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Training Customer Service Representatives for Live Chat
A new platform brings a potential for misunderstanding.
Posted Dec 21, 2012
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Providing excellent customer service is a hallmark of a company that endures. The customer loyalty it produces leads to lasting business growth. Over the years, many companies have taken the time and energy to fully train customer service representatives on the phone so they can offer a high level of customer service.

However, as we move toward more efficient customer support through live chat and other channels, customer service representatives often need to be retrained. The reality is that live chat, while it may seem simple on the surface, is a whole new ball game when it comes to solving problems for customers or closing an online sale.

Tone is always a challenge in written communications. We see this day in and day out, where a quickly written email can be viewed as brusque, when that was not the intention of the sender.

In a customer service setting, phone instructions that sound friendly and helpful when vocalized can come across as condescending when written out. As such, the foundation of chat etiquette is all about being overpolite. While this may sound simple, this concept can be elusive for many call centers.

From a business perspective, live chat is well worth the investment. In today's competitive market, an organization's reputation is always on display via social media, pay-per-click advertising, and other consumer ratings and opinion sites.

With live chat, not only can you respond more quickly to customers and reduce wait times, but you can better track service issues and trigger necessary follow-ups, ensuring efficient responses with more comprehensive service and better results.

Consider the following tactics to help transition your customer service team from the phone to live chat.

Be prepared. Provide your customer service team with the resources they need to answer customer questions: information, toggle screens, quick account look-ups, and live chat application tools that make providing live help faster, more efficient, and more comprehensive.

There's nothing worse than staring at a blinking cursor, waiting for a customer service representative to respond to your live chat request or problem.

Use back channeling. This is a communication technique in which you provide acknowledgment of what the other party is saying, validating their concerns and making them feel heard. While it can be important on the phone, it is crucial for live chat, where customers can't hear a customer service rep's tone.

Make your customers feel wanted, needed, and listened to by acknowledging their concerns and advising them about the next step you'll be taking. This saves time because the customer will not feel the need to repeat the issue—or escalate it.

Be empathetic. When a customer is already upset over something, the last thing he needs is to be pushed off the cliff by a live chat representative who doesn't know how to provide empathetic responses. Word choices and language used by the live chat representative can either soothe or infuriate a customer. Those who know how to say the right things may not always know how to type them.

Don't take shortcuts. It's easy for customer service representatives to default to using acronyms and text shortcuts, especially when the customers are likely doing it themselves. This is not a professional way to communicate. Well-crafted scripts and examples can help representatives get a good feel for the level of formality you expect of them.

Use proactive chat invitations. While you don't want to scare people off by immediately asking if they want to chat, you do want to reach out when they need help. Some things to look for:

  • Excessive time spent on a product page
  • Large shopping cart values
  • More than two search inquiries with no matching results

Excellent customer service gives you the power to transform potential customers into loyal brand supporters. The experience your customers have with your live support team will determine their opinion of your company—not just in the moment, but forever.


Jeff Mason is the vice president of marketing at Velaro, a provider of live chat software.  Visit velaro.com to learn more.


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