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Live chat for business: everything you wanted to know about live chat but were afraid to ask

Senior Editor, Intercom

Geoffrey Keating

@geoffreykeating

Main illustration: James Noellert

A great customer experience today is about meeting people where they already are. And today, there’s one channel where more potential customers are than any place else: messaging and live chat.

Think about the way that you talk to people every day. If you’re anything like me, you use iMessage to talk to your family, WhatsApp for your close friends, and you probably spend your entire day on Slack talking to your teammates at work. And because we talk to people via messaging all day, we’ve now come to expect to be able to talk to businesses that way too.

A recent study from Twilio showed that nine out of ten consumers said they want to be able to use messaging to talk to businesses.

A Facebook Nielsen study of more than 12,500 consumers revealed that 53% of buyers are more likely to buy from a business they can message, as opposed to endless forms, email campaigns and cold calls.

“53% of buyers are more likely to buy from a business they can message”

Smart businesses today are realizing there’s a better way to do business and have started to use live chat messaging for everything, across the spectrum of sales, marketing and support. What’s more, they’re seeing a tangible return on investment.

So how can your business adapt to this shift in how people talk to business today? The solution is simple – install live chat on your website and start having conversations with people who are live on your website. With that in mind, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you understand how to make live chat work for you and your business.

What is live chat?

Live chat is a messaging application that lets existing and prospective customers talk to your company in real time via your website and give them a personal selling experience.

Use cases for live chat on your website

Until relatively recently, live chat was used almost exclusively for archaic customer support, where customers were forced to adhere to a queue mentality and were treated like a ticket number, not a human being.

That isn’t a hollow statement. According to Kayako, 38% of consumers consider live chat to be a terrible user experience.

Live chat statistics

Thankfully, with the cutting edge live chat tools available today, businesses can provide a delightful experience for customers across the entire customer lifecycle, from the first moment a visitor lands on your website, to handling customer support issues long after a customer has signed up.

Live chat for marketing

If you think live chat is just for customer service, you’re missing a trick. Live chat can play a key role in the lead generation machine.

Here’s the thing. A large portion of your website visitors who might buy your product are not finding their way to a contact form or demo request. In fact, most of them will leave without doing anything. The average conversion rate for your typical marketing stack isn’t pretty. The conversion rate for things like forms, paid advertising or mass email – hovers around the 2-3% mark.

average conversion rate

With live chat, the focus shifts from passively collecting a lead’s contact info, to actively engaging people in conversation. Instead of forcing people to fill out static lead forms, go through an arduous marketing qualification process and wait for follow-ups (that might never come), live chat helps businesses to engage with potential leads in real-time, whether that’s with human-to-human conversations and/or automated with chatbot conversations. Without a chat these prospects would just vanish into thin air and be lost forever.

Live chat for sales

Twenty years ago, you might order something over the phone and wait weeks for it to arrive in the mail. Today, you can buy that same item on Amazon and get it delivered to your doorstep in a matter of hours. Customers are now in control of the sales process and it’s the businesses who are providing an immediate, on-demand selling experience that are winning.

Thousands of businesses are embracing this reality, and creating helpful, authentic, and impactful selling experiences that’s paying off in spades. According to our data, website visitors are 82% more likely to convert to customers if they’ve chatted with you first. What’s more, their accounts are worth 13% more than those where the business didn’t have a conversation before sign up. 

live chat sales statistics

Live chat for customer support

Traditionally, most businesses have seen customer support as a cost center, and have done everything in their power to lower those costs. Just like waiting in line at the post office, they have relied on outdated support ticketing models where helpdesk management, not customer delight, is the order of the day.

This type of support no longer cuts the mustard. Look no further than the 2017 edition of Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends Report. When respondents in an Ovum survey were asked to name two ways organizations could improve their customer service, the most common responses were easier access to online channels and faster agent response times.

Mary Meeker customer service statistics

Live chat is the future of customer service, and provides the kind of experience that aligns with the needs of modern users. Customers don’t want to be treated like a ticket, and they don’t want to have to call a contact center, either. They want quick, effortless help in a way that makes them feel human.

