The Problem with Customer Service Live Chat

Just last week a colleague of mine sat down to figure out a web integration using an online technical product. I won't bore you with the specifics, but needless to say, it was more complicated than I expected. 

In the midst of our adventure, a helpful little window appeared in the lower right. "Can I answer your question?" Sarah the avatar prodded with a knowing face. Could it be? Would Sarah be able to help me via chat? It all seemed so promising.

So I went ahead and typed out out the specifics of my situation and clicked "Send." I smiled at my colleague ... clearly, we were going to get. stuff. done. TODAY. 

Alas, NO. 

The chat window immediately replied that the service was unavailable ... and that I could email my question (and expect a response within 24 hours). MAJOR LETDOWN. Not only did they not have my answer, but also I'd wasted time typing out my problem. That made me bitter, party of one. 

This isn't the first time this has happened. What I find so baffling about live chat for customer service is that the thought behind it is right on—provide immediate service. But the execution is often poor and creates the opposite effect ... people feeling as though they haven't been served at all

I've also encountered times when an actual live human is chatting, but doesn't have the power/permission to do anything with my account. Again, an utter waste of time. 

The marketing community is extolling the virtues of chat across the land, but I caution anyone to really consider adding it to your website. 

Ask yourself:

1. Can someone be made available during high-traffic periods? (And secondly, is that staff time a sound investment)?
2. Is that person(s) capable of answering all types of questions? Someone who is not skilled will likely cause more customer frustration than loyalty. 
3. Is there an option to turn chat on and off when staff is not available? And will someone be diligent enough to manage that?

Whatever you do, don't present a chat window to a web visitor masquerading as if someone is there if they're not. It feels like trickery, and customers or constituents never like it when the joke is on them.