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5 Big Ideas to Keep Customers Happy and Increase Your Sales with Live Chat

While the online marketshare continues to grow, shoppers have come to expect a lot from eCommerce sites. And with more and more eTailers popping up daily, businesses are constantly looking for ways to outsell their competitors. Using a live chat sotfware on your online store can provide your shoppers with a more personalized experience and increase conversions for your business.

We spoke with Karl Pawlewicz, the voice of Olark, and in this interview he revealed some insider tips on how you can use online chat to improve customer statisfaction and win over more customers.


[5:27] – 3 Fundamental Uses of Live Chat

[13:10] – Best Practices for Reaching Out to Shoppers Browsing Your Store

[18:15] – Know How to Talk to Your Customers and Who Should Do It

[24:15] – 3 Tools to Keep Your Live Chat Up to Par

[29:57] – Tricks To Get Browsers to Chat With You


The Black Tux


Daniel: Hi everybody. Welcome back to another episode of eCommThinkTank. My name is Daniel Kohn. And today, we’re talking all about live chat. Live chat is definitely one of those things that I know a lot of people think about implementing on their website. They know they should be implementing it on their website, but somehow it just falls through the gaps. And I know from firsthand experience that having a really good live chat strategy on your website can be really helpful in customer engagement and getting more people through the checkout process.

So with me to talk a little bit more about live chat and how we could possibly get over some of those hurdles. We’re speaking with Karl Pawlewicz who is the Voice of Olark, which is a really cool live chat platform that I’ve actually been following for quite a couple of years. And hopefully today, we’ll get more insight around live chat. So Karl, welcome to the show.

Karl: Hey, Daniel. Thanks very much for having me on.

Daniel: Yeah. I know all about Olark and what you guys do. Maybe you could share with everybody what Olark is, and how you guys help companies do better online.

Karl: Sure, absolutely. So if you’ve ever visited a website and come to the homepage or come to a contact page and had found a small tab that pops up in the bottom right hand corner with a note saying, “Click here to chat with someone,” chances are you’ve seen Olark live chat on someone’s website.

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At the very basic element, we’re a live chat software provider. So we give you the code to put a live chat widget on your site, and it makes it really easy for you, the business owner, or shop owner to talk to customers who may be browsing, who may have a question, may need some reassurance before they go ahead and make a purchase on your site.

So it’s a really easy way for you to connect with consumers that are currently on your site. Sort of as an extension to that, we’ve worked with a number of retail companies and SaaS companies, and we’ve looked at a lot of best practices for customer support and service. And so in addition to providing you with the software, we also sometimes provide some guidance or best practices on how to do customer support and service through live chat. So we’re sort of offering free consultation in addition to the software.

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Daniel: Wow. That's cool.

Karl: Yeah. It's a natural extension. What we'll probably talk about today is businesses are very curious about life chat like you said. But sometimes, that's a tool that doesn't get implemented or people just aren't sure. Or they may be a little afraid to get started with it, and so it falls through the gaps.

So I think when people come to our site, there's a fair bit of back and forth on best practices for getting started, so you do it right the first time and not get burnt by getting overwhelmed by it or providing less than ideal experience. So we try to help as part of the onboarding process. We try to help you figure out how to get it on your site, and get it up running the right way the first time.

Daniel: Yeah. Well, that's really cool because there's so many platforms out there, and just from my experience, it's one thing to have a really great tool. But then it's another thing to actually learn and understand how to use it and apply it for your specific requirements. And so that's really a great benefit of having that with the platform because I know a lot of people have live chat, but it'll just be never on. And that's also not the best way to use a tool either.

Karl: Yeah. No, absolutely. There are a lot of options that are out there now, and I think when we started as a company back in 2009, we have our roots in the software business. Our founders...sorry, little noise outside there. Our founders, they were doing web hosting when they first started out and realized that picking up the phone or sending an email just wasn't getting the job done when they had issues. And of course, when you're a web hosting company, if something goes wrong, people want answers immediately. That's their livelihood that's affected by an outage or something.

And so one of the things they realized was they were chatting with their friends online so much, and it was so easy to just open a Gchat or whatever personal chat option you wanted to. But when you had a business issue or question, they just wanted that same experience that come across in a business setting. And it just really wasn't there at that point.

