Live chat is not a silver bullet for CX issues


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Photo by Velizar Ivanov on Unsplash

Technology is too often treated as a plaster for customer experience issues. Companies turn to software tools in the struggle to deliver great CX – particularly when those tools are popular options.

For example: Company A is lacking when it comes to delivering a great customer experience. Company B is doing well. Company B uses X customer-facing technology. Company A, therefore, invests in X technology too.

The problem with this approach is that it treats ‘X’ as the magical answer to a problem – without considering the research and refinement that Company B is busy with behind the scenes. And unfortunately, live chat software is commonly deployed with this exact ‘silver bullet’ approach to CX issues.

CX issues

To start, it’s important to identify some of the most common customer experience problems that a typical live chat deployment seeks to address.

• Long wait times

Long wait times are a major customer experience detractor. Today’s customers are increasingly accustomed to instant gratification. When, then, you force them to wait for a reply, it creates frustration and a sense of inaccessibility.

• Poor online user experience

Another potential customer experience handicap is the usability of your website. Customers will click away if they can’t find the help or content that they need.

• Negative agent attitudes and a lack of empathy

No matter how well trained your customer service agents, bad days happen. When it’s the agent having a bad day, a single terse reply can act as an invitation to anger. It’s not much better when it’s the customer struggling to control their annoyance. Particularly when they then post about their experience issues on a public platform like social media.

• Non-communicative customers

How can you hope to fix or create a great customer experience if customers don’t interact with you? Some customers, even when encountering an issue, won’t reach out and instead click away forever.

Live chat: a silver bullet?

Enter live chat software. Nobody can deny the utility and convenience of live chat. Customers score the channel highly, it’s growing at rapid rates, and it allows businesses to deflect more expensive telephone calls.

Then, there’s the fact that it directly addresses multiple common CX issues. For example, live chat is real-time. So, that gets rid of the long wait times that frustrate customers. A chat channel also makes it easier for customers to contact you when they can’t find what they’re looking for.

Meanwhile, live chat agents can reflect on messages before they send, reducing the chance of a bad mood blunder. Plus, as a private channel, any customer negativity doesn’t end up on a public forum for the world to see.

In short, chat is an efficient channel for customer communication. But efficiency alone isn’t enough. You’re adding another customer contact channel that can inform the customer experience – and you need to manage that channel carefully.

Live chat CX issues

Haphazardly adding a chat channel without due preparation can have an adverse effect. Far from serving as a ‘silver bullet’, it may amplify your CX issues.

For instance, in theory, live chat doesn’t suffer from the common detractor of long wait times. In practice, this isn’t quite the case; there’s more to the matter.

Offering live chat creates the expectation that you will answer quickly. If you don’t answer fast enough — or set an offline message when there’s no one to reply — you don’t meet that expectation. This then becomes another CX issue to contend with. You need to live up to the live promise — or you risk hurting your customer experience further.

This applies across every CX issue when it comes to live chat. If you use the channel as an afterthought, it is just as likely to create customer frustration as it is to improve the customer experience. It’s on you to use the features and tools available to create happy customers.

Giving a good live chat CX

In other words, it’s not sufficient to provide a live chat service. You also need to ensure that that service is thoughtfully provisioned and fine-tuned. Otherwise, you’re only adding to your CX issues, not curing them.

For live chat, provisioning looks something like this:

1. Effective queue management, well-executed canned responses, and offline settings to combat wait times and manage expectations.

2. Boosting empathetic service by monitoring agents and making use of live chat sentiment analysis.

3. Improving usability by making your chat available on every page of your website.

4. Making use of translation tools to boost accessibility.

5. Using proactive invitations to actively invite your shy shoppers to reach out to you.

The solution to your customer experience detractors isn’t the live chat channel itself. It’s the way you use it.

You’re still on the hook

Ensuring a good live chat CX doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for your other channels, either. A well-considered live chat implementation won’t fix any problems plaguing your phone, email or social media channels.

