How to create customer empathy with live chat

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More care and attention has to be paid with live chat to ensure that the written tone of voice achieves the required level of empathy to create happy customers. So how can you do it?

When a salesperson is physically in front of a customer it’s possible to use gesticulation to show interest, sympathy and empathy to support active listening. In the digital age, although some customer service roles remain customer-facing, more and more customer enquiries are being handled and resolved via live chat and by chatbots.

Both of these communications channels come with their advantages and disadvantages. For example, an opportunity still exists to create customer empathy with live chat, which is much more difficult to achieve with automated chatbots.

Customer service advisors, nevertheless, need to either have or learn how to write empathy because what we say with the spoken word can be misunderstood whenever it is put in writing. More care and attention, therefore, has to be paid with live chat to ensure that the written tone of voice achieves the required level of empathy to create happy, loyal and profitable customers.  

High live chat volumes make the challenge of achieving empathy within each conversation more difficult to attain as customer service advisors will often have to work on several live chats at once. Managing multiple live chats simultaneously could divide the attention of the customer service representative, leading to the potential for errors to be made.

However, with the right training it is possible to reduce this risk, and with the right live chat solution customer queries can be resolved more quickly than through some of the more traditional channels – such as the phone and email.

Live chat preference   

Gemma Baker, marketing executive at live chat solutions provider Click4Assistance, claims that live chat attracts “a higher volume of new enquiries than the other contact methods we use, but overall it’s only responsible for 24% of our new enquiries.”

Email is still responsible for handling 21% of customer queries, followed by website-based forms at 18% and phone calls at 14%. Live chat is growing in importance, and that trend is expected to continue.

People have become accustomed to text messaging, and using WhatsApp, Skype and social media over the last two decades. Therefore, live chat, comes naturally to an increasing number of customers. 

Meanwhile, phones and face-to-face interactions are beginning to wane. Face-to-face can be more time-consuming, requiring a visit to the store. While lengthy queues and IVR systems discourage consumers from using phones. 

Amy Scott, director of Sedulous Consulting, notes: “Customer behaviours and expectations are constantly changing and they often expect organisations to respond straight away to their needs. This can clearly be seen in the way people use of social media to get an immediate response from organisations. This is why many people prefer live chat over the phone”.

Scott adds, too, that “demographics also have a role to play in live chat usage. Those people under 55 are the largest users of chat, with 18-34 year olds using chat most often. So companies with younger customers should invest in chat as a channel.”

Live chat vs chabots

Chatbots have been gathering momentum of late, as a further alternative to phone and face-to-face. 

However, Gary Martin, managing director of Click4Assistance, emphasises that chatbots are in their early development, and even though artificial intelligence is a much used buzzword in many industries today, he underlines that they “may not necessary be able to read between the lines, and detect that a customer is frustrated without them expressing exactly they are not happy, they are angry, etc.”

Chatbots will find it hard if not impossible to assess the manner and tone in which they need to respond in more complex and emotional interaction

Chatbots may therefore be good for self-service whenever there is no aggravating issues, but for now at least they will find it hard if not impossible to assess the manner and tone in which they need to respond in more complex and emotional interactions. In stark contrast, a human operator would be able to make a more accurate assessment of how to empathise with a customer early on to resolve an issue in such a way that it leads to a highly satisfactory outcome for both parties.

“With live chat there is also the element of building rapport with your customers, a human can adlib in response creating humour or a connection, whereas a bot is restricted to what it has learnt or to what I t has been taught in how it should respond to a customer interaction and query”, he explains.

However, there is much interest in the market for chatbots, and so he thinks they will still have a role to play in the automation of some less emotive customer service tasks.

Empathy: core skill

“Empathy is one of the core skills that are needed to deliver a good customer experience”, emphasises Scott. “So when you decide to use live chat vs chatbots also largely depends on the type of enquiry.” She finds that chatbots are “especially useful for simple enquiries from customers such as pricing, product or deliver questions.”

She agrees that “using a live chat agent would probably be a better option when a customer’s enquiry is more complex or when emotions are running high.” As for chatbots, she says they are continuously improving, but there is still a need for the human touch to gain a “nuanced understanding of the situation that only a live chat agent can provide. Using live chat for these types of enquiries although more expensive will more than likely result in higher customer satisfaction.”