So we started Olark because we wanted to merge those two worlds. Take what was a great experience in personal chat, and put it in the hands of businesses who can then talk to their customers in that same, immediate, and friendly way that they do with their friends. And in 2009, maybe a bit of a novel concept, a lot of chat options at that point were still rooted in the call center with scripted responses and little avatars of people with headsets on to help you feel like you reached a call center when you were chatting with somebody. And we've come a long way since then.

I was just writing a Medium post yesterday about the fact that when I started with Olark two years ago, we were really still trying to convince businesses that live chat was something they needed in addition to phone and email. And now, two years on, we're writing blog post and help articles on how not to get overwhelmed with chat. So businesses understand the value add, and they get it.

And now people are just really focused on how to get the most out of it. A lot of software providers too have realized what a valuable tool it is and how sought after it is. And so there are a lot of options in this space right now. You have a few standalone options. You've got a number of options now that are bundled with CRMs or help desk software. And you have a lot of different ways to turn when you're looking at live chat options.

But the fundamental use of it, I think, hasn't really changed that much, so when you're talking about adding live chat but then not staffing it, I think that's maybe one of the biggest no-nos that we've seen is that people will add it to their sites. So they find a provider that they like. They put the software on their site, and then they forget to sign off at the end of the day. Or they leave chat on but nobody's really keeping an eye on it. And so customers come, and they ask a question, and nobody's there to answer. It's like asking a customer to leave a voice mail and never calling them back really. It's a frustrating turn.

Daniel: So it's counterproductive.

Karl: It is. And there are ways to prevent that. It's a matter of really prepping before you get set up with the software and then figuring out, I think if you wanted to break it down into real simple terms, you look at the who, the when, and the where. I think you're going to want to, as a business owner, you're going to want to think about who's going to be on live chat for you. So who on your team is going to spend some time or dedicate some of their time during the day to either chatting with people or responding to emails that come in through chat.

I think you're going to want to look at when do you need it the most. So especially with e-commerce and retail companies, many of those businesses understand when their peaks and values are in terms of a business. And so we've seen retailers who, they spike on Father's Day, Valentine's Day, and Cyber Monday. So they really leave chat invisible until those strong seasons start to come around. And then they ramp up their chat process again. They're not inundated with it throughout the whole year.

So you figure out who's on it. You figure out when do you need it. And then finally, I think you figure out where do you need it. So you might want to look at, if you've got email already as a customer contact channel, you may want to look back and see where are most of these emails coming within our site, or what page is generating the most questions. And that might be a really good spot for live chat to go because then you could head people off the pass who maybe have really easy questions like where do I find your pricing or what is this product that I'm getting. Maybe you have some high end bespoke product that needs a little bit more explanation, a little bit more hand-holding.

And so you identify these bottleneck areas where you can install live chat and cut down on the volume of email and phone contacts that you're getting and help customers faster than that. For anybody who might be considering, I think those are three areas where you want to look at it, and knock that out for your own team. And that may help you better understand how we're going to apply this chat option to our site to our customers.

Daniel: Wow. You just answered all of my questions. That was amazing. You're a true professional.

Karl: That's what you do when you're the voice. You talk to people.

Daniel: Well, you really are the voice. That was amazing. That was brilliant. Because I was going to ask you, my experience on a lot of sites is "Hey, we got this live chat box, but we're not here right now. Leave us a message." I was just going to ask I think a lot of the problem, and you touched on this as well, is people don't have the resourcing to actually do those.

So whatever the reason is, maybe they just don't have the time, but really just finding that focus and that focal point of saying, "Hey, let's just carve out one area of the site or one time of the day and just pick it out, and at least start somewhere instead of just having it off the whole time." So then it's just a waste of space.

Karl: That's a common occurrence, and we see that with a lot of startups regardless of what industry they're in. We get a lot of technical founders or maybe they have a product, so you've got a small team of two or three people who have engineered a product that's out there. And people are already starting to come to you with questions. Or you're a one person shop running on Shopify or Magento, and it's just you. You've got a product and you're selling, but you don't have anybody else to do anything else beyond that.

