You might be surprised at the impact live chat can have on both customer service and sales performance. Here are 5 reasons we think it’s an essential online tool. 

1. Customers like chat

Repeated studies have found customers responding positively to live chat on websites. eDigital Research’s report Customer Service Benchmark found that people preferred it over any other customer service channel, including telephone and email, and a Forrester Research report Making Proactive Chat Work found that customers also valued live chat during the sales process itself. 

Whether it's used as a customer service tool or as part of the sales journey, live chat can give customers the real-time interaction they want while at the same time being more cost-effective, trackable and flexible than a telephone call.

For many customers, live chat is also more convenient and less stressful than speaking on the phone to a stranger. It's easier to interrupt a session and return with the document or reference they need, and they can be sure they'll be understood.

2. Live chat is more efficient than a call centre

Talking a customer through an issue on the phone can be a great experience for them, but it has one major drawback – each agent can only deal with one customer at a time. In contrast, a live chat agent can potentially deal with several customers at once. 

What's more, because it's entirely text-based, you have a transcript of every interaction – ready for later analysis by keyword, theme, customer type, sales channel, support ticket outcome or whatever takes your fancy. Feed data from your live chat system into your business CRM for a more complete, end-to-end picture of your customer journeys.

3. Live chat can improve call centre deflection rates

There'll always be some interactions that are best handled on the phone. But many simple queries can be resolved by a combination of live chat and an online knowledge base, leaving your expert call centre agents free to deal with the large, complex support tickets.

Existing online support material becomes more valuable, too. A well-prepared chat agent can direct a customer immediately to the most useful FAQ answer or knowledge base page, without them needing to hunt through your website or rely on search. What’s more, analysis of your live chat sessions can help to pinpoint gaps or navigational problems in your online support content – if many customers are asking the same question, you can create new content to answer it and further encourage self-service.

4. Availability builds trust

By having live chat on your website and making it available as a support option you're helping to build trust. Different people prefer different contact channels, and by presenting a wider range of options customers will feel that you're more responsive, more available and generally more interested in what they want. 

Live chat also gives you the option of longer service hours, covering evenings and weekends when call centres may be closed. Again, fitting your customer service offering around your customers' lives can only be a good thing.

To really earn your customers' trust with live chat you need to choose your agents carefully. Use experienced customer service people, but remember that live chat requires a slightly different mix of skills to call centre work – accurate keyboard skills and a clear, concise writing style are the on-screen equivalents of clear diction and a friendly sounding voice.

5. Live chat can drive sales as well as service

Although traditionally considered a piece of help desk software there's no reason to limit live chat to customer support. The positive response that customers have to live chat mean it can be an effective sales tool too, especially when it comes to reducing dropouts during a purchase process. Forrester Research found that "44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a Web site can offer".  

The great advantage of live chat is that you can target it very precisely. Is there a particularly high drop-out rate at a certain point in the sales journey? A live chat agent could help people through that stage of the process. Do your web analytics show customers making repeated visits to a page without buying? Live chat can be targeted specifically at those customers, offering help, answering questions and handling objections at just the right moment. 

In short – if your business would benefit from a more efficient, more intelligent and more responsive customer service channel, you should be considering live chat for your website.

Of course, live chat is just one tactic for delivering exception cusotmer service, check out these 20 customer service best practices for more ways.