I have been blogging about three principles for a successful live chat (Direction, Quality, Quantity - same principles as for succeeding in sales). Until now, my focus has been on Direction. Now it is time to move to next topic: Quality.

I approach quality from two viewpoints: Quality experienced by (potential) customers and by live chat agents. I draw an analogy to Formula One;

Employee experience is fuel for the formula one car, but customer experience is the speed that wins the race.

Agent experience

You have probably run into a conversation about which one is more important: customer experience or employee experience. The argument on behalf of the employee experience is that happier employees lead to better customer experience/service which leads to happier customers (which then leads to more customers and more revenue). Customer service reps and sales agents are happier when they have access to tools that help them carry out their tasks (provide speedy service) without growing grey hair.

What type of tools does a live chat team then need? A live chat software with a great user interface/experience is the obvious one, the engine of our formula one car. Then, depending on what kind of cases (sales vs. service) chat agents are handling, comes requirements for rest of the parts: Knowledge base, canned answers, etc.

How you build the car around the engine is dictated by the Direction of your live chat operation. Sales teams have different driving styles than customer service reps.

Speaking of Direction, make sure your live chat is targeted to the right audience (see examples for sales and customer service). It has quite an impact on agent happiness if incoming chats for a sales team are 90% on the nose (sales opportunities) or off the mark. Speed does not matter if the direction is wrong!

Another big part of agent experience is the information and possible workflows that are made available for agents. While F1 drivers need to control everything from engine maps to fuel mixtures from their steering wheels, sales reps should be able to see and update most relevant data about a prospect without jumping from live chat to another software (like CRM). Similarly, customer service teams should raise tickets to a ticketing system straight from chat conversations. Investing in efficient tools makes sense businesswise, less time per chat conversation (plus accompanying work) can be translated to cost savings. If live chat software is car's engine, integrations are tires. And remember, a pit crew changes those tires quickly as the race develops!

Customer Experience

Customers prefer live chat for one main reason: speed. Speed wins the race. In the context of live chat, speed means two things.

First of all, chats are answered immediately, within 10 seconds.

If you consider 10 seconds is an unreasonably short time I recommend going to a website with live chat, sending a message, and counting out loud seconds (don't stop when/if they answer). The time it takes to reach ten feels surprisingly long. Stopping that wait requires just a simple greeting from an agent. After the greeting, a question can be dealt with a longer message. However, responding to an inbound chat is just a start of the race.

Speed also means that agents answer to subsequent messages in a timely fashion. This requirement links closely to who chat assistance is targeted to (again, Direction), and what kind of tires (integrations) chat agents have at their disposal. By bare minimum agent should manage expectations ("Please bare with me. Finding the information for you might take me a minute or two"). Utilising automated responses or canned answers can speed up conversations, which is great, as long as chat team avoids speaking like a (bad) chatbot.

Let's leave sounding like a robot, well, to robots (they do it more efficiently anyhow).

Speed alone is not enough. You must finish the race. Part of chat quality is to be able to complete tasks during or immediately after the chat conversation. Some signs of a quality chat operation are that by the end of (almost) each conversation customer buys, customer reaches next stage of the sales process, an issue is solved, and so on. These lap times or success rates are worth tracking (more examples for sales and customer service). It is okay to transfer communications to other channels or escalate tickets. However, if this happens, it is important for the customer to know what happens next and by whom. A chat service that just guides enquiries to "traditional" channels does not even qualify to race.

A word of warning though, speed is critical, but it is not everything.

Don't lose control while accelerating. Improve the car as drivers learn. If you try to leap frog too far, you end up like formula drivers who drive faster than their skills or cars allow. They crash.

It would be interesting to hear what are the standards for quality within your live chat operation? Feel free to pitch in in the comments section.

This blog was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse (May 31, 2017). Read the original here.