So that could be a challenge, and I think that's intimidating for some people. But we have seen a lot of small teams of startups, let's just call these companies startups, so we've seen a lot of startups who take live chat, put it on their website, and this is a pretty common function across all live chat platforms now, but you put live chat on your site, and so you have a tab there, but you never log into it. You program the tab to just give an out of office or an away message every time someone clicks on it.

So to the consumer, they click, and they get a friendly message that says, "Hey, I'm really sorry. We're not here right now. Leave us a message. We'll be back to you as soon as we can." And they don't know. Maybe they haven't clicked on that tab frequently enough to recognize the fact that you're not on it, that you're not on it regularly. They're just saying, "Oh dang, I missed them this time. I'll leave a message." And then you, the shop owner, should try to be as quick as possible about getting back that email. But I will say that that happens quite frequently.

We see that businesses who are just getting ready to launch or have this small team. They have success with that in the beginning, and I think the customer experience right now is evolving to something that's a little bit more asynchronous. So a lot of times with live chat, people expect this question and answer, series of questions and answer to happen immediately, synchronously. And because of the nature of SMS and texting and things like that Facebook Messenger for business, what they're doing in terms of evolving the experience, the customer now is a little more okay with typing in a question into the chat box, sending it off, and then going back to doing whatever they're doing.

Not in every case. I'd say if you have an emergency, or if they've got a really important question, you should try to be on chat and anticipate your customers are going to want to talk to somebody. But if it's a less than urgent question, I think customers now are becoming okay with just leaving you a message in your chat tab. So you as a business owner can put it there, and theoretically, maybe sign in one hour everyday or once a week or something like that. And you're not going to greatly diminish the experience that you're offering.

Daniel: Right. And just a question maybe for people who are using chat, I've always wanted this. A lot of these features on a lot of these platforms around automating, inviting the person to chat with you and initiating the conversation. And I always wondered if that is usually more successful in doing that, in creating all these automated type rules like after person's been on the page for more than this amount of time, should I try and speak to them versus the more passive, just leave it there. And if they want to engage, they want to engage. Do you have any insight around what works better, or how they might work differently at different times, those two features?

Karl: Sure. I can offer a little bit of data that we've seen and maybe just some personal anecdotes. So from a proactive versus reactive stand point, that may be one way to consider this. So you, the business owner, are sitting there with your chat window open, and you see people on your site. Your dashboard and chat is going to show you who's on your site. You're going to see a list of people who are actively browsing on your site, and they may never opt to start a conversation.

So you could pick out somebody on that list and click on their name and start a conversation that says, "Hey, Joe." or "Hey there. I just wanted to see if there's anything I can help with." We've seen that if you do that rather than wait for customers to click on the chat tab, usually you're going to have maybe 30%, 33% chance of them actually responding. So one out of three messages is going to get an answer. Worst case scenario, it pops open with your message, and they just close it and say get this out of here. I don't need to talk to someone.

Daniel: One out of three is pretty good.

Karl: Yeah, it's decent. I think it's encouraging, and people should try it. But you should try to do it in a way that's not super creepy. You get some information in your chat tab like geo location and things like that, so you might not want to fire in with a question right away. That's like, "Hey, how's the weather in New York?" That might a bit much, but you could put on a light touch of personalization. Some people respond well to that. Some people might get freaked out.

Daniel: That could be a bit...yeah, I hear what you're saying.

Karl: It takes a little bit of experimentation to try to figure it out. And then you've also got the automated messages which you've mentioned. So you can create rules in the background that say okay, if someone's been on my checkout page for more than 30 seconds that might hint that they've got one final question that needs to be answered. And so you can pop up a message to say, "Hey, how can I help."

We had someone who worked for an advertising company, an online digital advertising company at the beginning of last year. We did a study with a couple of their clients in live chat. They said about the same success rates, so I think it was 37%. About 37% of the chats had a success rate, if they used an unexpected automated message. So if they sent on a website something like, let's say you're shopping for bikes, and the message pops up and just says, "So where are you riding to these days?" Or they had an even more extreme thing that was like...

Daniel: Want to go for a ride? Sorry. That was bad gag.

