If your business is servicing clients, customers or prospects, then it’s imperative to provide the best quality service possible. Despite the advent of new support channels and evolution of contact centers, interacting with a human over the phone is still a very popular choice. A lot of us get fed up with waiting on hold, but a phone call offers a level of personalization many desire. But, that of course doesn’t mean that phone support is the only way, or the be-all end-all option.

With customers always searching the web and utilizing websites over storefronts and phone orders, it makes sense for businesses to meet them where they already are: directly on your website. This is exactly where Live Chat support comes in, bridging the gap between customer and agent through a digital connection. Live Chat software offers a host of benefits over traditional phone support, but that doesn’t mean phone support is obsolete, call centers are still abundant.

In fact, quite the contrary: your business should strive to find the best balance between phone support and live chat and understand when to utilize and leverage each channel specifically. To help your team understand this distinction, we put together this complete guide to help differentiate between the direct benefits of both Live Chat and Phone Support, and how to leverage these channels to provide the best customer experience possible.

The Customer Expectation

In this day and age, the customer’s expectation for support and service is incredibly high. Contact Centers have expanded in the past few years to include new functionality, along with new channels of communication between agents and customers, clients, leads or prospects. The functionality of these Contact Center solutions has grown way beyond just basic phone call handling, and now include an intersection of multiple channels and communication methods.

With so much technology around us, and so many new ways to connect, businesses need to keep up with the times, and meet customers where they are: whether that be SMS text messaging, social media, or live web chat. In fact, based on inContact’s Customer Experience Transformation Benchmark report of 2017, customers are currently demanding “quick resolution during an interaction….they achieve this by speaking to a live rep far more often than — but often in conjunction with — other methods.”

Simply put: your business needs to provide customers and clients with not only great quality support but also through the channels they have come to expect and already utilize. If your organization fails to meet this expectation from customers, then they will simply bring their business elsewhere. Some more important figures worth considering include:

  • 8 in 10 consumers are willing to switch companies due to poor service
  • 67% of consumers still prefer agent-assisted support either by phone, chat or email
  • Only 33% of customers prefer self-service options

This is exactly where Live Chat comes in: by opening up a new avenue for support, one that customers are already utilizing (your business’ website), your organization is providing that personal service, and interaction with an agent, that customers demand and expect.

The History of Live Chat

With the rise of the internet, businesses have gone through a number of drastic changes to catch up with the technology. Let’s face it, if your business doesn’t have a website in 2018, its not going to do very well. As more and more customers found their way to the internet, businesses found ways to meet their prospects on the channels they’re already using.

This brought the rise of Live Chat. Now, you could easily argue that the beginnings of Live Chat reach far back to the 1970’s, when researchers at the University of Illinois developed the first online chat system called Talkomatic. It would be difficult to pinpoint the first creation of Live Chat for support, but some of the early providers came about in the early 2000’s — like LiveChat Inc, for example, which was founded in 2002.

With humble roots, the early services simply offered a basic one to one live chat platform. The solutions have since grown over the years to include much more advanced functionality, including:

  • A centralized team inbox to manage and respond to all interactions in one single location
  • Chat bot support to service customers and schedule meetings with agents
  • Real time traffic monitoring to understand where customers are on your website, and how they are using it
  • Automated visitor engagement to proactively reach out to shoppers that might not have otherwise opened a chat
  • Visitor lead scoring and insights to qualify the visitors of your site and understand who is most likely to buy

With the ability to directly integrate into your website, or even your organization’s mobile application, Live Chat support represents a direct intersection between available technologies, and the evolution of customer support.

Live Chat vs Phone Support

Now, we aren’t looking to declare a direct winner in this debate, rather we want to provide your business with the information it needs to make the best decision based on the circumstances. In a perfect world, every business would strive to offer support from every single channel: but in reality, that’s just not possible. The more support channels your business attempts to offer, the more data that needs to be managed, more agents that need to be hired, and more software needs to be purchased.

