How should small businesses leverage live chats to reach customers or clients?

The following answers are provided by the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only nonprofit organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. The YEC promotes entrepreneurship as a solution to unemployment and underemployment and provides entrepreneurs with access to tools, mentorship, and resources that support each stage of their business’s development and growth.

1. Ready, Set, Launch!

Kelly Azevedo If 24/7 live chat is not an option for your business, make the most of the option by using it during launches, preview calls and promotions to answer questions from interested buyers. –Kelly Azevedo, She’s Got Systems

2. Fill the Sales Gaps

Live chat is one of the most useful tools for conversion optimization. While you can come up with ideas about what to change on your site, only by engaging with dozens or hundreds of prospective customers as they come to your website can you gain an in-depth understanding as to what part of the buying cycle they’re on, what concerns they have and what questions your pages don’t answer. –Matt Mickiewicz, 99designs

3. Just Listen

The best way to leverage live chat is by listening to your customers’ needs and asking even more questions to get down the the nitty gritty details of who they are and how you can best serve them. You also show that you care and aren’t just attempting to force them into a sale. –Danny Wong, Blank Label Group, Inc.

4. Engage Customers

Josh Weiss Set up certain triggers that will invite the customer to chat with you. One that we find works well is if a customer remains on one page for an extended period of time. Often times, the customer is confused and will accept the chat and ask you the questions that he/she has about your site. –Josh Weiss, Bluegala

5. Be Accessible

Matt Cheuvront Live chats are all about client and customer perception, so let them perceive that you’re available and accessible to answer questions and offer help. Just make sure that if you offer live chat, you can follow through and have a knowledgeable team that knows the product/service you’re selling extremely well. –Matt Cheuvront, Proof Branding

6. Pop Up!

Logan Lenz Just like how a salesman might approach a customer inside of a shoe store to ask them what size they’d like to try on, website owners shouldn’t be afraid to use the same approach on their websites. At the risk of being too aggressive, you’ll find that any slightly confused customers will convert at a much higher rate if they are nudged in the right direction and have their questions answered. –Logan Lenz, Endagon

7. Tease the Product

Patrick Curtis Live chats are a great way to source potential clients. We use them in our mentor service but make sure not to oversell. We profile a mentor and have him or her talk about a topic that is helpful to the potential clients. If they want more engagement or one-on-one, then they can buy the service. Live chats are a great form to reach potential customers and convert them into happy clients. –Patrick Curtis,

8. Don’t Be a Lot Lurker!

Trevor Mauch Ever been to a car lot and looked at a car by yourself when suddenly, before you know it, a salesman pops up from behind a car? You remember the cringe you felt? I’ve felt that same thing online when companies use chat to push customers rather than just be there as a resource when customers need them. Make the chat box clearly visible and let visitors start the chat. Also provide an FAQ nearby. –Trevor Mauch, Automize, LLC

9. Open Webinars

Greg Rollett Every company should be hosting monthly open sessions with their clients. This can be done on a webinar or teleseminar to get feedback, answer questions and foster the relationships that you have with your clients. The best way to retain a client is to make them feel accepted and appreciated and that their voice matters. Webinars are a cheap and easy way to give that to them. –Greg Rollett, The ProductPros

10. Hang Out!

Google+ Hangouts is a well designed platform that you can use to host Q&As with your customers. People love being able to ask questions and interact with a real person from your company as opposed to reading information on a website or speaking to an agent on the phone. Bonus points if you bring on experts in your niche that your customers otherwise wouldn’t have access to! –Natalie MacNeil, She Takes on the World

11. Available in the Moment

Derek Shanahan Today, it’s simple to install a chat channel for any customer/client to reach you, and not doing so is leaving them cold in the wind right at the moment at which you’re most invested in them being happy. Your sales pages and support offering should include chat for immediate answers and clarification. There’s nothing more valuable than correcting confusion right at the moment of confusion. –Derek Shanahan, Foodtree

12. Create Real Relationships

Lucas Sommer Nothing is more annoying than when someone starts chatting with you on an e-commerce site and really is unable to help you. If you are going to start a live chat feature, make sure the person chatting has the capabilities to help the customer. You also need to make sure you set expectations about the availability of chat. Nothing worse than expecting to chat at 3 a.m. and getting silence. –Lucas Sommer, Audimated

13. True Customer Service

Devesh Dwivedi I have a live chat option on my blog and it’s only available when I’m online to respond. I have seen very positive results — people love to talk to the author before ordering a book, or talk to the coach and get help in making the right buying decision. What’s best is I get to connect with my future clients directly. –Devesh Dwivedi, Breaking The 9 To 5 Jail

14. Startups Know Best!

John Hall Small businesses need to realize that live chats can be one of their best advantages over large businesses. Use them! Engage your audience, show your brand’s personality and answer all questions with an individual response. Clients will absolutely see this extra effort and customer service care that is impossible for larger companies to provide. –John Hall, Digital Talent Agents