With every day that passes in our brave new business world, more companies discover that the key to providing effective, real-time customer support is live chat. Businesses that initially questioned whether online chat was a useful channel are now focused on getting the most value from it.

Done well, online chat is the customer support tool that keeps on giving. It can funnel more customer interactions into chat, reduce operating costs, increase customer satisfaction, boost agent productivity, and make an impact on sales conversions. Yet, as with any communication channel, there’s a right way and a less effective way to offer live chat to your customers.

Effective online chat deployments produce far-reaching benefits—ripples that start with your customer service team, then touch the entire company, then, finally and most importantly, benefit your customers, too. But these ripples don’t happen in a vacuum—they’re the result of careful planning. Read on for live chat best practices that ensure you get the most from your chat implementation.

Align chat with your business goals
At a minimum, you must understand why you’re using online chat. What business objective will chat facilitate? Live chat should be fully aligned with your company’s business goals and its role in reaching those goals should be crystal clear. Some might include:

  • Meeting service level agreements (SLAs) for things like wait time, first reply time, etc
  • Proactively solving customer issues before they arise
  • Reducing shopping cart abandonment

Optimize the user experience
Where, when, and how you make live chat available on your website affects the experience your customers have when they visit your site. Consider live chat location, access, and timing as the three legs of the user experience stool. To fully harness its potential, chat should be deployed proactively. A respectful and well-timed intervention can make the all the difference between a customer completing a purchase or abandoning their shopping cart. The key is to be unobtrusive, so you don’t turn off potential customers.

Determine your staffing requirements
It’s critical for companies to plan for how agents will manage the live chat feature before rolling it out. Successful deployments consider agent experience, chat routing, and whether or not agents will be supporting other customer service channels at the same time.

Train your agents on live chat
Seems like a no-brainer, right? Perhaps—but it bears mentioning that agents must truly understand the program, as well as the underlying customer service aspect of live chat, and how it differs from other channels. There’s a nuanced etiquette to online chat–especially proactive live chat–that’s crucial to its success as a customer service tool.

Build a Chat Workflow
Regardless of which customer service platform you’re using, you’ll need to build a workflow that ensures a consistent support experience for your customers, a reliable ticket escalation path, an agent assignment plan, and real-time channel management and monitoring.

Monitor success and metrics and improve deployment
Once chat is up and running, monitor chat analytics on a regular basis. Using data and reporting on things like average wait times, customer satisfaction and agent productivity allows you to make changes as needed to ensure you’re offering customers the best service possible.

In short, to maximize live chat for your business, it pays to be smart about how it’s deployed. Online chat best practices such as establishing the right objectives, hiring the right number of agents, training them well, and creating a workflow are crucial first steps. Once chat is up and running, keep a close eye on your success metrics and iterating to fully realize chat’s huge potential.

Want more live chat best practices? Read the guide: How to grow your business with proactive chat support