Baker comments that while it is often easier to create empathy with a customer in person, “digital channels such as live chat and social aren’t doing too badly.” She nevertheless argues that organisations need to be more relaxed about these methods for empathy through live chat to work, and in her view it can be easily achieved.

Live chat personalisation

To attain the right level of empathy via live chat, Scott still recommends: “When on live chat, try to make the communication as personalised as possible not too scripted otherwise you risk customers feeling like a number and processed. It also helps if you can look through the customers history and see if this is a reoccurring situation and if it is acknowledge it and express to them how frustrated they must be with it.”

Having the ability to use language clearly and concisely is a big plus, and people who can express their personality and the brand voice in the way they write are invaluable.

She also thinks it’s important to have people with good communication and written skills: “Having the ability to use language clearly and concisely is a big plus, and people who can express their personality and the brand voice in the way they write are invaluable.” The best live chat agents are also going to have the ability to see from the customers’ point of view. By having this skill they will be able to walk in their shoes, and this will enable them to show more empathy in their conversations with customers.

Martin says customer service live chat operators require many different skills; such as “the ability to multitask, speedy but accurate typist, etc. These shouldn’t be overlooked in favour of someone’s personality however they are certainly beneficial for relating to the customer and building that rapport in an easier manner.”

Live chat training

“They need training on how to operate the chat system, and once this becomes second nature they can really concentrate on what the visitor – the customer - needs”, he advises. This involves knowing how to read the tone of each customer enquiry, and live chat operators must in his view avoid overtype a customer query, or leave a visitor waiting for a response. This can be avoided by breaking down the answers into what he refers to as “digestible chunks.”

Live chat training should also emphasise that their attitude and personality will be conveyed whenever they use the technology to converse with customers. This includes highlighting that a message received by the customer may come across in a different manner to the one that was intended. Therefore live chat training should demonstrate how the different forms of communication can lead to the expression of the wrong and the intendent attitudes or messages.

Live chat strategies

So, what are the customer empathy strategies that work best? Well, firstly, Scott explains that organisations deploy and use live chat to wean customers away from the telephone to lower their cost to serve. With this in mind she advises: “Your strategy therefore needs to play to the strength of live chat as a touchpoint over calls in that it needs to be quick and convenient.”

Your strategy needs to play to the strength of live chat as a touchpoint over calls in that it needs to be quick and convenient.

“This means that an organisation shouldn’t ask agents to do too many chats simultaneously. The ideal number is 3-4 any more than means that customers will perceive that the chat is taking too long and will ultimately result in unhappy customers”.

“On average, once fully trained live chat customer representatives can handle 3 chats comfortably”, claims Baker before commenting: “This does depend on the complexity of the enquiry and the speed the visitor types. Some of our customers in busy contact centres are known to be able to handle 8 or 9 chats.” She says frequently asked questions are dealt with using pre-defined replies. This can also include using an automated welcome message, such as: “How can I help you?”

Message reinforcement

She concludes that the use of smileys can reinforce empathy, and to express friendliness. However, they should be used with caution as some of them are attributed different meanings for different situations. Am example is the Wow emoticon used by Facebook users. As well as being used to express a thought of positive amazement, it is also used to express shock. Yet a simple smile emoticon can be used to express contentment, agreeableness and pleasure in helping someone to resolve a query.

Much though depends on the situation, the query involved with the customer contact. Different methods of communication should therefore be available to ensure that the customer is happy, and know that they are in good hands – talking to someone who cares enough to want to really try to help them to resolve their issue or to answer their questions empathetically. A good interaction could also lead to a customer more loyal, more profitable and in turn becoming a net promoter of your brand.

 

About Graham Jarvis

Graham Jarvis MA

Graham Jarvis is the Managing Editor and Senior Journalist of Media-Insert Communications, the former editor of The Marketing Leaders, of the Chartered Institute of Marketing's Technology group's e-zine, of the Wherebusiness and MforMobile.

He is a widely published business, marketing and technology journalist. He also works as a copywriter, and as a P.R consultant. He has worked with, and provided content for enterprises such as VCE, Microsoft, BT, CISCO, Bridgeworks, Kalypton, Kofax, Oracle, Panduit, Kurtosys, Morgan McKinley, The International Customer Management Institute, etc.

Graham helped the Institute of Direct Marketing in 2006 and early 2007 to develop its B2B Marketing qualifications by writing and researching three of its modules: B2B Strategic Marketing, B2B Loyalty and Retention, and B2B Multi-Channel Marketing.

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