Take Control! Techniques for Efficient Live Chatting

I gave a talk this past weekend at SDX Portland on tips for controlling and ending chats. Here are the slides and script 🙂

Live chat is fast. That’s why it’s great for customers, and that’s why it’s a challenge for support professionals. Unlike email support, the customer is waiting for answers in real time, and unlike phone support, a live chat agent is often handling multiple conversations simultaneously.

If you watch the Support Driven Slack, you’ll see questions pop up about live chat at least once per week. Along with staffing, two of the biggest concerns with live chat that repeatedly appear are:

  • How do I handle simultaneous chats?
  • How do I end the chat without the repeated “Oh! Just one more question!”

Juggling

The key to handling simultaneous chats is chat control. What this means is keeping the chat productive and moving towards resolution without going on unproductive tangents.

Three essential tactics for keeping on topic, productive, and engaged with the user are:

  1. Ask questions.
  2. Communicate your work.
  3. Step out any instructions you give.

First: Ask questions. If you’ve ever been in chat before, and a customer has rapid-fired 5 questions at you, or they ask a second question when you’re in the middle of answering the first question, you’ll notice your stress level rising, and you may start feeling a loss of control. This is because the person asking the questions is the one who controls the conversation.

You want that person to be you.

The natural first place to ask a question is immediately after the customer has opened the chat. Repeat the user’s issue in your own words, and ask if you’ve got it correct. Asking questions provides opportunities for getting clarification, and questions show the customer you are listening. Asking questions also puts the pacing of the chat in your hands. When you ask a question, the ball is in the customer’s court to respond, so you can use questions to stall. It’s okay to ask questions you know the answer to to buy yourself some time.

A second key component for controlling the chat is to communicate with the user while you’re looking for answers, not only when you have an answer. Communication offers an opportunity to set expectations for the user, and setting expectations is as easy as telling the user what you’re up to and how long it’s going to take. Sometimes a customer might expect you to respond instantly when really it could take 5 minutes. Setting appropriate expectations reassures the customer that you haven’t disappeared, and helps them feel like a partner.

The third tactic for controlling the chat is through numbered instructional steps. Numbering the steps helps with pacing by doling out information in small pieces. Steps also provide clear guidance to lead the customer on the path to resolution, and they offer natural pause points while the user does homework.

Ending

The second big question about live chat, and especially live chat efficiency so you can move on to the next customer, is “How do I end?!”

If you’ve ever tried to get off the phone with someone, you know the whole dance of trying to move them towards goodbye and then finally getting to the point where you can actually say goodbye. Live chat is the same way: it’s a process. It’s composed of pre-ending, empowering, and closing.

With the pre-end, you’ve answered the original question of the customer, or you’ve gone along enough in the chat to know it’s been too long and you need to move on, so you start preparing the customer for an end to the chat.

What this looks like is phrases like the ones in the slide:

  • It looks like that took care of the question(s) you had when you opened this chat.
  • We covered a lot today!
  • Great job! You deserve to take a break.

The next step is to leave the customer with a positive feeling. Make them feel confident about proceeding on their own. You can do this through empowering phrases.

  • Awesome work! You’ve become familiar with your dashboard, and I think you’re ready to go it alone.
  • Try the steps I gave you on your own. If you get stuck, start the chat window and let us know what step you’re on.
  • Well done! Keep going with what we worked on together. When you’re ready for the next step, check out this page ____.

Finally, you’re ready to close: to actually end the chat. Remember that an open-ended signoff like “Do you have any more questions?” will lead to guess what — more questions! Instead, use closing phrases like these (see slide).

  • I’ll end this chat so you receive an email transcript with the links.
  • If you need to reach us again, feel free to open a new chat. Have a great day!
  • If you run into any trouble on those next steps, open a chat with us and we’ll be happy to help.

Here’s how I often put it all together to end a chat:

We covered a lot today!Great work — you know how to do this now.

I’ll end this chat so you’ll receive an email transcript with everything we discussed.

If you have more questions later, feel free to open a new chat.

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