But here’s the good news: live chat isn’t only better for the customer, it’s better for businesses too.

To test this hypothesis and measure the impact on our business, we ran a 16-week randomized split test. One group received support under 2 minutes via live chat, the others did not. Those who received the fastest response times displayed starkly better outcomes:

  • They asked 18% more questions and got more answers in real-time from our support team.
  • They were 30% more likely to start a trial.
  • Overall, real-time support drove 15% incremental growth in new business revenue.
  • They were happier too – with a 15% higher NPS (Net Promoter Score). There’s data suggesting that the higher a customer’s NPS, the higher their lifetime value.

Bottom line: It pays to make things easier for your customers.

StarterKit_LCFS_CTA

Best practices for live chat

Adopting the new playbook of live chat conversations doesn’t come without its challenges. “Live chat” implies an almost instant response, and many businesses  are concerned about managing the volume of messages that might come from adding live chat to their website. For businesses who may get thousands or millions of people visiting their website every year, 1:1 conversations with every customer and prospect quickly becomes a daunting task (not to mention prohibitively expensive). Here’s a few simple ways to ensure that live chat works for your team.

Target high-intent pages

Many businesses are rightly concerned that installing a live chat messenger could “open the floodgates”, and result in their sales and support teams dealing with low-level customer queries (“How do I change my password?”) or prospects who are just kicking the tires.

The solution is simple: Be selective with where you place your live chat widget. For example, placing it on landing pages where the intent to purchase is high will improve the quantity of high quality conversations coming in. For many companies, including ours, the most effective place to start is your pricing page. An ecommerce business, on the other hand, might prioritize their customers’ checkout page.

Use real names and faces

Plenty of live chat apps have faces that almost certainly are fake, or look suspiciously like stock photos.

live chat fake

With modern live chat tools like Intercom, you’re no longer just a random support rep – you’re a person. Think about it: Would you rather chat with a faceless company logo, or “Jess from Intercom”?

Use real names and photos in your live chat tool, especially when initiating conversations. Although our instinct is often to hide behind a logo or company name, meaningful conversations occur when a visitor sees you as a human being, not a faceless, nameless corporate logo.

live chat real faces and names

Set expectations

Just because you have live chat installed on your website doesn’t mean you need to respond immediately. Not only will this burn out your sales and support team, it’s not even true! Conversations don’t have to be immediate, provided clear expectations are set.

We’ve found that direct statements were by far the most effective. Sure, users would prefer an immediate response, but if they can’t have that, you need to accurately let them know when they will get a response. Modern messengers like Intercom have a simple message responder to do this. This is just part of being considerate to your customers – don’t just leave them hanging at the end of a conversation.

live chat response times

Scale your conversations with automation

A recent report showed that 89% of consumers want to be able to message businesses in real-time, but only 48% have the tools to do so. In fact, this is often why live chat in years gone by was such a crummy experience. If you chatted to a business via one of these old-school chat tools, you’d get a generic message saying something along the lines of, “Thanks for your message — a support rep will be in touch soon.” Simply put, it was anything but live.

Thanks to chatbots and automation, most modern live chat tools give you the ability to have live, dynamic, conversations even when there’s not somebody at the end of the messenger. For example, if you have a messenger like Intercom, the Operator bot will automatically ask the visitor for their contact details so you can follow up.

live chat automation

Or you can take it a step further with Intercom’s Answer Bot, a tool that will automatically and instantly resolve your customers questions when your team are fast asleep.

Examples of live chat messages to send

So, how do you make live chat work for you? Below, we list five of the most effective live chat messages we’ve seen. Use them as inspiration for your sales, marketing and support teams to give your customers the personal messaging experience that’s table stakes these days.

