Can You Use Live Chat When You Don’t Have Staff?

Tips to Help Your Live Chat Staffing Efforts

Live chat is a lot like immediate interactive email.  A person is there “chatting” with an online shopper or someone who arrived on your website.

Live chat helps you support existing customers who need help — instantly.

Even more exciting: live chat can increase sales. When shoppers and prospects can get their questions answered immediately, they’re more likely to buy or move on to the next step. The possibility of making sales is the main reason small business owners get excited. They (and perhaps you) see live chat as a way to increase revenues.

Now what if you see the possibilities of live chat, but you just don’t have the people?  Perhaps you are a solo entrepreneur.  Or you have a small team whose work days are already stacked up leaving no extra time for live chat. And you yourself have many priorities, so you can’t sit there by live chat all day. That raises the question:

Can You Use Live Chat When You Don’t Have Staff?

Yes, you can use live chat even if you don’t have human beings standing by 24 hours a day.

In a nutshell, there are several strategies that will enable you to address your live chat staffing challenges in a small business.

You don’t need to necessarily be there round clock.  However, you do need to appear responsive. And you must set expectations for visitors so you don’t disappoint them.

Decide if Your Small Business Needs Live Chat

First, decide if you really and truly need live chat.

Here are a few examples of how small businesses use live chat:

  • Online retailers. If you’re an online retailer selling products, you need live chat. After all, customers may want to ask questions before buying from your ecommerce store. So being available through chat might be the difference between making and not making that sale.
  • Consultants and service providers. If you offer a business service, you may need to answer questions before a client will even set up a call with you.  This can apply to anything from consulting to web design.
  • Hospitality and medical. If you take reservations like a restaurant or hotel or schedule appointments like a chiropractor, you may also want live chat capability.

However, let’s say you get very little traffic to your website.  Or you get most of your leads through other channels. In that case, the likelihood of closing more sales through live chat may be small or nonexistent.

If you’re not sure whether anyone would use live chat on your site, it’s easy to test out. Zoho SalesIQ offers a limited free version you can trial. If after a week or two no one uses it, then you know the answer.

Live Chat Staffing Strategies for Small Teams

Let’s say you’ve decided that live chat may benefit your business.

In that case, a key strategy is to APPEAR responsive despite limited live chat staffing. To the customer it should seem as if you are reasonably available or that it’s easy to get their questions answered.  That’s very different from having a dedicated person standing by 24/7 in case a live chat query comes in.

How do you do this?  Use technology to bridge the gap in your live chat staffing.  Here are few techniques that can help:

Enable Mobility 

Live chat is very doable says one expert, if you can get quick alerts to respond to customers while on the go. “Yes, you can absolutely do it. The key is to find a chat platform that integrates with your mobile device.” says Ivana Taylor of DIY Marketers.

Make sure the chat box on your website includes a mobile app for the attendants.

Or pick one that can convert chat messages into emails or SMS messages sent to your mobile device.

This is ideal for small businesses with a limited live chat volume. Solopreneurs or very small teams who only get a few live chat sessions a month can use this method.  Then you could be  in an airport on a layover answering the occasional live chat query.

Publish Live Chat Hours

Set the customer’s expectations by publishing “live chat hours.”

Unless you run an ecommerce store, most people won’t expect small businesses to be available round the clock. But they also don’t want to click on live chat thinking someone is there, only to be met with … crickets.

Post your business hours right on your live chat. In other words, add verbiage to your live chat indicating your normal business hours.  Ask the person to leave a message in the chat box or check your FAQs outside of normal hours.

While some might argue this defeats the purpose of live chat, it is still helpful.  You’re making it easy for someone to reach you.  They can type in a short message and hit enter.  That takes less time than finding your contact page and composing an email.

But you MUST respond promptly at the earliest opportunity. Make it a routine to check live chat messages at the start of each day.

Create FAQs and a Knowledge Base

Over time you will begin to get a good idea of the types of questions people ask most. Then you can use FAQs and a knowledge base to bridge your live chat staffing limitations.

Savvy businesses amend their websites to include material answering common questions. They also may include information designed to overcome common sales objections in a positive way.  This can take the form of:

  • a single long FAQs page
  • a series of knowledge base articles with a search function
  • changes to the copy on your site pages

Some live chat apps today integrate the knowledge base and/or FAQs.  If you are not available live, a message could pop into the window prompting the user to search FAQs or the knowledge base for an answer.  Or it might return some FAQs with possible answers.

Deploy a Chatbot to Respond 

One of the beauties of artificial intelligence (AI) is the capability to use chatbots.

Think of chatbots as an automated way to suggest answers to a person’s questions in a live chat window.  The bot could greet the person by name, ‘Hi John, how may I assist you today?’  Then depending on the questions, it answers.  In response to a question such as ‘Do you offer an annual discount?’ the bot might answer ‘Our annual plans offer a 20% discount over the monthly payment plans.’

“Really the bot is on the front end but it’s AI on the back end,” says Brent Leary, co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC. Bots use AI to learn from previous questions asked by customers increasing their capability to answer future questions.

For this you need to set up common questions and answers in advance.  Then you set up rules so that if a question is asked about a particular topic, the bot suggests an answer.  Some bots are so sophisticated they respond conversationally.  It can be hard to tell when a human is answering the question, versus a machine.

In other cases bots are clearly identified as bots.  Perhaps they are given a clever name and identified as an automated digital assistant. But if the bot answers the question, users often don’t mind.

Chatbots may sound futuristic, but they are real. Some live chat software today offers integrated bots.  For example, SalesIQ offers bots.

Explore Advanced Features 

Live chat software is so smart it has gone beyond simple chat.  Today you can find live chat that offers automated instant translation for global commerce.

Some live chat can track website visitors such as by IP address. For instance, let’s say you see a prospect has returned to your pricing page multiple times. You might email that person offering to answer any questions.  Or trigger a pop-up message offering a special discount the next time that person arrives on that page.

By using advanced features, you make live chat meet customer expectations in meaningful ways.  It’s about adding value.

One last point: Don’t make the mistake of offering live chat unless you intend to manage expectations and respond in some fashion promptly. Promoting live chat and then failing to respond can be worse than not offering chat at all.

Next Steps in Your Live Chat Staffing Efforts

1. Start small and be realistic. Decide if, and how, you want to use live chat.  Start with the basics.  Startups may not need advanced features like chatbots and translation out of the gate.

2. Look around at live chat software.  Every software program is different. Go to sites like G2Crowd, Capterra or GetApp and filter your choices by the features you’re most interested in.  Or check out Zoho SalesIQ.

3. Take the time to set it up properly. It’s easy to add live chat software into your site. Usually all it takes is adding a line of code. Sometimes you can do it by installing a WordPress plugin. But there’s more to using live chat than installing the code. Read the user guide. Activate and configure the features to meet your business needs.

Soon you’ll be rockin’ that live chat and you’ll appear to run a huge business — even if you are the only person in the company.

Photo via Shutterstock

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