4 Online Chat Strategies to Protect Your Brand


Share on LinkedIn

With all the chatter about social media these days, it’s important not to forget the more traditional service channels to connect and engage with customers. While Facebook and Twitter are great and quick tools to address customer questions, companies must select the online tools appropriate for the customer experience.

One underutilized channel (still to this day) is online chat. Online chat is not new. The ability to have real-time, two-way text communications between an agent and a customer over the Internet has been around for a while. Many companies have implemented live chat on their websites with varying degrees of success when it comes to customer satisfaction. When done well, chat can significantly enhance a company’s overall customer service while reducing contact center costs. When done poorly, it can wreak havoc on a company’s brand, damage customer trust and lead to overall losses in sales.

Chat benefits can be impressive

Several studies have pointed to the tremendous ROI for including online chat as part of a multi-channel customer service strategy. A 2008 Forrester Research study indicated a 15 percent return on investment for reactive chat and an impressive 105 percent return for proactive chat. Likewise a 2010 e-tailing group study sponsored by Bold Software indicated that live chat was the best way to reduce shopping cart abandonment, with one e-retailer seeing a 6-8% decline in this metric.

Best practices for chat

From our recent benchmark study examining the chat practices of Fortune 500 customer service leaders (based on ACSI or NPS), it was clear that agent skills may be the leading factor in delivering effective online chat. How an online chat agent communicates with its customer has a big impact on both satisfaction and sales.

What companies say – and how they say it – should be directly tied to the technology they use to do it. Focusing on online chat as a real time customer service tool, the more verbose online chat agents were in their interactions, the higher the chance of frustrated customers.

Establishing chat etiquette

A critical component to running an effective chat sales or customer service program is to define chat etiquette upfront by which all agents will be measured. After working with several of our own contact center clients to enhance their chat practices, chat etiquette would often include the following:

  • Is the agent polite and speaks positively about the company, the products and the competitors at all times throughout the chat?
  • Does the agent offer empathy when appropriate?
  • Is the agent energetic and excited during the chat with the customer?
  • Does the agent ask for permission to have the customer on “hold” if needed? (Do they explain why the hold is necessary? Do they set a timeframe? Do they thank the customer when returning to the chat?)
  • When a chat transfer is required, does the agent inform the customer where the chat will be transferred and why?
  • Does the agent ask for permission to send links to the customer?
  • Does the agent respond to customers within a reasonable timeframe?
  • Does the agent check in with customer within a specified timeframe if a customer is unresponsive?

Better chat writing strategies for better customer service

To further enhance the chat practices of our own clients, we analyzed the online chat transcripts of Fortune 500 companies such as Zappos and Nordstrom, and were able to list several recommendations that can boost sales ROI from social CRM. Whether it was conversation flow, staying on point, or closing a chat session, less was always more. In other words, agents that stuck to the point, were concise and brief, scored best in overall customer satisfaction scores. Here’s a sample of what works:

  1. Skip a wordy greeting; offer help right away:
    Welcome to [Company] Live Chat! My name is David. Thank you for waiting. How can I help you?
  2. Appear seamless. If you transfer a customer to another agent, you do the transfer. Don’t make the customer engage in a new chat session:
    It sounds like it could be one of several issues, but I am unfortunately not equipped to diagnose the problem you are experiencing. I think the best course of action is to call Technical Support at 1-800-***-**** or e-mail them at [email protected]. I could also connect this chat to their department. Would you like me to?
  3. Stick to the point. Support the customer with links to the specific resources they need. Use short and to-the-point answers:
    Customer: Is your site protected?
    Agent: Yep! http://www.zappos.com/shop-with-confidence
    Customer: Okay, I see. Can you tell me about your shipping policies?
    Agent: Yes, it is free shipping and free return shipping. Standard shipping is about 4 – 5 business days.
  4. Like the opening, the closing sets the tone and supports the overall corporate brand:
    Agent: Did you have any other questions or anything else?
    Customer: No. I’ll call-in later.
    Agent: If anything else does come up, we are here 24/7 for you! Have a great day!

Start by analyzing the chat transcripts of your own agents. What tactics does your CRM team follow to effectively communicate with customers via chat? Can your chat etiquette be improved?

Emily Millar
Emily Millar is vice-president, client relations at TELUS International – a provider of contact center solutions to global clients, backed by TELUS, its Canadian telecom parent with $9.8 billion in annual revenue. TELUS International commissioned the benchmarking study – Best Practices: Online Chat Sales – examining 60 in-depth chat sessions of six Fortune 500 customer service leaders.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here