So, it simply isn’t possible for every organization to leverage every single communication channel out there. Instead, it’s important to understand the benefits and downsides of both Phone and Live Chat support to recognize the right situation for each channel. Some businesses might be able to get away with simply offering Live Chat on their website or in their mobile app, while others might need the personalized experience a phone call can bring.

Live Chat Phone Support
Benefits
  • Proactive support — Reach out to customers as they are shopping instead of waiting for them to come to you. This enables agents to “nudge” a customer towards making a purchase they were on the fence about or enables the user to ask a question and receive an answer in real-time before hitting that “Checkout” button.
  • Fast Resolution Time — Handling the quick and simple questions that customers are looking for fast answers to. Live chat can serve as an alternative to self-service options, enabling the user to ask questions and receive answers instantly from an agent, instead of having to flip to a new tab to look up the answer.
  • Quick Analysis of Conversations — Live Chat transcripts not only take up less space than phone call recordings, but then can be easier to analyze quickly as well. Transcripts can be searched through to target specific key words or product names to quickly hone in on the right context.
  • Reactive support — Provide customers with the help they need, only when they need it. Instead of bugging clients with pop up messages or push notifications, just let them come to you when they have an issue.
  • Personalized support — Phone calls may not be face to face interactions, but they are much more personal than typing into a generic text box. Hearing another person on the end can be calming to some callers, and the speaker can address the caller by name, and leverage previous call history.
  • In-Depth Analytics — With phone support, your business can gain deep knowledge into customer needs, customer trends, customer satisfaction, and service quality levels. When reviewing call recordings, you can gain more information like emotions or tone to understand why an interaction ended the way it did. These systems also go the extra mile in tracking many different metrics like call time, hold time, and more.
  • Intuitive Support — Phone calls enable a more direct conversation, with live chat it’s possible that an agent is slow to respond, distracted, or simply doesn’t understand your message. With phone support, it’s easier for the agent to ask follow up questions, or gain a better understanding of the customer’s needs, enabling to offer even more intuitive support.
Drawbacks
  • Agents can easily become distracted when required to multi-task. While agents can handle multiple service conversations at the same time, doing so forces them to spend less time on one individual conversation, and spread their focus thin. This can lead to decreased support quality.
  • While Live Chat is real-time, agents can be slow to respond, and the back and forth nature of a text chat can easily have details lost in translation. The interaction does not feel as personal as hearing someone’s voice.
  • Speaking of response time: agents must respond quickly or users will be quick to abandon a chat, assuming no one is on the other end, or they are speaking to a bot and not a live person.
  • While prank phone calls happen, systems like IVRs and auto-attendants can help weed them out. Live Chat solutions are much more susceptible to be abused by malicious attackers.
  • Customers are looking for fast support, simple as that. Phone support generally involves dealing with a time-consuming auto attendant just to be put on hold to wait for an agent, and no one wants to have to wait on hold. Phone support is simply slower than Live Chat in many cases.
  • Agents must spend more time on each interaction. Unlike Live Chat, agents can only handle one single phone call at a time, limiting the number of customers they can help in the same amount of time when compared to other solutions.
  • Since agents can only handle one single interaction at a time, it can be difficult to plan around peak rushes, like seasonal changes. This requires an extra level of planning from your contact center, involving training, hiring and rotating staff. Live Chat enables one agent to handle multiple requests, lowering the number of agents necessary.

When is Live Chat Right for Your Business?

Now, it would be difficult to answer the question “should my business use Live Chat support” with one direct response. Instead, your business needs to take a look at your existing support process, the channels customers are using, and possibly even capital investments to understand if utilizing Live Chat makes sense. When looking to keep investments low, Live Chat can generally offer a more cost-effective support solution, for a number of reasons: mainly that the platforms don’t require phone lines, and agents can handle multiple requests at once.