Karl: Right. Yeah. Let's say it's a boat website and they experimented with something like, "Hey, do you have any marriage advice?" Or something like, you're on a site for topic A, and the question was related to topic C or D, or something seemingly unrelated. But if you hit the visitor with an unexpected question, oftentimes, they were more likely to respond to that because it just caught them off guard and didn't feel automated. So we as consumers are now just programmed when someone says, "Hey, how can I help you?" to just say, "No. I'm just browsing."

Daniel: Wow. That's so interesting.

Karl: So you could come to them with something that feels more off-kilter, then I think they look at that and say, "A real human must have typed this." It's weird, but it seems human, and they're more likely to engage with it. So I think those are two ways of looking at it on the back end, and you get a decent amount of success with that. I think it takes some experimentation, and some getting used to it, and getting comfortable with the idea of it. Before you know, you'll find real success with it.

Daniel: Right. And trying to make topics stay relatively close to the target audience, asking recovering alcoholics if they're going out for a drink tonight.

Karl: Right, exactly. This is always...

Daniel: I guess this leads into another thing that I was thinking about is just when it comes to setting the tone of these conversations, it sounds like, from what you're saying, people just want to have a human interaction, a human experience. And obviously, every brand is different, and they're attracting a different group of people. And I'm assuming that the way you try and talk to these people would be the same way that I would like to talk back to and have that dialogue in a way that suits the brand and the product type. Would that be right?

Karl: Absolutely. I think you need to know your audience, and you need to feel them out. I think it's important you have a team of support personnel that are manning the chat for you, that they take the time each month to review transcripts and look at what works and what doesn't. There may be a conversation where that particular operator was very buttoned up, and the customer got frustrated because they just wanted to get to an answer. And they didn't really care whether or not you use proper titles. And then there may have been a time where someone was really upset, and the operator had a more lax tone in what they were doing, and that only furthered the situation or their frustration with the situation.

And so I think you should always review what you have and learn from that so that you can provide a good experience, feel the customer out during the course of the conversation. Oftentimes, you could look for things like is this person just typing in all lowercase? Are they using punctuation or are they using abbreviations like lol or smiley faces. Those are many keys that you can look at in the course of the conversation to figure out, can I let my hair down a little bit with this customer and be more natural or should I try to keep things professional.

And again, if you work for a bespoke design company, and your clientele is shopping for $10,000 curtains, then you might want to keep it buttoned up and professional because you're dealing with a higher clientele than...I had a great experience just recently. One of our customers is called the Black Tux. They do rental tuxedos. And so for my wedding, I had to rent a few tuxedos. And then the system, we had to return a few items and get them reshipped before the wedding. So I knew every time I had to interact with them, I could go straight to their chat and talk to someone.

And for the most part, it was just a very casual interaction. I fired in really quickly with questions, and they came back with just quick answers. I think they knew they didn't need to be too buttoned up with me. I just needed answers, so I could move on. And so, they were really helpful in the service they provided, but the interaction felt just very natural, and they felt very similar to like when I'm chatting with someone at work. We're just conversing in a very normal manner even though it's online. I think they get that, and I think you, as a business owner, you have to know your audience, know your clientele, feel it out, you'll get it eventually. You'll usually figure it out.

Daniel: Yeah, I think it's also a really good advice for people anyone who's listening who, like you said, possibly outsource the live chat solution. I've noticed a lot of service agencies now offering live chat support on your behalf. We're not you guys for a company because they just don't have the resourcing for it. And obviously, you want to make sure that everything's on brand. And so those were what you were saying was probably a really good way to keep them all in check.

Karl: Yeah. Sure. We actually get that question quite a bit since we don't staff the chat for you. We do get a lot of people who either confuse us as a staffing agency or are curious if we recommend anybody. I think we actually do recommend some companies now. We tried to do a little research on who does a good job with it. And off the top of my head, I'm really forgetting who we recommend now. If anybody wants to ask us that, you can just chat with us on our website and ask that same question and someone will be able to help you out with it.

But, yes, there is definitely a second market that's evolving where you can go out and find staffers who are good with live chat. I've even seen some websites. I think you may even be able to go to websites like Upwork which used to be oDesk and look for people who are trained in customer service with live chat.

