Should You Offer Live Chat? Part 1

Some say 'yes,' others say 'no.'

by Brad and Debra Schepp
- Apr 27, 2015

Some avoid customer service these days at all costs, it seems. Whether in person, over the phone, through email and so on, it's often seen as a time-consuming drag. But it's important to your business.

Live chat is especially well suited to answering questions customers have while shopping on the Internet

One of the best solutions for companies and consumers to come along in this area is live chat, where customers with questions can communicate with you immediately without having to leave the Internet.

We can speak from experience in dealing with Comcast and Amazon, that chat is usually the far less onerous way to deal with such companies. It's also usually quicker. But these services also have their drawbacks, from a customer's viewpoint. Some times agents aren't local or as well versed in our way of communicating. This can make communication ineffective—and make it take longer.

To see if this feature is worthwhile (and worth the cost) for small and medium-sized e-commerce businesses, we did a little research, spoke with merchants who've used it and talked to a live chat vendor.

Millennials love it

According to the software review site Software Advice, "for queries about an online purchase, 60 percent of Millennials preferred live chat over the telephone to answer questions about online shopping. Live chat is especially well suited to answering questions customers have while shopping on the Internet.

"The most obvious reason for this is that the customers are already online, and thus can use live chat with little effort," the company notes. "They don't need to reach for the phone or worry about hold times, and they can expect a quicker answer than if they called or emailed."

Given that Millennials will only become a more important target market, that's a pretty good reason to look into chat.

I find I get a lot of customers who use it. Personally, I prefer to type [rather] than talk

Some businesses like it, too

For businesses, offering chat allows them to offer help that's in context with a customer's specific needs at the time. For example, from a business perspective, live chat offers many functions tailored specifically to the context of online shopping.

Software Advice notes that "customizable triggers, for example, make it easy to automate immediate live chat responses based on a variety of criteria, such as what page a customer is viewing, how long they've been on the page, which page they arrived from and other factors."

Lori Anne Brown a member of Facebook's eCommerce Group likes these chat services.

"I find I get a lot of customers who use it," she says. "Personally, I prefer to type [rather] than talk, so I prefer using it over phone calls."

Brown adds she's tried several such services, but her current favorite is My LiveChat.

"It's free," she says. "Well, I use the free plan, at least, and [it] has non-JavaScript I can use on eBay as well" she adds.

As an aside, Wayne Shelley's company Zopim, provides free live chat software that lets you talk to a company in real time. But he'd be a fan even if he didn't sell the software. "We are certain that it increases conversions and sales… and up-sells," Shelley tells us.

Others disagree

The problem was people would walk away from their computer while you were researching things

eCommerce Group member Kurt X Fischer tried the software but returned to using emails only.

"The problem was people would walk away from their computer while you were researching things," he says. "It took too long to settle any question or problem."

Theo Chen, another member, notes he tried it many years ago and found it didn't provide much benefit. "I did change the business phone from landline to cell so customers could text, and that has helped a little," he explains.

Take a moment before jumping in

But let's let you make your own decision! Software Advice, the technology and reviews company, says live chat is usually provided as an add-on service that can be integrated with a company's existing customer relationship management platform or Web portal.

The best way to choose a live chat software, according to Craig Boroski, a market researcher for Software Advice, is to forget all about live chat software.

"I know that sounds like strange advice, but the simple fact of the matter is that many companies are too quick to make channel adjustments without first identifying their goals, or the exact steps needed to reach them," he says. "With live chat, for example, many companies look to it as a cheaper alternative to phone service, or a way to improve sales and conversions on their website.

"These are common goals, and live chat can certainly help meet them, but it's much better to clarify specifically how the proposed change will lead to those goals," Boroski adds.

Instead, a company should carefully analyze how customers are interacting with their website now, he says.

It's much better to clarify specifically how the proposed change will lead to those goals

"They should identify bottlenecks, or pages and products that generate a lot of interest (page views) but no sales, and try to clearly understand why these issues exist," he notes. "Often, simple changes to page layout can fix the problem. Equally often, live chat can be implemented to help improve the way customers interact with the site."

Once a company knows exactly how it plans to use live chat to help customers get more out of their interaction with the website, then officials can find the right software to use, Boroski continues.

"At that point, they can begin by comparing some of the market leaders like Zopim, Olark and LiveChat Inc., and go from there," he says. "If you only need basic functionality you can look into free alternatives, but if you need more advanced options, you are likely going to have to pay."

Learn more

A popular chat service Boroski mentioned is LiveChat (no disclaimers necessary—we have no vested interest in it). One of the most important things LiveChat can do for a business is increase its sales conversion rates, and the value of each customer.

Through chats, the company claims, agents can intervene when a potential customer has a problem with finishing a purchase. They can also provide advice on particular products, making the purchasing decision easier for the customer.

LiveChat recently published an e-book on selling with LiveChat. It contains some detailed instructions on using LiveChat, which whether you decide on that company's product or not, you might find useful. LiveChat also has a couple case studies that show how it can be used for e-commerce.

About the Author

Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book, which Deb co-authored with John Lawson, Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-preneurs: It's Not About Likes—It's About Sales, was recently named the 2015 Small Business Book of the Year in the social media category.

For further information, visit Brad and Deb's website,

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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