This enables your business to provide wide support without paying extra for more services and having to hire more agents. But that doesn’t mean Live Chat should directly replace your business’ Phone support — many times the best strategy is to utilize these channels together, to create a total omnichannel experience for your clients.

After becoming familiar with the pros and cons of Live Chat support, it makes sense that the channel would work best under a number of circumstances:

  • Businesses that mostly deal with online sales and commerce will benefit greatly from utilizing Live Chat. Look at Amazon for example, of course they offer phone support, but their primary channel of support is Live Chat directly on the website. Go where the customers already are.
  • If your business solely operates as a mobile app, then Live Chat embedded into app is easiest way to provide support to customers and clients by reaching them where they already are. Instead of having to flip out of your app, look up a phone number, and place a call, users can just initiate a conversation from the app itself — we’ve seen this with other solutions like Ujet.
  • When looking to cut costs, Live Chat enables organizations to provide support to more users with less agents. The solution also doesn’t require costly phone service and contact center platforms on top of it. These platforms sometimes also include their own ticketing or relationship management tools or can easily be expanded with existing CRM solutions.
  • Live Chat is a great way to help boost your online sales. These platforms generally include the tools to monitor and qualify leads on your website, in real-time. This empowers agents to reach out to those customers most likely to convert into a sale, enabling your team to sell more in less time.

When is Phone Support Right for Your Business?

While Live Chat has a very strong case behind it, that doesn’t mean good old-fashioned Phone Support has gone the way of the dinosaur. In fact, there are a number of benefits that Phone Support brings to the table which are unrivaled by Live Chat and other channels. For one, Phone Support enables your agents to intuitively react to the caller’s need, demands and even emotions. Holding a voice conversation with another human can put callers at ease, and make them feel cared for, as opposed to a robotic text message.

However, customers and clients are increasingly growing tired with Phone Support and are demanding faster resolution times without nearly as much waiting. The reality is, Phone Support will not be going anywhere anytime soon. Sometimes a phone call is what’s absolutely necessary to receive the help you need. Many customers may even know Live Chat exists but are familiar with Phone Support.

Whatever the case maybe, it makes sense that Phone Support is still here, and here to stay. There are a number of factors and scenarios to consider when creating a support platform, many of which lean on the benefits of Phone support.

  • Phone support is simply the most personal support channel, aside from dealing with a representative in person. Live Chat simply does not offer the connection that speaking to another person does, nor does it allow agents to pick up on intricacies like tone and emotion.
  • If your business deals with high-end or VIP products or clients, then Phone Support might be necessary to provide the personalized, human interaction many have come to expect, especially in high-end markets. When customers pay a premium for a high-end product or service, they expect high end support to come along with it.
  • Phone Support allows for much more intuitive and nuanced conversations. Live Chat is a great option for handling small user’s requests and customer inquiries, but when issues become much more advanced and complex they need to be escalated to a more efficient means of communication. Phone support enables agents to handle these advanced problems by facilitating an in-depth conversation.
  • Without a strong web presence, then there really isn’t a need for your business to utilize Live Chat. Brick and mortar retailers, for example, will not have much need for Live Chat.

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, it’s almost impossible to rule one solution “better” than another. Different tools, solutions, apps and platforms will work best in different conditions. Just because Live Chat offers a quick and easy way for clients and customers to reach out to your organization does not mean it will be the preferred, or best method. Many costumers still want that personalized connection that a phone call can provide, however on the other hand, many customers are looking to receive support as quickly and easily as possible.

In a perfect world, a blended, omnichannel solution is what every Contact Center should strive for — a strategy that combines as many channels as possible into one single experience. Knowing when to leverage different communication and support channels is the key differentiator that helps organizations stand out among their competitors. Don’t just write off Live Chat as a fad, or Phone Support as a dinosaur — instead recognize the strengths and drawbacks of each in order to provide the best customer experience possible.