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Live chat for service differentiation

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya)

A poor customer experience could lead customers running fast into the arms of a competitor. It’s therefore vital to implement new technologies that create new means of communicating with customers properly. Only then can you enhance customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and inevitably achieve a higher return on investment.

Live chat is one of those technologies, and it’s not immune to the potential pitfalls that are created by a poor customer experience. This could, for example, lead to someone who might have been one of your best advocates into a critic. The outcome could be poor reviews on social media, and recommendations to their friends, family and colleagues that another rival brand is worthier of gaining their hard-earned cash than you are. Ultimately, this could lead to lost business and lost revenue.

However, implementing and using it correctly can be a key service differentiator that can deliver a competitive advantage. It also has several key advantages over other customer communication channels.  Amy Scott, Director of Sedulous Consulting, explains what they are:

“Live chat offers many advantages over phone and social media. Live chat is immediate compared to email, over social media it is private. The advantages over phone is that it is quicker and, in many cases, easier because you don’t have to navigate a complex IVR system or sit in a lengthy queue to talk to someone, and it can be private and accessible from anywhere at any time, and you can have a written record of your conversation.” 

Gemma Baker, Marketing Executive at live chat solutions provider Click4Assistance (opens in new tab), therefore claims that live chat “is very popular among businesses and we are seeing more companies being more confident in their implementations to the extent that they are optimising the channel in many ways, including links in social media posts, digital documents, and email signatures. It has become a vital part of some organisation’s digital transformation and disaster recovery strategies…”

She claims that live chat is becoming one of the more “popular communication channels in comparison with traditional customer communication channels, such as phone and email because it reduces lengthy waiting times and is a direct approach with instant results.”

Case study: Mental health organisation

A well-known mental health organisation, which has requested to remain anonymous for privacy reasons, has benefited from live chat. It provides acute mental health rehabilitation services – treating more than 70 different mental health conditions. Live chat permits visitors to contact it to discuss the options available to them in complete confidence.

The need for both security and confidentiality means that the identity of any individual contacting them via live chat has to be masked. This doesn’t prevent the organisation from being able to continue to measure chat numbers and their outcomes on a statistical level. However, transcript masking does remove the dialogue that took place within the transcript itself to safeguard the interests of every individual who approaches the organisation for help. 

Operators can nevertheless share links within a live chat session to instantly point ‘customers’, who often begin the journey as visitors to the organisation’s website, to gain appropriate sources of help. This type of interaction can’t be achieved over the phone, and live chat operators can also handle 3 chats at once while simultaneously logging details onto its internal system.

Since Click4Assistance’s live chat solution was implemented in 2013, it is claimed that one of its clients, the mental health organisation, has engaged with over a thousand individuals seeking help. Considering the demographic nature of their customers, this is considered to be an impressive figure.

Confidentiality is key  

Scott highlights that confidentiality is one of the key reasons for using live chat over the phone: “If you don’t want anyone to overhear your conversation, then live chat is really helpful.” She nevertheless admits that many people would still pick up the phone because it’s easier to talk than to type. She adds: “If it’s an emotional issue you can create better rapport by speaking with somebody versus writing to them. Certain age groups may be less comfortable with doing it. A 75 year old might prefer to pick up the phone, but 20 year olds will be completely comfortable with live chat.”

Baker adds that there are many reasons why people would prefer to use live chat over picking up the phone to speak with someone to answer their query, or to resolve their issues. Here are some of them:

  • Live chat helps people with disabilities, such as hearing or speech impairments;
  • Live chat can address anxiety – mental health reasons;
  • Live chat reduces language barriers – international students with UK universities are a prime example; Instant responses;
  • And live chat helps to route enquirers straight through to the correct department or individual.

Scott also thinks that much depends on from where the live chat is being handled. “Live chat can be easier when customer service is being handled overseas, because accents can often not be clearly understood”, she explains. Whenever you speak to someone over live chat, accents are removed from the equation. However, live chat operators must be experienced written communicators. What someone writes with good intent can sometimes be misread and misinterpreted. Much depends on the tonality of what’s written, and on the words used to express what they’re intending to say.

