Why live chat could be a matter of life or death for businesses

Only a fifth of organisations in Europe use live chat

Live chat

What's up with Millennials? They never talk, just chat. Endless one-line text messages and – if you're lucky – the odd email is how many people now communicate. SMS, iMessage, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat; their popularity should be enough to convince businesses that live online chat is now a no-brainer in terms of communicating with a sizeable chunk of people. So why are as little as 20% of businesses in the UK and Europe using live chat on their websites and apps to talk to customers?

Phone centric chat software is vitally important
Phone-centric chat software is vitally important

How important is live chat to e-commerce?

Did someone say 'game changer'? Throughout society chat is evolving across multiple platforms and apps, and it's almost always real-time. Texts, tweets and emails are unreliable – they can go unanswered for days, or disappear in overfull inboxes. Cue live chat.

"You can have a digital conversation with someone without the risk of a text not going through or a tweet not being picked up by a social monitoring tool – it's the closest you can get to a real-time conversation in the digital world without actually speaking," says Howard Williams, Marketing Director at Parker Software, whose live chat software called WhosOn is used in over 100 countries in 40 different languages.

Canned response tools are useful for common live chat topics
Canned response tools are useful for common live chat topics (Image: Toshiba)

Multitasking agents and marketing

Agents in call centres are trained to answer queries as fast as possible, but what if they could take on multiple customers simultaneously? That's the thinking behind live chat as a money-saving exercise, though it does mean excellent training must be a priority. "A well trained live chat agent can handle six to eight customer dialogs at once," says Williams. "This allows you to free up resources in telephony centres and provide support that's both comprehensive and effective."

What about call centres, email and social media?

If live chat does turn out to be tomorrow's critical business tool – and it certainly isn't that yet – it will probably be at the cost of email. That's not to suggest that live chat will replace telephone conversations entirely. "Between 50-60% of communication is done via email – that's where the big displacement will come," says Williams, who thinks there will always be a place for telephone conversations. "Why would you wait a day for a response to an email when you can literally deal with it in real time, then and there?" he adds, predicting that we could see email removed from the equation entirely.

Twitter provides a direct link between a company and its customers, but the 'dirty washing' problem won't go away; most corporate Twitter accounts are plagued by irate customer rants. The problem? There's no conversation.