Make Your Live Chat Persuasive

Persuasion begins when you anticipate your customers' needs. This is true for every buying and selling persuasion scenario you design into your website. Even Live Chat!

Live Chat doesn't have to be a tack-on concession to customer service. It can be an integral part of your site's persuasive process. The trick is understanding how to use the technique to advantage and exhaustively planning the Live Chat experience so it fits seamlessly into your bigger picture.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

The persuasive advantages of Live Chat

We encourage clients to examine every opportunity they have to crawl inside their customers' heads to find out what questions they are asking, what is important to them and what language they use for explaining the problems they are trying to resolve.

Live Chat is a great way to gather information on the questions customers are asking and when they are asking them. It's a goldmine for discovering the keywords customers use and what their stumbling blocks are. So, from your end of the persuasion picture, it's one of the best ways you can get information to make your entire persuasion system even more persuasive.

Best of all, Live Chat gives you an opportunity to interact with customers at the very moment they are trying to resolve their problems. It can give you a window on potential weak points in your persuasion scenarios, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for you to provide your customer a personalized nudge that helps maintain persuasive momentum.

Remove frustrations

The trouble is, customers find too many Live Chat experiences terminally frustrating. Sometimes the difficulty lies in prematurely identifying the nature of the customer's problem:

My question: I'm having trouble with my Internet service - my modem seems to be really slow - what's going on?

Live chat answer: For slow download times, take the following steps.....

Um. I didn't say anything about "download times." You might think it means the same thing to you, but it doesn't mean the same thing to me.

More often than not, the frustrations stem from the Live Chat representative's inability to provide relevance at every point of interaction. My co-worker, Lisa, had this experience (which appeared in Waiting for Your Cat to Bark?):

Celia: Hello. My name is Celia. How may I help you?

Lisa: I'm interested in the Gothic doorknocker, but I need to know some measurements. How far apart are the centers for the bolts?

Celia: That information appears on the product page.

Lisa: Well, it does on some of your pages, but not for this product.

Celia: Can you give me the item number, please? (Lisa provides the item number and waits.) Yes, that item is available.

Lisa: "Great! And the measurements?

Celia: This item measures six inches in diameter, and projects 2 ½ inches from the surface of the door.

Lisa: Yes, the product page did mention that . . . and the mounting centers?

Celia: I don't currently have that information available.

Lisa: Can you get that information?

Celia: I don't currently have that information available.

Lisa: So who does have that information?

Celia: You can call the 800 number on the Web site and ask to speak with a customer service representative.

Lisa: Aren't you a customer service representative?

Celia: I'm sorry I have been unable to help you today. Please visit us again soon.

The frustration factor often depends on the degree of "automation" businesses build into their Live Chat - the more automated the replies, the less relevant and persuasive the interactive experience tends to be. Customers are rarely satisfied when they ask a specific question and get a broad answer that has clearly been generated from a database.

Improving persuasion in Live Chat

To make Live Chat work for you as an element in your persuasive momentum and a confidence-builder for your customers, try these techniques:

  • Repeat the customer's question in the customer's own words. There's nothing quite like knowing the person you are talking to is actually paying attention!

  • Avoid technospeak.

  • Make every reply relevant to the customer's question or explanation.

  • If your Live Chat isn't 24/7, list the times it is available. You lose credibility and undermine your persuasiveness when someone clicks on your Live Chat option and gets the message "All our representatives are busy, try again later." (US Airways does this to me every time - gosh I hate them.) Clicking on Live Chat and getting the Live-Chat-is-unavailable-at-this-time message is equally disappointing and dead end.

  • At the end of the session, if the customer is trying to bid or buy something, ask if you can help with the process. Verizon DSL did this at the end of my chat with them - it was a great way to help me take the next step and sign up. I don't know if Portero can actually walk someone through signing up and bidding on something, but if they can, it's a great way to supply persuasive momentum.

  • Incorporate Live Chat into your persuasion scenarios as a flexible point of resolution and plan ahead for whatever customers may need next, AFTER the chat. If they are asking about bidding, explain it to them. Then, if you know the next step is signing up for an account, say, " If you'd like to bid on an item, first you'll need to sign up for an account. Can I help you with that?" If they ask about the authenticity of an item, you might say, "We have a 100% authenticity guarantee on all our items. Our experts make sure you're getting the real thing. Is there a particular item you are interested in?" If they answer yes, you can follow up with, "If you have any questions on our bidding process, please let me know. We have two ways to bid. I'd be happy to explain our process."

    Choose your wording carefully so you don't seem pushy. Your goal is to appear helpful and considerate should your customers wish to take the next step. Persuasive scenarios are all about anticipating their next need. But you need to acknowledge that the customer is in control the whole time and can choose whether to proceed.

Persuasion begins when you anticipate needs

I was speaking at a conference in Philadelphia. As I was leaving the hotel, I asked the bell man to get my valet-parked car. He handed off the ticket to his assistant. He then offered me a small bottle of water for the road and asked "Where are you heading?" "New York" I replied. "Do you need directions?" he asked. I pride myself on always having my Mapquest directions, but this time I had forgotton them. "Yes! I could use some help getting out of here," I said with relief. My resourceful bell man pulled out a pre-printed set of directions to get me from the hotel to the north-bound turnpike entrance. THEN he walked me out the front door, showed me the light where I needed to turn and explained the next steps verbally.

How much do I love this hotel? They anticipated my needs (water, directions) before I even knew I had the need. On top of that, the valet even knew how to reset my seat back to my recorded setting (my legs are so short that valets have to move the seat back so they don't smash their knees, but I never saw one who knew how - or took the time - to readjust it to my recorded setting)!

It's about planning! When you are developing persuasion in your Live Chat, pay attention to the whole persuasion process. Examine what motivated the customer to ask the question through Live Chat. Provide contextual, relevant support. Then, depending on the question the customer asked, be ready with helpful information for the step AFTER the question.

Volume 143: 11/15/06


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