It's almost like they list the platforms as certifications now. And they say these are the platforms that I'm familiar with, and that's a fine option to go with. I think you have to be a little bit careful. You want people to convey the tone of your brand, and so if they're uncomfortable, if the chat feels uncomfortable, it might not be a good experience for your chatter, your customer.

Daniel: I think it's also a possibility because I think the 80/20 rule can apply here as well. When people have questions, from what I've seen with people using chat, I guess there's two sides to chatting. There's helping them get through to make an order. But just general, your tuxedo experience, like troubleshooting. I think on the troubleshooting side and general questions about shipping and handling, let's say that 80% of the questions are probably the same 5 or 10 or 15 questions.

And so to outsource that and have someone learn that over a period of time, and be able to become efficient in just responding and making it happen is probably not as hard or complicated as someone might think. And then I guess over time, through your suggestions and keeping them in check, it could be a really good way to make sure live chat really is working, live on your site all the time.

Karl: Sure. If we have time, I guess three things to offer there. And I'll try to just cover them really quickly.

Daniel: Yeah, go for it.

Karl: One of the things you can do, a lot of live chat platforms now offer text expander features. And so if you're getting one question, that just keeps coming up, keeps coming up, keeps coming up, a lot of times now, you can program in a preset response that your operator can use with a quick keystroke. So if you have to keep typing out a long URL or some sort of response to a shipping deadline question, you can program that in and just make sure you have consistent answers that your operators can quickly do. So if you had a team, or if you're outsourcing a team, you might even build a pre-program in certain responses with things that they can use and create a library for them.

The other thing is when you put chat on your site, you get this amazing qualitative data set that comes out of your conversations with customers. And going through your transcripts on a regular basis is something I recommend everybody do. So a lot of times, and again, two years ago, people just put chat on their site to help their customers and make their customers happy.

Now, people put chat on their site because they want to add qualitative data to their quantitative data. They want to go back and look at terms that their customers are using, and they want to learn how to speak the language that their customers use in their marketing collateral. And so I've seen so many companies now doing audit on their chat transcripts. You can see like...

Daniel: It's really powerful.

Karl: Yeah. People are just asking this question over and over again. Let's put that in our FAQ section, or let's build a help page for that. And so you move from getting chat to put down on some volume to now using your chat transcripts to cut down on chat volume because you could answer all these questions in a self-help section. So I think that's a really powerful feature now that people are looking at. This is more of a data tool.

And then the last thing I was going to say is you as a business owner should also, and this might be more applicable to SaaS companies or people maybe selling software, but the 80-20 rule again, yeah. 80% of your chats are going to be like where's your pricing? How do I sign up? How do I checkout? Is this on sale? But 20% are going to be heavy questions. They're going to be like, you guys screwed up my order and I need to talk to a manager. I've got a question about this software. I put this software on my website. It broke my website, and now I can't do anything.

And so you as a business owner also have to recognize when to elevate a chat to a phone call. You could use chat to get people off the phone, but there are times where you're going to need to get off chat and get on the phone and be personal with your customers too. So I think you need to stay on the look out for those instances, and realize that try to keep people in the channel they contact you on originally, but don't be afraid to escalate it and provide a great experience over the phone too.

Daniel: Right. Wow, really interesting. It just sounds like just the next level of human interaction. It goes two ways just like a response, and you can use the response. It's like you said in the very beginning. It's really just having that human touch on a website. And it sounds like the way to approach it, if you're sitting there really scared, wondering okay how do I do this? Just be a regular human and interact. These people want to be communicated with. It's shouldn't be that daunting.

Karl: It shouldn't. This is the modern version of taking your brick and mortar sales team and then putting them into your website. So the same way you do sales in a store, that can be a little intimidating to walk up to a customer and try to say, "What can I help you look for today, or what are you looking for? What can I help you with?" You learn over time as a salesperson to what gets customers to convert or talk to you more, and how to be a human being and not just a salesperson.

And the same, I think many retailers online go through the same realization with live chat that it's a very similar experience. You have to be helpful, but you have to be human. Be quick to respond, and with time, you find that right pace, the right tenor, and eventually, the convergence start happening.

