Writing to customers

Live chat best practice for a great customer experience

7 minute read

Live chat can be a great addition to your website for the benefit of both your customers and your business.

Customers increasingly expect rapid or even immediate responses online when they need help. And research shows that 41% of customers favour live chat over phone, email or social media support. 

And for businesses, live chat can improve their customers’ experience during the buying process and with technical support or customer service issues. It also allows salespeople to pre-qualify potential leads or gives marketers the ability to point prospects towards product updates or newsletter sign-ups and demos. 

But live chat done badly can be more frustrating than no chat option at all. 

If you’re looking to get it right, try following these 11 steps to best practice to help create a better live chat experience for every customer.


1. Manage expectations

With the best will in the world, you won’t be able to respond to every message within seconds. It’s a good idea to have an opening message to set expectations, such as ‘We usually respond within 1–2 minutes.’ 

And during the chat, let the customer know if you need to take a few minutes to find something out. People do love live chat for its speed, but high-quality support is even more highly prized – even when it means waiting a little longer.

Indeed, in one survey, 95% of respondents said they would prefer slower support if it meant the quality of help was higher.


2. Show you're human

Although chatbots are increasingly common, most customers are very happy to have a real human ready to help them. 

Just as you would at the start of a phone conversation, begin by introducing yourself. This helps to let the customer know you’re a real person – not a bot. 

Clear, simple language goes a long way here too. The goal is to sound natural and human, not stiff and formal or robotic. 


3. Check the chat history

Returning customers don’t want to reintroduce and repeat themselves time and again. So, check the chat history to ensure you have their details to hand.

Some live chat software will collate various aspects of a customer’s journey so far, such as issues they’ve had, products they’ve viewed or searches they’ve done. This background can provide helpful context to the support you offer during your conversation.


4. Be friendly and upbeat, but consider your tone

Use a friendly, upbeat style, but be careful to use a tone appropriate to any issues the customer is having. For example, if they’re clearly angry or frustrated about a problem with their product or service, being overly bubbly could feel inappropriate or grating. 

And be careful with jokes: in live chat, you don’t have the visual cues we rely on when using humour in face-to-face interactions.


5. Give people time to respond

Receiving multiple questions before you’ve had time to answer can feel like an interrogation, so don’t fire off too many at once. Instead, give the customer the chance to respond to one question at a time. 

When you’re dealing with a complex issue (or multiple issues) try to break down your responses into manageable bite-size messages, and deal with one issue at a time. This way you won’t overwhelm them and can ensure they can absorb each part before moving on. For the same reason, avoid providing more technical or background information than they actually need. 

Remember: although most visitors do value live chat for its speed, they care even more about getting high-quality customer service.


6. Be ready to empathise on chat

If the customer or visitor has a problem, it’s important to try and show empathy in your responses. 

This starts with really ‘listening’ – or, more accurately, reading – to make sure you understand the issue and to get a sense of what’s going on for them ‘between the lines’. This way you can show you understand their feelings. It can help to acknowledge these explicitly, for example: ‘I understand that must be really frustrating.’

Using clear language and a simple, readable writing style also helps with this, as you are making life easier for them.

If an apology is appropriate (such as when something has gone wrong with a delivery or a product breaking or malfunctioning), make sure it comes across in a genuine and sincere way. In a longer chat conversation that deals with a number of issues, you might apologise again towards the end. But you don’t need to overdo the apologies. As a general rule, making two is sufficient.
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7. Check your grammar and punctuation

Live chat can encourage rapid-fire writing, but try to quickly check your message before hitting send – it’s important to remain professional. A one-off typo will probably be forgiven, but too many and you can start to make a poor impression.


8. Remember formatting matters

Punctuation and other formatting in writing affects how we ‘hear’ the voice behind the words. A couple to steer largely clear of in your live chat exchanges are ellipses (that’s these: …) and block capitals. 

Those three little dots can make you sound condescending or indirect. And capital letters come across as shouty or aggressive, even when used for something positive.


9. Be careful how you refer on

Sometimes a live chat will need to be transferred to phone or email, or you’ll need to pass the person on to another team. 

You can’t be expected to answer every question, but often you’ll know who does have the answer – maybe it’s the customer’s account manager, or one of your technical experts. You don’t need to state that you aren’t qualified (or able) to answer. Instead, explain clearly why you are referring the customer on, eg ‘Your account manager should be able to access that information for you.’

And make the transition as seamless as possible by ensuring the next team member has all the information they need about the customer.


10. Use emojis wisely

In the absence of facial expression or real tone of voice, emojis can be great for adding a bit of colour to your chat conversations. They help to show your human, friendly side. But stick to safe, standard emojis (the winky-tongue-stuck-out one is probably best avoided). 

And don’t overdo it. If you are unsure whether they will appreciate an emoji, wait for the customer to use one and respond in kind if they do.


11. Close with something specific and sincere

Do your best to end on a high. First make sure that you have covered everything they need help with, and make it clear how they can get in touch again or access more support later if they need it. 

Then, if appropriate, wish them well with using your product or service for a given purpose, and thank them for getting in touch.


Live chat can be a great tool to help make sure your customers get the most out of your products or services, to provide top-quality support when they have a problem or to help prospects along their customer journey. Do it well, and you will help your company stand out for all the right reasons.


Looking for support for your team in writing better live chat responses? Get in touch to talk to our team about how our bespoke training can help.

Image credit: oatawa / Shutterstock


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Doug is a journalist, sub-editor and copywriter with 20 years’ experience in getting words to work as effectively as possible. He's worked on national newspapers including the Guardian, The Evening Standard, The Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Sun.

He's also one of our expert business-writing trainers and our lead course developer. He's helped clients as diverse as London Business School, Airbus, Deutsche Bank and Aon to make more of an impact with everything they write.

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