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Using live chat to avoid you losing potential business to competitors

Here’s the top reason why you need live chat on your website:

Many website visitors may be interested in what you offer, but are not yet committed enough to give you their contact details.

They won’t fill in your enquiry form or send an email (because that will give away their contact details).

They won’t call you (because that gives you an opportunity to sell to them).

However, they WILL be happy to hide behind the anonymity of a live chat conversation until they have the confidence to share their contact details with you.

If you don’t have a live chat option on your website then you will lose those visitors who have questions but who don’t want you to have their contact details yet.


How to implement live chat in the wrong way

Have you ever been to a website that makes you enter your name/email before you can start the live chat conversation?

That’s how to do it wrong.

Those websites that do it that way think it’s clever.

Clever to get the contact details of people before the live chat, so that they can reach out to them afterwards.

People hate it because they don’t want to be identifiable at the time they want to live chat, but instead are waiting for the reassurance that there is a good match between their needs and what you can offer.

People could of course enter fake contact details into the live chat, but would then have to backtrack if they decided to further the dialogue.

The best live chat setups don’t ask people for their contact details before they can start chatting.


Free vs paid live chat

Whether or not you should pay for live chat depends on the level of functionality you require.

We originally had a paid solution and moved to the free years ago, which was enough for our needs of:

  1. Multiple staff able to access live chat, and to pass chats between them.
  2. Switch on or off whenever we want to.
  3. Adjust the message in the live chat box.

If you’re a small business then you are unlikely to need anything more than that free level of functionality, but would have the option to upgrade to paid options if you wanted to in the future.


Arguments against live chat

Live chat tends to work better if you have either of the following:

  1. Multiple staff who could pick up on live chats while others are busy (i.e. there’s always someone to respond).
  2. One or two staff where at least one is always available for live chat.

Here are a few arguments against live chat, and our responses …


My website isn’t busy enough

Getting enquiries from websites is a numbers game.  If you don’t have many website visitors (typically less than 300 visitors per month) then there may be a corresponding low percentage of visitors who would want to interact via live chat.

Our thoughts: use Google Analytics (or any other free website visitors analytics system) to identify how many website visitors you get each month.

If you have less than 300 visitors per month then your time would be better spent on finding ways to get more visitors to your website (because that low level of visitors is going to restrict your levels of business anyway).

If you have more than 300 visitors per month then you should be considering live chat.


One person in the business

Live chat can be used if you’re the only person in the business.  However, it’s likely that there will be these times when you can’t effectively respond to live chats:

  1. You are away from the business so can’t easily respond to chats, even if they come through on your mobile device.
  2. You are otherwise occupied (e.g. on a call or on focused work activity).

Most live chat systems allow you to switch between online and offline, with the offline version allowing people to leave a message that includes their contact details.

You could use live chat in that way but may find that your live chat is ‘offline’ most of the time, which can look weak in the eyes of the person visiting your website.

Our thoughts: try live chat (free version) for awhile, trying to be online as much as you can during that week or two.

If you’ve made yourself very available via live chat then you’ll get a picture of how much people utilise that service during that test period.

You may decide that the levels of use are so small that you don’t want to leave the live chat functionality enabled.

You could also discover that people do use it, and it’s beneficial to you.

If you discover that people utilise your live chat but you’re still going to be in a position where you can’t be online for much of the time, you may consider utilising an online live chat answering service, which works by external people answering your live chats as best they can, and taking details from people who need your own follow up.   You would have to test such a service to ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs.


Lack of technical knowledge to answer chats

If one of your staff answers a live chat and doesn’t have the knowledge to answer the questions, that could make your business look bad.

Our thoughts:  while you usually can’t have your most knowledgeable people waiting for live chats to come in, live chat functionality (including at the free level) allows this to happen:

  1. Live chats are initially handled by any member of staff.
  2. If they can answer the chat then no other action is needed.
  3. If the chat requires more technical input, they can reach out (typically via the live chat system) to the more knowledgeable people, to see if they are in a position to take the chat on.  If they’re unable at the time, the original staff member can request contact details for them to respond to later.


We don’t want to waste time unless we’ve got their contact details

Live chats can take time and not every person on live chat is going to be classed as a good prospect.  You will also find competitors try to find out information via your live chat (although you can usually identify them via the IP address within the live chat software).

This makes it a fair point that the business doesn’t want to waste time.

The good thing about live chat is that it can operate in a separate window so that you can get on with something else while waiting for a response to the conversation (typically highlighted to you via an audio alert).  This helps to avoid wasting time sitting solely on the live chat.

If you are a business that is adamant that you won’t spend time on anyone who hasn’t supplied their contact details, then our thoughts will hopefully aid your thinking …

Our thoughts:  if your people initially handling live chats are not your higher value resources, that protects others from wasting time on live chats, while making them available for when their expertise is required.

While there may be some wasted time live chats, there will also be useful ones as well.  If you are not offering a live chat facility, then many of your website visitors will be thinking this:

  1. I’ve visited your website but aren’t sure about something.
  2. Ideally the website would have given me better information about it, so I am interested in finding out more … but I don’t want to give you my contact details until I have a clearer picture.
  3. I can’t see a live chat option and don’t want to share my contact details, so I’m going to go off to another website to see if they’re more customer-focused.

If your business has a few staff resources who could feasibly handle live chats then you will win business from competitors who haven’t applied live chat.


I don’t want to keep my live chat on after business hours

Depending on your business, some people (particularly from other countries and time zones) may want help via your website outside of your normal business hours.

Most businesses don’t have their live chat active out of business hours, which sends out a message of:

  1. We’re not at work at the moment …
  2. … so you could leave us a message, but you can’t live chat with us.

Most people would consider that to be reasonable, but you do have the option to experiment with live chat …

Our thoughts:  if you’ve identified that people use your live chat within normal working hours then agree a rota for your staff to take it in turns to be active on live chat earlier and later in each day – typically from at home and in their own time.

While people may be reluctant to do that, the live chat software will pick up on live chats that have happened during those ‘out of business hours’ times.

The outcome from that may be that you find there’s a good reason to be operating live chat outside your normal business hours and so you would either work out how to do that internally, or could utilise a live chat answering service.

We know of businesses that utilise overseas virtual assistants on the basis of ‘paid per live chat responded to’, giving them 24 hour coverage.

It could equally be that you find that, having tested out of hours live chat availability, the levels of chats are so low that it’s not worth bothering with.  You would at least have taken that decision based on facts and not assumption.


Summarising live chat

With free options (e.g. available, live chat is available to everyone.

Our view is that businesses of all sizes should at least experiment with live chat over a reasonable period of time (a month would be about right) – purely to assess what difference it makes in gaining enquiries that may not otherwise have been gained.

Potential customers will not find everything they need on your website and live chat gives them a ‘safe and anonymous’ way to interact with you but without having to initially supply their contact details.

Live chat makes a positive difference and the worst case scenario would be that you tried it out but didn’t have enough website visitors to make it worthwhile.  That though then sends you off on another mission of attracting enough website visitors to make live chat more viable.


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