Daniel: Right. And look, just one last question that I had. I've always been curious. I've noticed a lot of websites will have different imagery to encourage you to chat with a live chat agent. And sometimes people put arrows pointing to their live chat box. Sometimes, if you're a pharmaceutical website, you might have a picture of a doctor live chat person, related to who you'd like to talk to ideally.

And I'm just wondering how successful...sorry, I'm just going to edit this out. I'm just wondering how effective is having that added imagery and the encouragement on your site and across the site to engage with more people.

Karl: Yeah, that's a great question. That's a common question. I have to look back. I don't know if I have any data to support success or conversion rates based on different images, but I've seen a whole library of images. On other sites, I've seen lightning bolts and big things that pop up. I know we get a really positive response around seasonal, little images we put up like Thanksgiving thing or Halloween thing. But I think that where we've seen the best response has been just a face, like a human face, a picture of your team. I think that's what we're using on our website currently.

We've used that for quite a while now, and it comes back to that theme of putting something human into the interaction. So you put a face there of someone who's going to be responding. And I think people, they just get that. I don't know if it's comforting, but I think they're like, "If I click here, I'm going to talk to a real person."

But again, I think you should experiment with it. You should try it with one image for a month or even two weeks, and then try it with another image, and then try it with no image, and see what converts. See what gets people to click. Know your status. Know your site's aesthetic and what fits with it and what doesn't. It ultimately should support your experience on your site not take away from it.

Daniel: Right. Okay, cool. Well, Karl, thanks so much for your time today. I think you actually shared some really great insights. And you helped I think a lot of people out there who are thinking about implementing live chat or already have live chat. I think those were some really good insights on both sides of the equation. And anyone who's looking to implement a solution or use a really great solution, I've used a lot before. It's a great tool. And I'm really happy that you're able to come on and chat with us because it really is a good tool with heaps of features.

And the thing I really like about the marketing of your site as well, I know this isn't directly related, but I get the feeling that, and it really comes back to this human thing, is that I feel like your company is made up of real humans. And just some of the imagery on the about section of the website, it really complements that whole idea of what chat is really all about and having that interaction with people.

And that's the feeling that I get about the brand Olark as well. It doesn't seem like some corporatey company that you sign up for something and you use it, and you never hear from them again. So it sounds like you guys really are quite easy to work with, or get help from, or get actual advice on how to actually really make these programs work.

And I think that makes a really big difference when there's 30 other companies probably trying to say the same thing as you guys. So,yeah, if there's anyone out there thinking of doing it, check out Olark. It's a really great tool.

Karl: Thank you, Daniel. Thank you for the kind words. I appreciate it. I'll relay this to everybody back here, but thank you very much. If that's what's coming through, then I think we've at least set our website up correctly. I love working here. We've been here for about two and a half years now. It is a good group. And I will say that if anyone listening has questions, first and foremost, you can always email me. I'm just Karl, If you ever want to just shoot the breeze about live chat or customer support in general.

I do actually do a fair bit of writing for blogs. So if you ever had a customer support or service question that you wanted to see answered on the blog, I could try to go out and do some research and set that up for you. But I'm located in New York City, and if you ever want to just grab a coffee and shoot the breeze about retail and e-commerce, I'm always happy to meet up and make face time.

And if you are not in New York City, but you have a question about live chat in general, even about Olark, our support team is always online from 7 A.M. Eastern until 7 P.M. Eastern, or maybe it's 10 P.M. Eastern. We're online Monday through Friday to talk and chat. And people there are willing to spend the time and talk about things other than Olark, closely related to the industry.

Daniel: Tuxedos maybe? Tuxedos for weddings?

Karl: Within reason. I'm willing to talk about however you want...

Daniel: Holidays in South Africa.

Karl: That's right. Yeah. I got plenty of information if people want to know more about coming to South Africa, which I highly recommend. Hope that helps.

Daniel: Very nice. Yeah. All right. Well, good. Thanks, Karl. Thanks so much, and I'll post your details if that's okay, maybe in the post because maybe there are some people that want to reach out. But again, thanks so much, and let's keep in touch.

Karl: Sounds good, Daniel. Thank you.

Daniel: Okay. Thanks, Karl.

Karl: Thanks everyone.