When a visitor lands on your page for the first time…

Imagine you walked into a store and all the staff ignored you. Pretty rude, huh? That’s exactly what it can feel like for your customers when they land on your website. A welcome message on your homepage will actively encourage visitors to say “Hi” so you can start more conversations. Then, when a visitor starts a conversation, your sales and support teams can route them to the correct department. (Intercom’s bot, Operator can do this automatically by asking a small set of qualifying questions so that the visitor is ushered in the correct direction).

A few good lead-in statements here could be:

  • Welcome! Can I point you in the right direction?
  • Hi. Let me know if you have any questions while you’re looking around.
  • What brings you to our site?

When a visitor arrives from a specific destination…

When high-value visitors arrive, you can automatically greet them with a live chat message that’s personalized with details from their company profile.

Instead of serving the same one-size-fits-all message to your visitors, you can increase engagement and responses with highly personalized messages targeted specifically at individuals.

For instance, if you’re offering a promotion on an external website like Product Hunt, prompt a unique message to visitors coming in through this promotion and offer them something that’ll help them be more successful while using your product, say, a piece of content.

live chat messages for marketing

When a visitor spends a certain amount of time on your page…

If a visitor shows repeated visits AND spends a significant amount of time on certain pages, you can safely assume they’re interested in buying your product, or looking to get in touch with someone in your business. Your message could simply offer to help with any questions they may have, or ask what brought them to the product page.

live chat message

When a visitor doesn’t complete their task…

A whopping 69.23% of online shopping carts are abandoned before the customer completes a sale. Now it may not be possible to persuade all cart-abandoners to go through checkout. Some customers may have never had the intention to purchase in the first place. But by using live chat to encourage them to return to complete their order, you can increase sales by as much as 3x what they could have been.

The same logic applies outside of ecommerce too. Let’s say you work in human resources, but visitors are filling out a job application and dropping out along the way. To avoid that you can start a chat and offer them guidance through the whole process of ordering or filling out a form. “Thanks for taking the time to fill out an application. Please let me know if you have any questions about the form, or if you run into technical difficulties.”

How to put live chat on your website

Best of all? There’s minimal work involved with getting live chat on your website. Instead of having to get help from your entire engineering department or worry about whether chat software will play nicely with your existing marketing tech stack, implementing chat is relatively simple. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use Intercom as an example, but the steps are pretty similar regardless of the tool you’re using.

“There’s minimal work involved with getting live chat on your website”

Step 1 – Enter your email

First things first – enter your email address on the Intercom homepage and create your account.

intercom free trial

Step 2 – Start your live chat trial

Next, start your free trial. With Intercom, you’ll get a 14 day free trial of each product, which you can start at any time. More than enough time to figure out if live chat works for your business.

intercom free trial

Step 3 – Install the messenger on your website

Here’s the most challenging part (but even then it should only take you 2 minutes). You’ll need to add a bit of code or configure an integration to see the live chat messenger on your website.

 

  1. Here’s the link to the JavaScript code, where we pre-populate your personal messenger ID.
  2. Paste the code right before the closing body tag of every page where you want the Intercom Messenger to appear.
  3. Awesome. Now open up a new tab and load the website you pasted it on. Do you see the chat bubble in the bottom right corner of the page?
  4. Yes? Ta-da! Your live chat is now enabled!

Sidebar: If you’re not comfortable installing code on your website, you can share it with a developer on your team. Like so:

live chat code snippet

Live chat is becoming a rule, not an exception

I said it before and I’ll say it again: the old way of communicating with customers is broken.

The explosion of smartphones, messaging, artificial intelligence (AI), and other groundbreaking technologies has led to a new set of expectations for buyers. It’s no longer good enough to put roadblocks in front of customers when they’re trying to communicate with your business. People want to talk to businesses on their own terms and in the medium they want.

Thanks to the rise of live chat, we can now deliver this experience at scale. Whether it’s through 1:1 human conversations, or automated through a chatbot, live chat is now the de facto way to engage with customers and prospects when they’re at their most interested – in real-time, as soon as they land on your website.

No ticket numbers. No call back forms. Just the best experience possible for each and every visitor.