buyers with marketers and salespeople in real time is basically every CMO's dream.

Yes, live chat is exciting, but it can't magically fulfill your prospects' and customers' desire for speed.

Chat connects you with prospects, leads, and customers faster than ever. But they don't care how fast you can say, "Hi, how can I help you?" They care how fast you can actually help them.

Speed is a systems problem, not a software problem. Quickly solving customer problems isn't about a tool. It's about integrating your sources of information so employees can quickly find the context they need to answer prospect and customer questions quickly, accurately, and completely. Live chat is just one of those sources. But many businesses are adopting live chat and leaving it at that.

Live chat software is installed within the website's HTML structure. It loads an icon or link onto your webpages which then launch chat browsers when clicked. You can choose which pages you'd like the icon to appear and most software allows you to customize the design of the chat widget.

Benefits of Live Chat

Let's unpack some benefits of adopting live chat for your business.

1. Omni-channel Experience

When customers are browsing your site, you want to make sure you can keep them engaged with your content. If they have to navigate away from a page to write an email or pick up the phone to call your support team, they may never return to that original page. Even if your customer service is great, you'll still lose customers if they have to jump through hoops to reach your agents.

Live chat creates an omni-channel experience for your web visitors. It's seamlessly integrated so customers can easily connect with your support or sales teams and get the answers they're looking for without ever leaving the page that they're on. This way, you can reduce your website's bounce rate while simultaneously creating opportunities to upsell and cross-sell.

2. Reduced Average Handling Time

Live chat is considered the middle ground between phone and email communication. Customers don't have to wait on hold to for simple problems and can immediately ask follow-up questions if they don't understand your agent's response. You can expect your average handling time to drop because fewer customers will have to open new cases to get more information on previous interactions.

3. Automation Opportunities

Since live chat is embedded directly into your website's code, it's easily integrated with other customer service tools. These tools automate functions for your sales and service reps and create a better communication experience for the customer.

For example, chatbots are commonly used with live chat. They read visitor inquiries and automatically respond to customers through a chat browser. Chatbots are mostly used to answer recurring questions and solve common roadblocks for customers. This frees up more time for your human reps to focus on your complex or time-consuming cases.

4. Case Distribution

As your customers adjust to your new live chat channel, you should see a decrease in case volume for your phone and email queues. That's because customers will slowly begin to understand which communication medium is best suited for their type of inquiry. Simple questions can be answered using the live chat channel, while more complex ones should be reserved for your phone team. If the problem is less urgent, then customers have the option to use your email channel and continue with their normal workflow.

Now that you're familiar with how live chat works, let's take a look at some of the limitations that exist with this type of communication medium.

How Live Chat Doesn't Work

The best reason for any business decision is: "This will help us serve our customers better."

While the way most companies currently use live chat may appear to do this, the reality is quite different. Let's walk through four ways this typically manifests itself in businesses:

1. Live chat isn't a fix for system speed.

Modern buyers want information, and they want it now.

Ten minutes might seem like more than enough time to respond to a customer or prospect query. But because most companies' systems require patchworking, the median frontline marketing, sales, and customer support employee spends 45 to 60 minutes a day slogging through their systems.

There's a mismatch in how quickly customers want a response and how fast your team can actually deliver that response.

36% of buyers plan to increase their usage of chat tools this year, while 60% of buyers plan on keeping usage the same, meaning your chat volume (and your team's workload) will only increase.

Integrating your systems of record lays the foundation for an amazing customer experience that will scale no matter what channels buyers contact you on today, tomorrow, or five years from now.

2. Live chat isn't a fix for customer convenience.

In an ideal world, buyers could use live chat throughout their customer lifecycle — whether they're converting on an ebook, trying to get in touch with sales, or reporting a product problem.

It doesn't work this way. In most cases, only one department staffs and manages chat software, meaning employees in other departments don't have access to chat — and the number of companies where multiple departments dohave access is small.

From an internal perspective, this is understandable. Each department head likely functions autonomously and put their own budget behind a live chat solution.

But this doesn't bring convenience to the customer, just that department head. Customers don't care who "owns" their specific type of request; they just want their problems solved. If customers want to talk to you via chat, you should empower them to do so at any point in their lifecycle. When setting up live chat, make sure all customer-facing departments are bought in, know how to access data, and can do so.

3. Live chat has to work offline, too.

Live chat is great when you have a team available to respond to prospects and customers. But what happens when your employees go home for the day, and your buyers are still online?