Live chat won’t fix a terrible IVR phone tree. It won’t stop customers publicly posting to and about you on social media. And it isn’t going to save your email inbox. At best, adding a chat channel will catch some of the customers that would otherwise face these CX issues. That is, it alleviates your overall customer service strains, but it won’t eradicate them.

Not every customer will want to chat. Some prefer the good old-fashioned phone call. Some only have time to send a quick email and check for a reply later. For these customers, live chat does not prove a panacea to their CX difficulties.

It’s not a silver bullet

Having a chat channel might look like the answer to your customer experience problems. It is, after all, a tool that can lend itself to fast, efficient service delivery. But, like any tool, it can also be used incorrectly and present its own problems.

Live chat software, then, is not the silver bullet for your CX issues. The truth is that there is no silver bullet. You can’t simply copy Company B and Solution X and win instant customer love. You have to be prepared to accept that the ultimate solution to your CX issues lies with you and your team.

It’s your strategy, your use of the tech tools available, and your desire to help the customer that will ensure great CX. Not a silver bullet.

Niamh Reed
I'm a Keele University graduate and copywriter for digital engagement specialist Parker Software. I graduated with first-class honors in English with creative writing and was also awarded a certificate of competency in Japanese. I can usually be found feverishly writing business technology articles – covering everything from AI to customer service – and drinking too much tea.


  1. On large ecommerce websites chat is not about being a “silver bullet”. Based on my experience chat is an “less expensive” SAFETY NET for customers who are unable to find what they want or do not understand the UX of checkout.

    Why is chat used as a Band-aid to bad CX?

    Large companies often do not have the requisite talent, processes and (least importantly) software to invest in knowledge management, product information (i.e. taxonomy and attribute values) which are the foundation for great CX for websites that sell 10’s of thousands (or millions) of products. The investment in product information often costs companies in the high-six figures and often runs into the millions. Unless companies restructure their teams and processes AND upgrade their talent any initial remediation project degrades as soon as the project is complete. Making a business case is difficult if not impossible for companies in this position. Large companies will have rudimentary and metrics such as abandon cart or product detail page views with little to know insight as to why a customer does not order.

    Chat, on the other hand, is viewed as an immediate “save” for an order. Many companies log the information about the questions but many (most?) companies want to amass data about the products and UX processes before attempting remediation. Even when remediation is attempted it is highly targeted and not holistic. Again, the reason for this is staff not knowing what to do, processes not in place for the flow of information from the chat group and such work is considered “low impact” fixes without a strong signal to how it will impact the top line. E-commerce and product management staff at large e-commerce companies have three or four metrics that drive their performance reviews (and as a result bonuses, salary increases and promotion). If chat metrics are not directly tied to any of these performance metrics they are lost in the list of “nice to do” projects.

    Chat is measurable. Actual interactions are saved in real time. Chat is a wonderful tool but is too often (in my experience) implemented as a quick fix that needs to be economically justified on its own rather than a critical and timely feed into a quality improvement process. Chat software providers will argue (and even sell) on the quality benefits their software CAN enable but at the end of the day Chat is a “quick win” purchased and installed without much thought to back office process changes to improve CX. There is still a big divide between the promise of chat and the realities of improving CX in fundamental ways. (That is NOT the fault of Chat software providers but the customers’ choice on how to implement).

  2. Hi there Slonicboom68. Thanks for reading!

    Indeed, chat is certainly a comparatively inexpensive option and a great tool to help online businesses reduce friction during the checkout process. As you say, it works best when it’s used correctly, and not deployed as a ‘quick fix’.

    While I think there are some ‘quick wins’ with chat software, (namely the value of having a real time contact option that doesn’t require a phone call), the fact remains that it’s not a silver bullet, and it needs effort and strategy behind it to unlock its full value.

    Your comment has given an interesting insight into why some companies fall foul of treating chat like a cure-all for CX issues. (Namely, a difficulty in cost/benefit analysis when trying to include the strategic changes in the back office that need to happen to improve CX with live chat.)


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