Article

A 2021 guide to live chat support

Learn more about the benefits of live chat and how to use chat support services in your business.

By Tara Ramroop, Senior manager, content marketing

Published March 29, 2020
Last updated August 6, 2021

Customers want personalized service, but they don’t necessarily want to pick up the phone or wait for an email response.

An easy work-around? Live chat support.

This tool allows support reps to instantly respond to customers and add a human touch to issue resolutions. Support teams can also use conversation data to strengthen their service even further.

What is live chat support?

Live chat support is a way for customers to get help through instant messaging platforms. It happens on a 1:1 level, often via a company’s website.

Live chat can take a few forms. For example, it can be a proactive chat pop-up— think of a chat box appearing on your screen and asking if you need help. Clicking on it would connect you to a live agent.

Customers can also start a live chat when they’re in need. Many company sites include a button (usually on the bottom right of the web page) where customers can click to connect with an agent.

Live chat vs. messaging apps

Many messaging apps— such as WhatsApp or social-media DM—have gained ground as a support channels. It’s important to understand the difference between chat and messaging.

The primary difference is that live chat is session-based— once the conversation is over or you solve an issue, the conversational history disappears from the customer’s end.

On the other hand, messaging allows customers to view conversations at any time. This is because these exchanges happen in third-party channels, like Facebook chat or WhatsApp. Messaging enables customers to pick up the conversation at their convenience.

Benefits of live chat support

Live chat support has a lot going for it from both the customer’s and the business’s perspectives.

Live chat support strengthens the customer experience

Consumers expect support as quickly as possible. According to our 2020 Customer Experience Trends Report, twenty-eight percent of people expect a reply on chat in under five minutes. And our new Zendesk 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report shows that chat-based support requests increased by about 80% in 2020. This means expectations for quick service are at an all-time high.

“It’s instantaneous communication that doesn’t involve phone support tag,” says Jon Daniels, a technical support engineer at Zendesk.

Daniels says that live chat is one of the most thorough channels when it comes to context and data—next to email support. With live chat, you can really dig into the steps involved in an issue to get it resolved right then and there. Live chat enables companies to give customers what they want and boost brand experience.

Without live chat, customers who want to submit a support request often need to open a new window and find the contact page. This means they navigate away from their issue to contact support and wait on a response. Live chat pop-ups should be strategically placed throughout a website, so customers can access support without opening more windows.

Live chat support is better for business

Offering live chat aligns with many of the business goals managers and agents cited in the Zendesk 2021 CX trends report:

  • Scaling customer support operations. Adding live chat support enables agents to help more people, without tons of new software.
  • Better meet service level agreements. Live chat enables lower wait times because an agent can talk to multiple people right away via live chat. By contrast, reps can speak to only one customer at a time by phone, and email creates delays.
  • Solve customer issues before they become bigger. Engage website visitors or app users via chat whenever a problem has occurred rather than waiting until they email or call.

Regardless of the goals your business hopes to achieve, live chat can boost your overall customer experience by addressing issues swiftly and smoothly.

Live chat support best practices

live chat support

We know that live chat support is helpful for both businesses and customers. But how do you successfully offer this experience? Consider these live chat best practices— tips that will help your agents handle multiple chat requests without sacrificing quality.

Place your chat window in a subtle location

When setting up live chat, a company should strike a balance between staying unobtrusive and being proactive with users who might need help. Chat pop-ups shouldn't hurt your customer experience — they should enhance it.

To make your chat experience a seamless part of your site, consider where your chat window pops up and how site visitors might access it. For example, you might set up a clickable icon to appear on the bottom right of any page so that customers can ask for help when they need it.

Train support agents

Before you launch a live chat support channel, consider how you will train your staff— what do they need to know to successfully use this tool?

Will agents be supporting other customer service channels while they track incoming chats? If so, consider teaching them how to navigate between tools on your CRM. Daniels says that agents who are able to chat with a couple of customers at once can help you solve more issues in less time.

You might also teach reps how to leave a chat window open to do some research— they can use internal and publicly available help content resources. Your agents will return armed and ready with the tools they need to solve issues completely. Reps who can collect knowledge on the fly as they chat are likely to resolve issues in a single conversation.

Dive into live chat software data

While their features vary, live chat tools and platforms deliver valuable data points about the customer’s journey, including:

  • The URL the customer was on immediately before the chat started
  • The customer’s operating system and device
  • The time they’ve spent on the site
  • The number of visits and the number of chats they’ve had with the company in the past

Reps can use this information to tailor their chat interactions. If they see that a customer is on a mobile device, they’ll know to keep their responses short and sweet (no one wants to type on a smartphone keyboard all day). For customers who are new to the company site, reps can share basic information about the brand and its products.

