The Limitations of Live Chat Support: Why It’s Not the Holy Grail of Customer Service

If you are looking to elevate your brand’s live chat support experience, look no further than asynchronous messaging — highlighted as the customer-preferred channel in our latest benchmark report.

The phone was personal, but not so scalable. Customers often had to wait on hold or call during business hours, and for brands, keeping call centers staffed was an intense economic burden. Email solved the scalability issue, allowing fewer customer service agents to reply to more customers efficiently. But for customers, sending off an email into the abyss, with no certainty about when or if it would be answered, wasn’t an optimal experience.

How we got to live chat support

Live chat support transcended the limitations that old customer-service paradigms could not, and gave customers the ability to chat back and forth with an agent online. Live chat is still useful for issues that need quick responses or for high-value customers, particularly when money is on the line.

But as close as live chat support has gotten us to real-time responses, it has its limitations, too. While it has handily solved some of the pain points we struggled with before, live chat can’t serve as a holistic answer to all of our customer service needs.

For one thing, it, too, is difficult to scale and expensive to staff. This is because live chat is strictly synchronous, meaning that the agent and customer need to be present at the same time for a conversation to unfold. Like phone-based customer service, it requires a live human to be available to respond to customer questions and requests. And while live chat agents can typically handle two customers at once — twice as many as phone agents — you still need an agent on hand for every two customers.

Live chat support also does not address a prime customer frustration with phone calls: the risk of being disconnected. If a customer accidentally closes a chat window, he loses the conversation and must start again. Similarly, if he gets distracted by another task or walks away from his computer, after five minutes, the conversation automatically ends.

Asynchronous messaging: The way we all communicate today

There are nearly 4 billion global active users of messaging apps like iMessage, Slack, and Whatsapp — the most used messenger app in the world, with more than 1.5 billion users. Messaging is one of the most popular activities mobile-phone owners worldwide engage in, and the most used data service in the world.

What all types of messaging apps and services have in common is that they enable asynchronous-enabled communication: one person writes, and the other responds when convenient. Two parties do not need to be present and available in the moment in order for a conversation to organically unfold.

For customers, asynchronous communication, or messaging, enables a more intuitive experience in the type of chat interfaces they’re already using every day. The conversation has a cadence that enables both fluid, real-time conversation and natural pauses in that conversation. Conversation history is persistent, even if the customer accidentally closes a tab — or the entire app — or gets called away in the middle of resolving an issue. He can come back to the thread later, or even on another device, switching from a mobile experience to a web-based experience mid-chat.

Asynchronous messaging doesn’t require customers to call during specified business hours or wait on hold to reach the “next available agent.” And while asynchronous messaging allows for pauses in conversation, the customer will be notified when a response is waiting, so from the customer point of view, there are no more frustrating time lags while they wait in a browser for an answer.

Ultimately, time to resolution is perceived as faster when the customer is in charge of the conversation.

Scalable, organic conversations with agents

Customer experience is critical, but the economics of customer service methods are equally imperative to companies. Asynchronous communication allows for scalable customer service efforts because teams do not need to be staffed for continuous real-time chat around the clock. Agents have access to a dashboard that shows conversation history and snapshot summaries, so one agent can seamlessly pick up a conversation where the other left off.

Integration with AI and bots enable some customer service issues to be addressed without human intervention altogether or with only partial human assistance. And even after a conversation is in the hands of a human, it can be reverted back to bot mid-conversation for basic tasks like scheduling. This transition is seamless for the customer, who only sees one continuous messaging thread. It becomes much easier to leverage automation in customer service efforts in a way that’s fluid and contextual.

The best of all worlds

Essentially, it’s the best of both worlds for customers — the intuitive conversational interface of live chat with the persistent nature of email conversation. Asynchronous communication is a channel that’s both a terrific front-end user experience for customers and a cost-effective, highly efficient channel of customer service for companies. And it’s not a new paradigm for consumers. In fact, it’s the way they already communicate with each other every day.

To learn more about adding asynchronous messaging to your customer service strategy, download the free ebook Get In Sync With Your Customers.

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