Live Chat vs. Dead Chat

I’ve always been a big fan of live chat, especially in times of urgent need. Adopting a live chat system is a big commitment for any business and the reasons for having one are simple: reassurance and instant gratification. Live chat is a great choice for businesses with a larger operation and a larger customer support team. But what about for small to medium sized businesses? Do you have enough resources to run a live chat system effectively? If your answer is “No” then you really should worry less about whether or not you should adopt one and more about how to seamlessly transition between live chat and regular email-driven support.

Lovers of live chat think of email-driven support as dead chat. When a customer writes in, he/she is essentially talking to an empty room. Feedback is generated as an automated reply claiming that the business has indeed received the email. No one is there to reply. Live chat circumvents this emptiness by having a chat window. However, when you think about the process that goes on in these two seemingly different systems you’ll see that they are essentially the same. If a customer support agent is available to reply he/she should do so regardless of whether or not the request originated as an email or a chat window. This approach simply identifies live chat as a faster email conversation. But when no agents are available, live chat actually becomes more of a frustration than an asset. How many times have you encountered this situation? You click on the live chat prompt and are greeted by a message that says no agents are available. How do you feel? Is the empty room syndrome even more apparent? Instead of wondering about your position in a customer support agent’s queue, you’re left wondering about the mere existence of these agents.

The best way to deal with this is to actually remove the invisible force field that segregates live chat and email-driven support: the concept of a “ticket received” receipt and a “live chat” window. Ideally, live chat and email-driven support should be one and the same. If a customer writes in to support via email and the support agent is readily available, a reply should be immediate, and the conversation should be live within email. A ticket receipt really isn’t even necessary. If a customer writes into support within your app and the support agent is busy handling other requests, a reply should be delivered to the customer in-app/on-site as a notification as soon as it is ready. Better yet, the reply can be understood as live chat if the agent does respond immediately. The experience should be live chat like since a conversation is still just a conversation. It’s a matter of delivery and execution. Developers should focus more on delivering this experience via UI and UX changes because how you deliver customer support shouldn’t depend on the tool you use and customers shouldn’t need to choose between live chat and “dead chat”.