Live chat: ‘key player’

From a service differentiation perspective, Gary Martin – Managing Director of Click4Assistance, comments:

“Live chat should be used as a key player in customer service; it can get through a large quantity of enquiries whilst saving resources and maintaining customer satisfaction. Other channels can then be used to build a stronger offering to customers by being available when live chat isn’t enough, if a visitor does have specific requirements a call can be arranged to discuss them, or if something needs looking into further but an answer cannot be known there and then, in steps email to ensure they are contacted with updates and resolutions.”

The service differentiation is therefore in how well the technology is used as a communications and customer service tool to respond to customers’ queries. While speed can be of the essence, it is also crucial to leave each customer feeling that their query has been answer, and their issue has been resolved. Done well, this will create a happy customer and a potential advocate for your brand.

Omni-channel approach

However, Scott says it’s vital to use several touchpoints: “The best way to communicate and support customers is by using a series of touchpoints, but it’s got to be joined up, omni-channel based on the customers’ preference for channel communication. Accenture said that 89 per cent of customers get frustrated when they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives in the same organisation when they move between channels and agents.”

Citing Gartner, she says 1 in 5 of the largest global businesses will introduce-based video chat by the end of 2018 to deliver a better customer experience. Video chat allows you to pick up on the customer’s body language and on their tone of voice, allowing you to personalise the customer experience by, perhaps, responding to the mood of each customer.

By connecting emotionally with customers, it becomes possible to increase conversion rates and the number of first-contact resolutions.  “Video is being used to co-browse with customers, provide advice on choosing between products, and allow customers to show you problems with products, helping customers with technical enquiries or on-boarding”, she explains.

The tone makes the music

Martin concurs that the right written and spoken tone of voice is crucial: “The operator’s tone needs to adjust according to the customer’s, enquiry. If a visitor has a sensitive issue to discuss and the operator uses the wrong tone, it can upset the enquirer and prevent them from using the chat service in the future. It can even reflect on the company and lead to a decision about whether to buy from it again.”

Training is therefore required to improve operator performance, and there may also be a need to create improvements by developing new services with live chat, live video chat and meetings rooms. 

Who’s using live chat?

Martin says meeting rooms and video chat are being using by a wide variety of organisations – from well-known retail banks to higher educational organisations such as the University of Essex and the University of Bradford. Even automotive manufacturers are using them.

He adds: “One of the largest trade unions were receiving over a thousand emails a week from their members, and this put a strain on their resources. So, they looked for ways to reduce this and implemented live chat.” He claims this enabled the organisation to reduce their email volumes to 100 a week – a 90 per cent reduction.

Service differentiation tips

Baker therefore offers the following top 5 live chat customer service strategies that could set your organisation apart from its competitors:

  • Get them to the right team straight away to ensure first contact resolution;
  • Answer all their questions quickly and accurately;
  • Wow them with functionality – they might think they need to wait for an email with further information, but can transfer the file there and then or automatically re-direct them to the relevant page, etc.;
  • Wow them with functionality – they might think they need to wait for an email with further information, but can transfer the file there and then or automatically re-direct them to the relevant page, etc.;
  • And always ask for their customer feedback; and demonstrate to customers that their opinion is valued. Keep the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulations in mind as you should also explain how their data will be used, and by whom.

Live chat for service differentiation therefore requires several factors to be at play: the technology used to connect with customers and to serve, the training of live chat operators to allow them to express the right attitudes and tone of voice textually and vocally, the marketing and customer service strategies deployed to create an optimised and personalised customer experience, and it may also depend on what you’re prepared to offer to resolve a conflict or to reward a customer.  If you can do this by developing a better customer experience than your competitors, with live chat and with other channels, you will increasingly be able to develop loyal and profitable customer relationships. From a mental health organisation’s perspective, you may also be able to save lives and help more people.

Graham Jarvis, Freelance Business and Technology Journalist, Click4Assistance (opens in new tab)
Image source: Shutterstock/Montri Nipitvittaya

Graham is an experienced editor and journalist. He is the founder of Media-Insert Communications; the former editor of The Marketing Leaders, the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Technology group’s e-magazine; and a former guest editor of BT (which is now known as and owned by SIFT Media).