[Updated for 2020: New and overhauled edition]
In recent years the use of web chat software has increased drastically, as organisations become more aware of its benefits.
While investing in a chat service is a great idea for many, there’s a lot to consider with web chat best practices.
We are here to provide you with an in-depth web chat guide to help you use your web chat software to its fullest!
Disclaimer: this is a long post, so if you’re looking for something specific, click on your area of interest below:
Let’s start with the basics!
Web chat is inherently tied to your website and/or mobile application, so you want to make sure the technical integration is solid. This is usually a once-and-done aspect of web chat deployment, so you want to get it right the first time.
It’s useful because:
Other tag management systems offer similar benefits, but GTM is the most commonly used. You can add the web chat code snippet directly to your website, but it’s not something we’d recommend.
If you offer a mobile app to your customers, you probably also want to offer chat to support them in-app.
While website integrations are mostly trivial, app integration can vary depending on how you’ve built your platform.
Most web chat software is in English language by default on the website-side. Most systems will also let you change this to another language. But what if you support multiple languages?
If your website supports multiple languages by loading different pages/URLs per language, the simplest solution is to load different language files or chat scripts accordingly.
An alternative solution is to offer the user a dropdown with different language options.
You can also use real-time translation to handle multiple languages (more on this later).
Google Analytics (GA) is yet another free, powerful and ubiquitous service from Google. You’re probably already familiar with it. But most organisations using web chat are not using GA to track things.
When setting up web chat, be sure to configure GA tracking (and obviously ensure GA is on the website or in GTM).
Your chat system should be able to send events to GA, enabling you to see which customer journeys result in chat sessions and what outcome tags agents apply (e.g. product query, support ticket). This is incredibly useful for website journey analysis, for example:
A few web chat best practices to consider.
One of the most important web chat best practices is to ensure the look and feel of your chat system is on point. You also want to ensure web chat is being offered intelligently, taking your customer’s journey and your contact centre resources into account.
Should I add live chat on every page?
First, take a step back and consider your customer’s journey with your brand or organisation. Customers will visit your website before using your chat service, so it makes sense to use their website journey to decide when and where to offer them chat.
As an analogy, with phone-based customer contact, you will be familiar with pressing 1 for Sales, 2 for Support, 3 for Billing etc. This IVR (Interactive Voice Response) is time-consuming and a poor user experience. By contrast, the great thing about web chat is that you can use the customer’s URL to achieve this same outcome - effectively turning your website into a dynamic IVR for your customers.
If you’re using chat for a customer support use, you probably don’t want to offer chat on every page. Conversely, if chat is a key lead generation and sales enablement channel, you’ll want to offer chat on every page - and visibly.
You should map out your website and consider each set of URLs or website sections. To serve as an example, we have three different areas on the Talkative website:
If you have a knowledge base, you can embed chat and apply per-page settings to route customers to the right support team, and ensure they’ve already gone through a “funnel” of attempting self-service. To borrow a phrase from programming, think of customer contact as “exception handling”, where chat is a way to deal with edge cases that your digital self-service platform can’t handle.
We highly recommend looking at your Google Analytics data to understand your customers’ online journey and placing chat accordingly.
A great live chat best practice is to make your chat proactive rather than reactive. Reactive web chat passively waits for a customer to initiate a chat. Proactive web chat, on the other hand, initiates a chat conversation with the customer.
If your GA data reveals areas of drop-off or a lack of conversions on key pages, proactive “nudges” to initiate chat can have huge benefits.
Proactive chat can be triggered through engagement rules or “nudges”. This set of rules determine whether it’s appropriate for a chat to be offered based on:
The customers most often targeted with engagement rules are:
It’s best practice to bear the following things in mind when designing nudges for live chat:
In order to secure the customers who are valuable to the company, engagement rules to initiate proactive chat should be used sparingly and at the right times, r. Finding the happy balance between being helpful and intrusive is essential for optimising the use of proactive web chat.
It goes without saying that you want a slick user experience. Your web chat system should be easy-to-use and fully responsive across all devices.
How do you display live web chat on your website? When setting up web chat, it is important to choose a design that is going to fit your website's look and won't interfere with customers' on-site experiences.