Most solutions will let you toggle chat off outside of certain hours or send a canned response, then let the prospect know a representative will be with them once business hours resume.

That's a good start, but it's not enough. Just as lifecycle stage is an arbitrary roadblock for customers who simply prefer chat, you shouldn't limit when and how your customers can get answers to their questions with business hours.

Obviously, this doesn't mean you should force your team to monitor chat around-the-clock. It does mean you need to invest in an "offline" chat strategy.

  • What frequently asked questions can you build into an chatbot to help users solve their problem?
  • How can you integrate your chat with self-service resources like your knowledge base to content easily searchable through a bot?
  • Can you collect some important information and set expectations on response time for sales inquiries?

See what I mean by convenience and speed being a systems problem? No live chat software, no matter how good, can produce a healthy system where all the pieces work in tandem to provide a great customer experience.

At some point, you may find your technology simply can't handle the conversation without a human present. That's fine. But you should try and automate everything up until that point, so you've given your customers as much value as you can.

4. Live chat has no intrinsic value.

Yeah, that's a strong statement. Let me explain.

Communication channels have no intrinsic value. They facilitate two core types of value:

  • Channels connect you with your customers and prospects so you can learn about and serve them better
  • Channels store a full history of customer issues that brings context to new customer inquiries, and that you can use to inform your business strategy

Every new communication channel dilutes the average power of the ones you already use.

Does this mean you should only use one channel to communicate with buyers so all your information lives in one place? Of course not. You should engage buyers however they want. (And for your benefit, data from multiple communication systems paints a richer picture of your customers than one self-contained system ever could.)

But growing businesses face a common operations challenge: Fragmentation. We asked businesses how they communicate with prospects and customers, and how they communicate internally about prospects and customers.

By my count, this is 11 different formal and informal channels that connect your employees to customers, prospects, and each other.That's 11 different systems of record, each containing one fragment of the full customer story, your employees need to patch together in order to get the full context of a customer's problem and solve it. That's 11 different datasets to reconcile when you're trying to see trends in customer behavior.

(And that's before you consider mind the many teams you need to put in place to staff these channels.)

What This Means for Your Business

Disconnected systems means misalignment. Across the board, executives are more optimistic about how things are going than their frontline employees. Here are the quick hits:

  • 55% of C-levels and VPs are extremely confident that they have access to a complete record of a customer's previous interactions with their company, compared to 23% of individual contributors
  • 54% of C-levels and VPs think it's very easy for marketing to pass leads to sales with contextual information, compared to 24% of individual contributors

C-levels and VPs are also overly optimistic about the records their frontline employees can access.

This kind of misalignment is never good, especially when customers are involved. 80% of consumers would stop doing business with a company that provided a poor experience, so you only have a short window of time (10 minutes or less) to set yourself apart from the pack.

It's also costing you money. When your employees are hopping between communication channels, they're not creating value for your business, just locating information they couldn't previously find. Here's how much money you lose to system reconciliation per employee per year (based on median salaries for that job title in the U.S. and a 50-week working year):

You can expect to spend 9–12% of each marketing, sales, or customer service employee's salary on activities that will not help your business grow.

How Live Chat Should Work

HubSpot's mission is to help millions of organizations grow better. That means helping our customers engage and delight their customers by building trust and establishing lasting relationships.

Enabling our customers to have more open conversations with their customers is a great way to do that, but scaling those personal one-to-one engagements can be hard.

So for the last few months, HubSpot has been building Conversations — a unifying free product designed to align your entire company and its systems around the customer. That's right — we believe so strongly in this vision of the world that we are offering it to everyone for free.

Conversations is a shared inbox that pulls in all your communication channels so you view, manage, and reply to all prospects and customers without skipping a beat. It's built to integrate with CRM software, so you'll be able to pull in a full engagement history alongside your contact's full profile. Automation empowers you to use the power of live chat on any page of your site, whether it's for lead capture, sales conversations, or customer support.

Conversations will be your source of truth to tie your marketing systems to your sales conversations to your customer service requests.

Your one source of truth that will put an end to siloed communication channels, reduce work for your team, improve response times, and create more opportunities to turn customers into vocal promoters of your brand.

A version of this blog post was originally published on ThinkGrowth.

Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.

New Call-to-action

 New Call-to-action

Originally published Aug 5, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 09 2021


Customer Support Help Desk & Ticketing Software