Live chat has become more popular because today’s buyers want real-time engagement, and this type of chat helps that happen. However, simply adopting live chat and then calling it a day is not enough — you need to make sure your reps and your tools are aligned and integrated. 

In this post, learn everything you need to know about live chat, how it works, and how to successfully implement it to meet customer needs. 

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What is live chat?

Live chat is a support tool that helps customers talk to human support reps and solve issues in real-time. They can quickly get answers and spend less time waiting to find a solution or sifting through a knowledge base on your website. 

While live chat is a form of messaging, it differs from chatbots as it is a live communication tool, rather than an automated conversation. There is a relationship between the two, though, as a customer can begin a conversation with a chatbot that gets escalated to a live chat with a human rep if they need more help. 

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

Customers say that the most frustrating part of customer service is long holds and wait times, so live chat is considered the middle ground between phone and email communication. 

They don’t have to wait on hold for simple problems, and can immediately ask follow-up questions if they don’t understand your agent’s response. By incorporating live chat, you can expect your average handling time to drop as 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, as mentioned above, chatbots are commonly integrated with live chat tools. It reads customer inquiries and automatically responds with best fit information, often to recurring questions and common customer roadblocks. In turn, this frees up time for your human reps to focus on complex and time-consuming issues. 

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 customers actually want results immediately. As a result, there is a mismatch in how quickly customers want a response and how fast your team can deliver the response. 

While live chat may seem like the solution to meet this customer need, that’s not exactly the case. Being able to respond immediately does nothing if your support reps aren’t able to provide solutions at an equal rate. If your systems are slow to provide support reps with the information and tools they need to answer questions, like customer interaction history and solution walk-throughs, offering live chat does nothing in advancing your solution times. 

Integrating all of your systems for speed lays the foundation for an excellent customer experience that can scale regardless of the channel buyers use to contact you today, tomorrow, or five years from now. 

2. 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 turn chat off outside business hours or send canned responses to let customers know that they’ll receive support once business hours resume. 

That’s a good start, but it’s not enough. As 79% of customers prefer live chat to any other communication channel, you shouldn’t limit when and how your customers can get answers to questions during or outside business hours. 

This doesn’t mean your support reps should be required to monitor chat around the clock, though. It does mean that you need to invest in an “offline” chat strategy, which can be where your live chat and chatbot meet. 

  • What frequently asked questions can you build into a 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?
After a certain point, your chatbots may simply not be able to handle the conversion as a human would, which is fine. But, you should try to automate everything up to that point, and let a customer know when a live rep will be available to help them. 

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.

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 most crave an omnichannel experience (And for your benefit, data from multiple communication systems paints a richer picture of your customers than one self-contained system ever could.)

However, with omnichannel experiences, disconnected systems cause misalignment. This kind of misalignment is never good, especially when customers are involved. 50% of customers would switch to a new brand after one single bad experience, so you only have a short window of time, especially considering that customers nowadays expect to engage with someone immediately

In terms of live chat, this means exactly what is mentioned above:

  • Your chatbots should be able to seamlessly transfer a customer to a support rep
  • Your support reps should easily be able to view customer data and interaction history when live chat conversations begin
  • Your reps should also be able to easily access knowledge to help them solve customer issues during live chats, and share this information with your customers.

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.

This is why we created 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.

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.

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Originally published May 20, 2022 7:00:00 AM, updated May 20 2022