Will Live Chat Boost Your Business or Chain You to Your Desk?

Here’s a question: how do you get your customers to feel connected to you? For lots of small businesses, making a connection is all about those little personal touches – but what if you’re an e-commerce business and don’t have the option of a smile and a handshake (or fist bump)? Well, if you can’t make every customer feel like a VIP in person, you’ve got to find other ways to make them feel catered to and confident that they’re making the right purchasing decision, so that they’ll become repeat customers. In the e-commerce world these days, that means having a live chat function available on your website. But is manning a live chat worth the hassle for your small business?

Live Chat by the Numbers

Before you make up your mind about utilizing a live chat feature on your website, especially if you’ve written off the idea as just too much to deal with for a small business, you should take a look at the data. We’re not spoiling any surprises here by saying all stats point to some serious benefits of live chat for any e-commerce business – just take a look at these numbers:

red background with a laptop open and a chat box on the screen, and live chat written under it

  • More than 41% of customers expect a live chat feature on a website, and that number rises to 50% if we’re talking about customers who are visiting your site on a mobile device.
  • More than 50% of customers prefer chatting with someone in real time, online over speaking to someone on the phone. Not only that, but J.D. Power found that live chat has become most customers’ preferred digital contact method: 42% of customers prefer live chat compared to just 23% for email, and 16% for social media or forums.
  • 38% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company if they offer live chat support (CrazyEgg).
  • 63% of customers are more likely to return to a website that offers live chat (Emarketer).
  • For businesses using live chat, there is a 3.84% increase in conversion rates, with a 6% overall lift in revenue (GoInFlow).
  • Website visitors that engage with your company via live chat are worth 4.5 times more than visitors that don’t (ICMI).
  • A study by Forrester saw that there was a 10% increase in the average order value from customers who engaged in a chat before making a purchase compared to those who did not use the chat function.
  • The same study found that live chat leads to a 48% increase in revenue per chat hour and a 40% increase in conversion rate. 
  • Again according to Forrester, 1 in 5 customers are willing to stop using a product or service for slow response times.
  • 82% of customers in one survey were satisfied with their live chat experience, compared to just 61% of email users, and a worrying 44% of phone users (Comm100).

So it looks like live chat, when done right, can offer a huge boost to revenue. This is mostly because it provides the fastest possible customer service, delivering a better customer experience, and therefore promoting customer retention. And you know what? You’re not the only one who knows this: adoption rates for live chat are skyrocketing, and it’s only a matter of time before all of your competitors are using it! In fact, in some industries, live chat use has grown 150%, and its use is expected to continue to grow by as much as 87% over the next year or two. 

All of the above means that you should really start to seriously consider getting in on the live chat action – but if you’re a small ecommerce business, how can you make it work?

Before You Get Started…

If you’re thinking that live chat is the way to go for your small business, great! But you’ll have to start somewhere, namely by doing some research into how you can use this tool most effectively and get the most positive ROI without demanding too much time, effort, and resources. 

Most importantly, you’re going to want to roll out a chat feature gradually, and in a targeted way. Remember, this type of tool can be high-maintenance, but it can still pay for itself even if you can’t devote a small army of staff to looking after it (and who can, if you’re wearing a ton of hats as a small business owner?) Before you start, try to answer questions like:

  • Which of your pages have the highest bounce rate?
  • Which pages have the highest conversion rate?
  • How many return visits does it usually take for someone to sign up or make a purchase?

If you’re not sure, try using Google Analytics to help you get this information. Once you have a clearer picture of these numbers, you can look at how to get the most out of the resources you have available by targeting specific parts of your site and specific customers. So now let’s look at a few rules for how to make live chat work for your small business.

1. You Don’t Have to Be Everywhere, All the Time

Already feeling overwhelmed by the idea of chatting with every customer who checks out any part of your site? Don’t worry – you don’t have to add a chat function to every page on your domain right away. Go back to your research from above and choose one or two pages to start with. For example, you might want to add live chat to:laptop screen open with a shopping cart on the screen

  • Your pricing page
  • A page where customers sign up for an event or service
  • Pages where customers seem to need the most support, like the help page for a popular product or service
  • “Coming Soon” pages that feature new products or bestsellers
  • The page where you get the most qualified leads

Another option besides limiting where you place your chat, is to limit when you offer it. Again, go back to your research to see your traffic patterns, and consider just staffing your live chat at your peak hours. You can play around with this: when you first get started with live chat, pick a 1-2 hour shift during one of your peak traffic times. Take note of how many chats you receive, and how many of those are productive (did you provide useful information that moved a visitor closer to purchase?), then experiment with changing your chat time to other high-traffic windows over the next couple of months. Eventually, you’ll be able to pinpoint the best times to be available on chat.

