Live messaging channels like chat, SMS (text), and Facebook Messenger offer significant benefit over other support channels. For customers, this often, but not always, eliminates time spent on hold and allows them the flexibility to chat from a computer or mobile device. They can go about their other business while working through a problem with support. As a result, we almost always see much higher customer satisfaction on messaging channels in comparison to phone and email.
On the business side, cost per chat tends to be less on live messaging than on phone because agents can handle more than one conversation at a time. They also tend to prefer messaging because it’s a little less confrontational and affords more time to collect thoughts and emotions while assisting customers.
There’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to supporting customers concurrently. We can’t simply move a support agent from phones to live messaging and expect them to deliver great, efficient support. They need to be properly equipped. I had the privilege of collaborating with a couple of my awesome colleagues, Joe Ortega and Dustin Valentine, who are responsible for supervising and training chat agents on their respective teams. Together we compiled a list of seven best practices when handling live messaging.
1. Prepare to balance multiple conversations
Working with more than one customer at a time is definitely an art form — even more so if you’re working with two customers that both have urgent issues. Joe Ortega recommends preparing ahead of time with some phrases that will buy yourself time. Phrases like, “One moment while I pull up your account,” or “Just a second while I get that taken care of” show the customer that you’re there and working on their issue. They also buy time for researching issues and finishing a response in another window.
Dustin Valentine adds that it’s important for each agent to develop a personal style that balances efficiency while also making a connection with the customer. It’s good to have some of the above mentioned phrases handy ahead of time but it’s also important that these come across as authentic and natural and not canned.
2. Learn time-saving shortcuts
Having multiple windows open is inevitable with live messaging. At minimum agents may have a window open for chat, CRM, and another browser window open for navigating the Internet. Chances are, they have many more windows open than that. Keyboard commands like Alt-Tab help them switch between windows quickly.
Joe notes that we shouldn’t assume that they know CTRL-C (copy), CTRL-V (paste), CTRL-A (highlight all), and others. He went on to show me the short cut in their chat program, which happens to be Zendesk Chat, for quickly locating macros or canned responses to send to customers.
On a sidenote, companies like Digital Genius and Smart Assist use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to help agents find answers more efficiently. In the future, tools will pre populate responses, leaving the agents to tailor slightly and approve. This will potentially allow them to handle more conversations at once.
3. Create a notes template
Notes are so important for any support channel. Detailed notes can inform the next person the customer speaks with of what took place on the last interaction. Dustin works on an account that requires fairly extensive notes. He coaches team members to create a template with everything required in their notes so they can begin filling them out at the beginning of the conversation. He says, “It’s the stuff you have to do while chatting with two people that makes it difficult” and so his goal is to help the team manage those activities effectively. Agents continue to work on notes during gaps in the interaction which minimizes wrap up time at the end.
4. Use dual monitors
Dual monitors are an essential tool when working in live messaging and I’ve written in the past about some the intended purpose of dual monitors. Joe and Dustin differ a bit in the way they recommend using dual monitors. Joe tends to recommend putting the chat window on one screen and the CRM on the other, whereas Dustin likes to keep one conversation on one monitor and another on the other monitor. Regardless of the preference, two monitors reduces the need to switch between windows and allows agents to see the customer history and conversation at the same time.
5. Ramp up to multiple conversations
We’ve found that most of our live messaging teams expect agents to handle two to three chats at a time. These conversations tend to take longer than phone calls so it becomes a more expensive channel if agents only handle one at a time. As you communicate the concurrency goal to your team, you may find that some agents are naturally better at handling multiple conversations than others. When training agents for live messaging, Dustin recommends allowing them to handle one conversation at a time to help them get that hang of the system, and then ratcheting them up to multiple conversations a week or so later.
6. Create job rotation opportunities
Job rotation is a great way to keep customer service agents happy and engaged. Where possible, it’s a great practice to create a rotation where multiple people on the team focus on different support channels. On Joe’s team, agents typically handle messaging channels in two hour shifts and then rotate out to phone and/or email. Again some agents may be better at a certain channel than others so it’s alright to work to the strengths of the team wherever possible.
7. Never mix live channels
It’s totally possible on a support team to work on email responses in between phone calls provided that there are some significant gaps. This, however, is not the case for chats. Early on in my career as a manager I required my agents to handle chats while also speaking on the phone with customers. That is until I tried it myself. After thoroughly confusing a couple customers, I realized that I couldn’t expect my team to handle calls and chats at the same time. Joe and Dustin both agreed that agents can’t handle live messaging and phones simultaneously — but if chats are slow, they can certainly work on email.
What are your best practices?
As I’ve peered over the shoulders of some of my colleagues as they work on chat, I’ve found that many of them are incredibly creative when it comes to navigating their systems in ways that increase efficiency. Know who those people are on your team and empower them to introduce best practices that help the rest of the team work more effectively.
Finally, we’d love to hear what some of your best practices are for navigating live messaging. Leave us a comment with your thoughts and ideas.