There is almost infinite flexibility with how a chat system can be made to look. We recommend you work with your design/brand/marketing teams to ensure the web chat uses design cues in keeping your brand. Not only does this make your website look slick, it subtly signals potential chat users that your customer contact channels are well thought out and likely to be of high quality.
Here at Talkative we have seen ecommerce companies increase their web chat interactions by 5x (yes, a 500% increase) by migrating from a clunky pop-out chat window to a well-designed chat bubble.
Another live chat best practice is getting the placement of your chat window/widget right. Should it go on the left or right-hand side? There is a certain logic to keeping your chat window in the lower right corner of your website to reduce cognitive load when offering chat to your customers - the majority of chat systems are placed here.
It can be easy to forget that you should thoroughly test on all browsers and devices - so make sure to test this! There’s no point designing your dream chat bubble for Chrome on a 28inch monitor if the majority of your users visit your website with Safari on an iPhone!
We often debate the best practices of pre-chat forms with organisations. Do you make it easy for users to start a chat? Or do you prioritise your agent’s knowledge of customers and your CRM data? It’s a tricky balance and there’s no right answer. It mainly depends on what you use your web chat for.
As a general rule of thumb, for every form field you add to a pre-chat form, you can reduce web chat traffic by 5-10%.
For lead generation and to maximise the top of your sales funnel, we’d definitely recommend skipping the pre-chat form and making it easy for customers to speak to you. If you do need to gather data first, asking for a first name is a low-commitment piece of information for prospects to give over to your chat system, and it helps agents immediately personalise their chat messages.
If you have a CRM integration, it makes sense to ask for an email address (or other identifier) so you can bring up the customer’s record when chatting with them.
For support use cases and where you may need to perform ID&V (identity and verification), a longer pre-chat form can shorten average chat duration and ultimately make the customer and agent experience better.
Some chat systems will let you dynamically collect information during the chat conversation, which can be the best of worlds in that it maximises the number of inbound chats while letting you collect key data about the chatter.
A quick note on gathering consent for newsletters: if you plan to add the chat customer to your marketing list, we’d recommend having a pre-chat tick box gathering this consent - this gives you a record and it doesn’t rely on agents having to remember for this consent.
If you’re dealing with a high volume of chat enquiries, especially with spikes in traffic, it’s not always possible to accept chat requests in a timely fashion. In these circumstances, is it a web chat best practice to hide the chat widget when all agents are “busy”? In our opinion, no.
While it may seem sensible to not offer chat when agents are busy… if you are a customer with a question that needs answering, will you just forget about it? Not likely - most customers will switch to another channel (email or phone), which just moves the problem to another part of your contact centre. You will end up with a greater volume of contacts to manage, often with the same customer hitting you on multiple channels. Some customers will even resort to refreshing the page until the chat widget re-appears (at least I’ve done this many times with HMRC…)
The better solution is to let customers queue, and give them up-to-date feedback. People are often happy to wait if they know the situation.
A web chat best practice is to set up your chat system with the following settings enabled:
You can hide the queue after the queue reaches a certain size. For example if there are 50 customers in the queue, hide the chat widget. This is suitable for sales focused web chat deployments, but ultimately we wouldn’t recommend it for support channels.
Some chat solutions will let you “broadcast” a message to all active or queued chats, enabling you to relay real-time information to all queued customers in one hit. This is extremely useful if all the chat requests relate to the same issue, for example a system outage.
What happens to web chat if all agents are offline? While some businesses offer 24/7 web chat, most have opening hours, after which agents are offline.
There are 3 options to solve this, each with their own pros and cons:
Make sure your chat system lets you “block” chats that are sent outside of opening hours. If your business closes at 6pm, but a customer loaded your web page at 5.40pm when chat was available, they might send a chat request at 6.15pm. You want a system that will let the user know the opening hours are now over.
While this post is primarily focused on human-powered web chat, conversational virtual agents, aka AI chatbots, are increasingly popular, although often misunderstood.