You can target your chat times even further once you’ve done this: you can also choose to staff your chat during big sales, or after you’ve done a big marketing push. For example, if you are planning on sending out a big email newsletter, be sure to hop onto chat right after you’ve sent it out, so you’re ready to talk to these customers. After all, they’ve already clicked through to your site, meaning they’ve demonstrated an interest in buying, so you want to be ready to talk to them! 

And that brings us to our next rule…

2. You Don’t Have to Chat with Everyone

Let’s go back and take a closer look at one of the points we made above: you can target your chat to the page where you get the most qualified leads. Building on that idea, another thing to remember is that you can actually target which customers you want to use your live chat resources on.  

Your live chat software should allow you to control when and how the “click to chat” button and chat window are displayed on your website. Make sure you can show and hide the chat option, and send automated greetings, based on criteria like which page a visitor is on, the time they’ve spent browsing, and their location (based on IP address). Lots of live chat software offers these functions, so if yours doesn’t, move along!

The best way to control all of this is to start by hiding your chat function, then adding it strategically in places where you’re probably going to be targeting the right customers. For example:

  • Show the chat option only when a customer is viewing their cart
  • Only show the chat option to visitors referred from email promotions, digital ads, or other marketing campaigns
  • Only show the chat options to visitors in certain geographies. For example, if your website is in English, focus on engaging visitors in English-speaking regions. Or, if your services are tied to a certain location, only show the chat box to people in that location.
  • If your research shows that people are more likely to purchase from you after they visit your site 4 or more times, for example, change the parameters of your chat to only include people who have visited your site that number of times.
  • Have your chat box triggered only after a customer has spent a certain amount of time on your site

The key here is to be showing your chat box only to visitors who are genuinely interested in making a purchase, and engaging them at the moments when they need more information or when they need that little extra personal attention to close the sale.

3. It’s All About Quality, Not Quantity"quality wins" written in scrabble letters with thumbs up around it

Even with all of the restrictions we’re suggesting, you might still be worried that you’ll be overwhelmed with trying to chat with a dozen customers at once, which will drain not only your time, but your mental energy, as well. And you know what? You’re right – you shouldn’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed like that! In fact, you’ll serve your customers – and your business – much better if you focus on the quality of your chat, as opposed to the quantity of chats you’re engaged with (not to mention, you’ll have a better chance of keeping your sanity). After all, who wants to wait ages for a one-word answer fired off by someone who can’t focus on them?

So, to avoid this, again, focus on quality over quantity by trying things like:

  • Configuring your software to automatically limit the number of simultaneous chats (try 5 and see how that works for you)
  • Manually hiding the chat function when you are dealing with a demanding customer, so you have time to focus on them, and so you can get a break when you need it
  • Using a pre-chat survey to gather basic details from your customers – this can help to filter out customers who aren’t seriously interested in making a purchase

Make Sure to Measure

Finally, if you are going to take the time to connect with your customers through live chat, don’t forget to measure and make sure that every minute you’re spending on live chat is making an impact! Encourage customers to rate your transactions, and then look for patterns in the ratings: what was consistently “great?” What needs review? And if you have sales goals tied to live chat, you can use Google Analytics to track post-chat conversions. 

You can also use your live chat transactions to help you improve your business. Spending just a few hours a week chatting with your customers can give you lots of new perspectives on your business. For example:

  • Are you using terminology for products on your website that your customers aren’t using in chat? You might need to change how you’re describing things. 
  • Do multiple visitors seem lost on your site? You might need to work on your layout.
  • Getting a lot of questions about particular products or services? Your product page or FAQs might need to be revamped. 
  • Customers requesting the same things over and over, like options for faster shipping or different colors? It might be worth looking into accommodating requests that seem pretty universal.

Adding a live chat feature to your website might seem like it would be a nice thing to do, but just not feasible or too daunting for your small business. But it looks like your competition is getting on it, and they’re already reaping the rewards! So you might want to give it a try, and by following the rules laid out above, you could be boosting your revenue and growing your business, just by connecting a little bit more with your customer base.