Determine your live chat staffing requirements

It’s critical for companies to plan for how agents will manage the live chat feature before rolling it out. Successful deployments consider agent experience, chat routing, and whether or not agents will be supporting other customer service channels at the same time.

Jon Daniels, a support engineer at Zendesk who spends much of his day in the live chat channel, says that only chatting with a couple of customers at a time is conducive to in-depth problem-solving. When agents are more free to leave the chat window to conduct research, which includes digging into the customer's call history or consulting an internal knowledge base, they can come back with the necessary context to solve an issue more completely and holistically.

Live chat
staffing calculator

Ensuring appropriate levels of live chat staffing can be a challenge. That’s why it’s critical to plan ahead before rolling it out for customers. Use this staffing calculator to help you get started.

Remember that there are many factors that impact live chat staffing needs, so this tool should only be used as a planning guide.

01

Estimating chat volume

Will chat be reactive or proactive? Reactive live chat is initiated by a customer, usually by clicking a chat widget. Proactive live chat is automatic: a popup window appears asking a customer if they need help or want to chat with someone.
How many website visitors do you expect during the live chat availability period? Use a tool like Google Analytics to determine how many website visitors you get during live chat support hours. You can analyze the entire website, or you can choose specific URLs that feature live chat widgets.

02

Estimating number of chats per hour

What hours will live chat support be available on your website? When you’re just getting started with live chat support, stick to an average 8-hour workday (e.g. 9a to 5p). This reduces the number of incoming chats and contains the chats to predictable hours.

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03

Estimating number of agents

How long should agents spend on one live chat conversation (in mins)? Agents spend an average of between 8 and 12 minutes solving one customer’s problem, but actual time spent per chat depends on the complexity of the issue and how much experience or expertise the agent has on that topic. Come up with your own average based on your time to resolution data.

How many live chat conversations will an agent manage simultaneously? This depends largely on the agent’s skill level. A skilled agent might manage 4-6 live chats at a time, while less experienced agents manage 1-2. That said, even some veteran support agents prefer a maximum of 2-3 chats at a time. This allows more time to conduct research in an internal knowledge base or dig into the customer’s account history.

Result
Total percentage of customers requesting a chat
10%
Estimated chat volume
Chat availability period
(in hours)
Estimated chats per hour
Recommended number of agents

Disclaimer:

Keep in mind that the above formula is merely a guide and ignores things like breaks for your agents, multiple shifts, and vastly different customer requirements. It shouldn’t replace a typical workforce management staffing calculator.

Once you’ve settled on your staffing needs, keep monitoring your wait times and CSAT to ensure it’s the optimal number. There’s a tendency for live chat CSAT to fall as the number of chats per agent rises and wait times increase.


Use AI to strengthen your live chat experience

Integrate AI and chatbots in the live chat experience to empower customers to solve queries without needing to contact a rep. A chatbot can use AI to suggest links from the help center to help customers quickly resolve issues. If the chatbot doesn’t answer the question, no problem. The bot can escalate the request to a live agent.

The meal-delivery subscription service Freshly successfully brought AI, live chat, and self-service together to create a better experience for customers.

The team noticed that a lot of one-touch tickets were coming in via chat, one of its most popular support channels. Freshly used Zendesk to set up a chat solution that suggested help content to customers based on the questions they asked. Our platform analyzed patterns in customer questions—like, “My delivery hasn’t arrived” and “Where is my box?”— to determine which queries were the best match for Freshly’s different help articles.

An AI solution isn’t the only way to encourage self-service. Daniels shares that live chat reps often direct customers to knowledge-base content. Why list all the steps to solving an issue when they’re already encapsulated in an article? He recommends staying on the chat to offer extra help if needed.

Stay conversational

Daniels recommends being open to the fact that live chat is a more conversational platform. Stock responses may still work but will feel out of place on a platform where slang, emojis, and GIFs are the norm. Agents should talk to customers like they would to a coworker or a friend.

Creating a casual atmosphere often makes customers feel more comfortable. Reps may find that customers ask multiple questions when they take a conversational approach or may even want to upgrade their plan.

Exceed customer expectations with a live chat solution

Live chat support enables quick and personalized interactions with your customers. From a brand’s perspective, live chat isn’t useful just for one-time interactions. Conversation history and data provides tons of insights for companies to improve their customer experience in the future.

Ready to start chatting? Use Zendesk to merge your communications and add live chat support to your team.

6 steps for deploying live chat on your website