Our main live chat best practice is to only deploy a chatbot if you’ve thoroughly considered all aspects of the implementation. It’s easy to think chatbots will massively reduce your inbound contact and save costs, but chatbots can often annoy customers and not deflect significant contact volumes, all the while tying up your time internally as you struggle to make it work.
The first step is to thoroughly understand, and then prioritise, the types of conversations you want to automate. This can be gathered somewhat informally from your chat/email/voice agents, but we recommend extracting this data in a systematic way and using it to establish your most common enquiry type(s). This can be done by reviewing chat transcripts, email reporting and call recordings. Most contact centres will use some form of “classification codes” that will give you a good idea of these common conversations.
Almost all chatbots work by understanding “intents” within a user’s chat message. We recommend using “suggestions” which are usually buttons that reduce the cognitive load for chat users and massively reduce the chance that the chat message will be misunderstood.
While some chatbots can be used on a “standalone” basis, most will hand-off to a human agent. This hand-off is where the complexity lies. Do you make it easy for users to go straight to an agent? Do you value user experience over efficiency?
Remember that a conversational interface is inherently different from a website point-and-click GUI. One thing we often recommend as a best practice is to use a pre-chat form, instead of a chatbot, if the objective is to simply collect some data at the start of a conversation. It’s slightly quicker for the end user, much less annoying and typically means a smaller investment in terms of the chat technology itself.
To make chatbots useful, they often need to be plugged into existing data sources, so they can provide valuable information to the user from an internal business system, rather than merely collecting data or pointing to FAQ articles. For example, a common use of chatbots is providing information about order status from an ecommerce CRM system to a customer over chat, without needing a human agent. This integration can often require custom development, but can significantly streamline inbound enquiries with effective automation.
A quick win for chatbots is to offer them when your contact centre is closed, or if a queue builds up. If agents are idle, customers can go straight through.
Even with amazing web chat software, the success of your chat service is most affected by the agents using the system, which is why training your agents properly is one of the key web chat best practices.
How well your web chat performs depends to a large extent on how skilful your agents are. Providing them with adequate training and the necessary tools to handle customers is an efficient way of optimising the way web chat influences your brand's customer satisfaction rates.
Not only should agents possess soft skills so that they can relate to your customers' issues and reassure them, but they should also have enough knowledge on the way the software works, in order to confidently use it.
Chat agents typically fall into one of two categories: dedicated chat agents and “multitasking” agents with blended workloads.
Dedicated agent models tend to work best in larger contact centres that might be doing more than 50 chats per day.
Multitasking agents models are more common in sales environments where agents may also be:
To perform well, agents need to be handling the right amount of concurrent web chat sessions. Too little would mean that they are inefficient in providing good customer service, but if they are assigned with too many, their response times could increase, which leads to customer dissatisfaction.
Some agents will be better at multitasking than others. We advise that agents handle two or three chat sessions at a time. While some agents can handle up to 10 concurrent chats, this risks a poor customer experience as the average response times will inevitably suffer.
Assuming a typical chat duration of 15 minutes (including wrap-up), an agent at full capacity of 3 concurrent chats can process 12 chats per hour. You can use this as an approximate guide to schedule your overall agent requirements, factoring in total opening hours, agent shift patterns and fluctuations in website traffic.
Dedicated agents can often handle supplementary asynchronous tasks such as email to maximise productivity.
It’s important that multitasking agents have presence so that if they take a call, they will not also be expected to chat at the same time!
You should use a chat system that lets you adjust per-agent workloads on a per agent and group basis, as new trainee agents should start with 1 chat at a time, whereas experienced agents can increase up as they see fit.
Many organisations and businesses have users in many languages. Does this mean you should hire agents for each of those languages? Potentially, but you’re better off leveraging technology in the form of real-time translation. Some chat systems will let you handle over 100 languages with just 1 language agent.
A couple of tips for using real-time translation:
Agent recruiting is very important and worthy of its own blog post.
Needless to say you want agents who are comfortable with digital messaging, which is very different from the traditional skill of call handling.
If chat is a new channel being introduced to your contact centre, ask your agents if anyone would like to volunteer for chat. In our experience, “early adopters” will make themselves known and readily take part in any proof of concept.
You should encourage these pioneering team members to act as “chat champions” within your wider team. This can reduce the amount of training required and lets experienced agents continually impart live chat best practices throughout the organisation.
One of the easiest ways to make the contact centre a better place to work is to encourage some friendly competition between agents.
We’d recommend setting up a monthly competition for the best performing agent, where you can measure:
You can set the prize (Amazon vouchers work well) and the winning agents get bragging rights too! Some of the more inventive incentives we’ve seen include an all expenses paid trip to a Formula 1 race - tidy!
Most chat systems will give you per-agent reporting data, which his can form part of your ongoing management of that agent.
A common web chat mistake that’s easy to avoid is notifications being disabled.
When your agents receive a chat, they should be alerted, typically as a browser notification and sound. However, their browser may be blocking notifications, or they might be sent to another window. Make sure each agent confirms that they can see (and/or hear) notifications, otherwise you’ll get a lot of missed chats!
It’s pretty obvious that you can review chat transcripts for Quality Assurance, but another good live chat best practice is to regularly disseminate chat transcripts - good and bad - to the team to review how to respond to particularly difficult questions and reward agents who handle these situations with aplomb.
We’ve covered in-queue messaging, but web chat best practices also involve leveraging welcome messages when an agent joins a chat. Welcome messages save time for agents, while minimising the average response time at the start of interactions.
Welcome messages are available in pretty much all chat systems, and they should be configured to variables such as the queue/group and the agent’s name. They are a subset of “canned” messages, which are key to optimising live chat.
Canned messages are chat messages that are pre-screened and pre-approved to use in customer care conversations and which can be organised by the nature of the query or the type of product. The main benefit is that you can ensure consistent responses across all agents and departments. In terms of content, you can leverage FAQ / knowledge articles, as well as existing chat transcripts.
A best practice is to make canned messages sound genuine. Even though they are scripted, canned messages shouldn't sound unnatural or make the customer question if they are communicating with a real person.
How to end a web chat might seem a no-brainer but, in fact, it's one of the most crucial points in the correspondence with a customer. The feeling they're left with when leaving your site will most likely determine whether they will be a returning customer. Therefore, a well thought out conversation closer is an essential live chat best practice.
Is the customer still there? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. Ideally your chat system will alert you if the customer has disconnected (closed the browser), but there’s no fool proof way to tell, for example if they leave their window open but walk into another room. This is why You should set up a canned message to check if the customer is still active in the interaction.
Sometimes, a customer will come back to the chat window an hour or too later, by which time you’ve ended the chat. We highly recommend you use a system that 1. lets the customer see the transcript and download it after the session has ended, and 2. Identifies the customer and shows the old transcript to the next agent if they reconnect.
A plain 'goodbye' isn't enough. Whether the person has made a purchase or not, whether they were dissatisfied or left positive feedback, every customer deserves your agents' attention and courtesy. Don't end the chat with an abrupt 'goodbye', instead make sure that the customer is leaving the site with a good impression of the service and that there aren't any queries left unanswered.
Also, make sure the chat ends when the customer's ready, not the agent. Let the customer set the pace for the conversation and don't end it before making sure that they don't require further assistance. Expressing a genuine concern for your customers' needs and making sure their issues are resolved won't go unnoticed and will help you improve your customer support rate.
A final good practice is to make the customer feel like they matter. Always thank the customer for contacting you and expressing interest in your product or service.
Where possible, give clear and accurate responses, supplemented by FAQ articles and links if possible. By giving detailed solutions, you both impress customers and maximise the chances that their problem will be solved.
Make sure your writing is easily legible, and be sure to proofread before sending.
Even the best of us make spelling mistakes from time to time, especially when we are under time pressure and don’t have time to review every single message, for example working as a chat agent. Most browsers have built-in spelling checkers, so be sure to enable these.
We highly recommend also using tools such as Grammarly to reduce spelling errors while improving agents’ spelling/grammar over time.
Now that you know how to set up and implement web chat best practices, what you should think about is how best to optimise the service through planning, tracking and tweaking the variables on which your customer service performance depends.
To optimise its use, it's best to directly align web chat with a singular defined objective, which could be:
Here are some of the recommended KPIs that you should be tracking:
While the previous live chat best practices will make web chat a viable aspect of your customer service strategy, the key to a good web chat is continuous improvement within all of these areas.
We recommend the following to truly maximise your web chat experience:
Leading CRMs such as Salesforce make it easy to embed web chat into the CRM, letting agents instantly contextualise who the customer is, what their relationship is to the business, and how they’ve interacted in the past. This information can be used to better understand the nature of the queries and to provide a more personal and satisfactory customer service.
While there are ever more channels for customers to contact you on, don’t treat each one tactically and on a separate set of processes. Instead, be strategic and take an “omnichannel” approach, that is to be channel agnostic and let customers speak to you on their channel of choice.
Going omnichannel means taking a holistic approach to handling customer contact, typically with a single system, or various systems tied together as one with APIs or integrations. This means handling chats, calls, emails, social media, video chat and AI with a single agent workspace, and a unified set of reporting. Going omnichannel can increase agent utilisation by 75% so ideally you want a solution that ties together a strong chat solution with a dedicated phone system.
It’s shocking how often senior management will look at a contact centre (through reports and dashboards) rather than externally (going through the motions of a customer). Stop what you’re doing and start a chat on your website now! Then, call your main phone number and send in an email too. What’s the experience like? Spot any quick wins to the process? I bet you do.
Similar to the above, it’s hard to truly empathise with agents if you’re a supervisor or another role in your organisation. However, you should spend a day per year/quarter being an agent. You’ll come to understand their issues - whether they be system related or business related.
How often are agents having to try and explain how to navigate your website or portal during a live chat session? If it’s a known issue, cobrowsing can be a quick win to help chat agents solve problems quickly, first time round. No more Zoom scheduling or sending screenshots back and forth - cobrowsing lets your agents securely join the customer and guide them - as if they were sitting next to them.
Encourage feedback and ideas from your chat agents. This should include suggested canned responses and documenting common customer queries, but may include other ideas specific to your organisation. Agents are the closest to your customers at their time of purchasing or query, so make sure you fully understand what they are observing!
While chat might be seen as a customer service role, it touches the website (marketing), your customers (sales), your systems (IT) and encapsulates customer conversations (all departments). So why don’t you organise a quarterly “web chat” review meeting and ensure stakeholders from all pillars of your organisation attend, so you can solve organisation-wide problems and ensure priorities are aligned.
Some conversations are perfectly suited to text-based messaging. Others are better suited to voice. But that doesn’t mean you need to leave your chat session and get the customer to call in (and hope they can get transferred to you). Voice and video chat lets you seamlessly escalate from web chat to a voice and/or video chat in the same session. A slick experience for the customer and it improves your first call resolution rate. Nice!
As great as proactive web chat is, you shouldn’t appear too insisting or invasive of the customer’s on-site experience. The last thing you would want is for them to feel pressured into buying something and then leaving the site for a competitor. What you want to achieve through web chat service is a quality customer-agent interaction that would build a sense of trust in your brand. Popups can also hurt your SEO performance too.
Even if they are great communicators and skilful salespeople, avoid reassigning agents from your company’s phone team directly to your web chat service without adequate training and vetting. As with any customer service position, specific training is required if you want to have an excellent performing team that can handle large amounts of queries at the same time without a drop in quality.
As efficient and time saving as they are, it’s easy for canned messages to appear artificial and generic to customers. People are able to tell when they are chatting with a real person and when they are being fed some scripted phrases. Your best bet is to stick to genuine, human interaction while still incorporating canned responses when appropriate.
Immediate communication between customers and clients is at the essence of the web chat service, and research has shown that 53% of clients would abandon their purchase unless their queries are quickly answered. Therefore, your response time should be no longer than 15 seconds. If you fail to provide an instantaneous response to queries, there would be no point in using web chat technology instead of email correspondence.
Soft skills are hard to quantify, but you can easily show the names and photos of agents to customers, so they feel like they are connecting with another human, which builds trust.
We hope you found some of these tips actionable and useful! Web chat best practices is not a once-and-done activity, it's something that you continually need to monitor, iterate and improve upon.
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