Understanding your customers with live chat

Main illustration: Luke Waller

Sales has changed – messaging and live chat is the new medium for initial sales conversations, not the phone calls or leisurely lunches of old. So how do you pick up on the essential signals and tones needed to build a connection with potential customers?

Our job on the Sales Team is to establish meaningful sales relationships, and in an era where nearly every business is an internet business, building those relationships is all about messaging on live chat tools. That’s a reflection of communication habits, with everyone messaging all day long. Just as people prefer to message their friends than call them, customers just don’t want to get on the phone anymore.

On a sales call, you can hear and judge things like tone of voice and urgency. These moods are still present in messaging, but you’ve got to be attuned to spot the clues for picking up on them.

After our Operator bot takes the first qualification steps, we strive to learn as much as possible using context clues that organically arise from the conversation. Here are a few subtle clues we watch for that actually say an awful lot about a potential customer.

Assess the opening dialogue

Customers with questions should be your first priority. If your customer opens with a direct question and no introduction, it says a lot about the importance of the question to them. Best to get to these right away and save formality for later. Your lead is ultimately looking for more than an answer, but for the moment, they are simply looking for a fast and accurate response. Many of these questions tend to be narrow and related to our products’ current or future features.
Intercom Live Chat sales conversation question
Get to the answer first, but then be sure to start a conversation.

Visitors who open with more traditional greetings are usually happy to have a more conversational experience. They are not just looking for an answer, they are also looking to have a real conversation with a real person. Answer all the questions, but do so in a cordial and human way.

Read between the lines

It’s important to match your writing style and tone with that of your customers while using live chat. Watch these four details closely.

1. Setting expectations with greetings:

  • Do they introduce themselves? If so, with a full name or on a first-name basis?
  • Do they list additional contact info? A company name or job title?
  • An insistence on job titles can be a sign that someone works at a bigger or longer established company where communication will be more formal and buying cycles longer.

2. A fancy vocabulary is not for everyone:

  • You want your response to be understood above all, so it’s best to err on the side of clarity when it comes to word choice.
  • Visitor dives head-first into technical terms? Match that style.
  • Nerds love fellow nerds :)

3. User writes in a more formal email or essay format

  • This is a good sign that you can go into a bit more detail.
  • Time is probably less urgent in these situations.
  • It’s a good idea to avoid SMS abbreviations, emoji and other chat-speak, as it might not be fully understood.
  • Offer proactive information in addition to answering any questions.

4. User writes in short bursts, abbreviated vocabulary, or both?

  • Speed and urgency are crucial here.
  • These customers might be a bit more hip to chat-based shorthand, and perhaps more used to the messaging format in general.Intercom Live Chat sales conversation tone

Embrace the power of emoji and gifs

Once it’s clear you’re answering a chat-style message, emojis and gifs become some of your most useful tools. There are hundreds of ways to convey your emotions, qualify your responses and send signals through these playful little additions.
Intercom Live Chat sales conversation emoji
Here are four seemingly one-dimensional emoji that can translate to much larger ideas.

  1. The rocket ship 🚀 can represent growth and progress, usually important in B2B conversations ;-).
  2. The speech bubble 💬 is a great way to leave things open for further questions.
  3. The thumbs up 👍 is perfect for agreement or confirming your solutions.
  4. Cats 🐱 are good for just about anything.

Why these clues matter

Sales conversations exist as cycles within a relationship. There are important factors surrounding these cycles, like timelines, buying power, decision making, and integration, that all need to be addressed through well-composed messages. However, each of these factors is equally dependent on the overall climate of the relationship.

My goal is to establish a healthy relationship with a potential customer, and that starts with a single conversation. For this to work, I need to use all the tools at my disposal to read my contacts’ attitudes and establish rapport. Failing to do so means someone in my position is suddenly working their way out of the mud, rather than building a relationship from a clean slate.

Simply put, initial sales conversations are moving closer and closer to being entirely message-based, and businesses that want to succeed have to understand their potential customers based on the way they message. Sympathizing with your customers is great, but actually understanding them is far better.

Want more tips for using live chat to capture and convert potential customers? Check out these other live chat resources:

Also check out this free guide to proactive live chat: