This article is from Simon Ouderkirk (@simon.ouderkirk in the chatroom) and it originally appeared on Simon’s blog.
This last weekend I made the move from our Akismet support team over to Team Hermes, a group of Happiness Engineers who cover live chat (that is, text-based chat support) for our regular paid users (That is, neither VIP nor Business), as well as covering in-app mobile support.
So, I spent my full work day yesterday deep in the live chat mines. Over a work day, I did 45 chats – not terrible for a first day! With only a single day of experience under my belt, here are a few early-stage insights on live chat as a medium of hospitality:
- Live Chat is very good at what it is very good at. Live Chat is, so far, good at two things: behaving like a human-powered search bar, answering questions with documentation or blog post recommendations, and debugging complicated problems with multi-step questioning. The trouble is when an operator has multiple chats that cover both flavors.
- Live Chat requires a different sort of focus than email or forum replies. Replying to an email allows a Happiness Engineer some space to explore and investigate and ensure that the reply is 100% correct as-is, a neatly-tied package that is ready to go. In Chat, there is a lot of uncertainty, and the need to balance multiple chat customers at once means you must be able to not only laser-focus on a single customer, you have to be able to switch between cases quickly with little time for recall.
- Live Chat requires a different mindset than email replies. Given the short time span between responses, there is no wall of authority in place: if an HE doesn’t know an answer, they have to admit it and then move forward with collaboration, a back-and-forth between the HE and the customer. In an email response, the HE would have time to research and be certain of their authority before replying. I like this ejection of ego from the equation; Live Chat feels much more “Let’s figure this out!” to email’s “Here is a solution.”
- Live Chat is not ideal for every problem: there were a few cases where I had to ask folks to seek support through other channels. These cases were big browser problems, where we needed full traceroutes to determine the underlying issue, and broad CSS customization, which, while something I _can_ do, would not be to the benefit of the rest of the folks waiting in the Live Chat line. Plus, our CSS Support Forum folks are so darn helpful!
- Live Chat would be a great tool for proactive, rather than reactive, support. I know that some companies use Chat on their sites as a sales lead generation tool – I think that in the pursuit of hospitality, offering Live Chat in an educational format would be a really outstanding application. Identify members of your team who are especially patient and tend to excel with new customers, and then create a Chat property specifically for the educational area of your site. Having a live human to work with might really change the onboarding process, and would at the very least help to illustrate where folks are getting caught up. In that way, educational Live Chat would serve both our user-facing hospitality needs as well as our hospitality-driven UX improvements by acting as chat-based user testing.
Today’s my second day – we’ll see how long the above remains true!