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The definitive guide to live chat in 2020

June 10, 2021
June 10, 2021

Live chat has exploded in popularity in recent years, and for good reason. It can seem like an impossible task to start, so if you don’t know your proactive from your reactive and can’t decide whether to outsource or handle things in-house, read on.

  1. What is live chat?
  2. What are the different types of chat?
  3. What can live chat be used for?
  4. What is proactive and reactive chat?
  5. Free vs paid live chat – the pros and cons
  6. How to install live chat on your website
  7. Outsourced vs In-House
  8. Benefits of live chat
  9. Live chat best practices

What is live chat?

Live chat is a method of real-time communication which allows site visitors to speak to a business representative via a chat window. They are able to type and send messages which are immediately sent to the live agent, and the live agent can reply instantly.

live chat window box

They can have their questions answered, get product recommendations, or be passed onto the appropriate team to deal with their problem. Aside from customer service, live chat can also be used for lead generation and for driving more sales on your website.

Find out more about how live chat works.

What are the different types of chat?

There are three types of live chat, human, chatbot and hybrid, and what will work best for you depends on your business needs.

Human chat

Human chat means that your site visitors will be able to speak with a real person, whether that be an in-house team or an outsourced chat agent. Many customers expect personalised, caring service with quick responses to their issues, and with the right team, you can guarantee that will be the case.

Humans are able to understand complex queries that AI may not be able to cope with, which makes them a common choice for many businesses, however, the cost and time required for human chat is considerably more, as agents need to be trained, can only handle a few chats at a time and it requires hiring employees.

Humans can handle everything, from complex technical support queries, to lead generation, and are particularly strong in sales enablement. According to Forrester research, 53% of US online adults won’t complete a purchase on-site if they don’t find quick answers right away, so if you’re looking to handle in-depth questions, you need the human touch to represent your brand, or your main goal is to drive sales through your website, human chat is for you.

Chatbot/AI chat

Chatbots have advanced a lot in the last few years, and are now able to handle queries that are more complex than before. Chatbots use Natural Language Processing and Machine Learning to understand and respond to visitor questions.

If you’re considering using a chatbot as part of your conversational marketing approach, you need to plan, strategize, develop, deploy, optimize, train, update and monitor the software. Chatbots have certainly advanced, but they still can’t hold a candle to real people when it comes to complex enquiries.

If your business is often approached with simple queries such as checking order status, changing address, finding the closest branch or store, then a chatbot would be a good fit. They can be used for everything from FAQs, simple product recommendations, replacing web forms and booking appointments.

robot shaking hands with human

Hybrid chat

Sometimes you need the best of both worlds, and a hybrid solution can be a great way to blend human and AI. By satisfying common enquiries through AI Chat, you can reserve human agents for more complex queries where they can add the most value to your business, all within a single conversation.

Learn more about the pros and cons of each type of chat.

What can live chat be used for?

Live chat is versatile, whatever your needs, it can be a perfect fit. Customer service, lead generation and sales are the most common uses of live chat, but remember that you can also have a blend of these depending on your needs.

Customer support

The most common reason for chat is customer support. Self serve support and FAQs can only go so far, email takes a while to respond to and you’re not always around to take a phone call – that’s where live chat comes in.

Whether it’s a technical issue, a question about an order or something else entirely, having someone on chat to be able to speak to can make the world of difference when it comes to customer satisfaction and retention. Outsourcing chat can also give you out of hours support, so you can assist customers while your in-house time sleeps.

91% of consumers said they would never come back after being dissatisfied with bad customer service, so focusing on customer support will certainly pay dividends.

Read a real live chat customer support case study.

Lead generation

To get more leads you need fewer fields, to get quality leads you need more of them. That’s the Catch-22 of form completion. Live chat can provide not only a higher quantity of leads, but also a higher quality.

There is a trust barrier to leads handing over the information you need, but live chat can break down these barriers through personal conversation. By having someone on hand to chat to who can answer any immediate queries and nudge the site visitor in the right direction, they feel supported and reassured.

Read a real live chat lead generation case study.

Sales enablement

Did you know that people who refer to live chat on a website are 85% more likely to become customers than those who don’t? By targeting the right people at the right time, your chat agents can speak to people who are in the decision stage and assist them without being pushy.

They can answer any last-minute questions, offer product suggestions, upsell and reassure site visitors, turning them into satisfied paying customers. If basket abandonment is a big issue for your business, try a live chat strategy targeting those at the checkout stage.

Read a real live chat sales enablement case study.

Find out more about the pros and cons, and how to decide what to use your live chat for.

people smiling at computers

What is proactive and reactive chat?

Training live chat agents and coming up with a conversation flow is only half the job, getting the best results from live chat means creating a tailored engagement strategy to suit your business needs. So how is this done? Through proactive and reactive chat.


Imagine going into a store and browsing, you can see the sales associate is in the store and available to help, all you would need to do is ask. A proportion of people will ask for help, but the rest will simply leave the store without purchasing. Having reactive live chat means that the proportion that ask is far higher than it would be if the associate wasn’t there, but it’s not as high as it could be.

Reactive live chat is simple, it is chat that is initiated by the site visitor. Your chat window will be there, but it may be minimised, so the customer would need to click on it themselves to initiate the chat.


What if you walk into the store, have a little browse, then just before you walk out the store to check out another company that can meet your needs the sales associate approaches you and offers the exact help you are looking for. Your questions are answered, your purchase is made and you are happy. This is very similar to how proactive live chat performs on your website.

Proactive live chat means the chat box will actively pop up with a tailored message to suit the buyer. The strategy can be made through digging into your website analytics and finding patterns on where people are frequently leaving, or other factors. 48% of consumers favour companies with proactive support, so adding this feature is a great option.

Learn more about proactive and reactive live chat.

Free vs paid live chat – the pros and cons

There are tons of businesses out there offering free live chat software. Sounds simple, you just install the widget, stick your in-house team on chat and see how it goes, right? Wrong.


The obvious pro here is that it is free to download many types of live chat software, cutting cost to service. Outsourcing live chat can be a costly operation if you want to have it handled properly, so it can seem like the best solution to try chat initially.

Although these companies provide the chat widget, they offer no further support when it comes to chatting, which is where the magic is actually done. It’s easy to fall into the trap of downloading the software and either forgetting about it entirely or putting members of your team onto the chat, who have no live chat training and quite frankly, have other things to do that would better serve your business.

SuperOffice discovered that 20% of live chat requests go completely unanswered (most likely due to in-house teams being overstretched), and that’s not even mentioning those customers who had to wait for a lengthy period of time.

Often customer service is grouped together, and the thought is if that you are good at phone support, you will do well on live chat, but that’s certainly not the case. Although you may have a customer experience background and phone skills, you may have a slow typing speed and inadequate knowledge of how to convey the right tone via an online format.

person holding dollars


Although some chat software providers are 100% free, most offer different packages, with premium paid options which offer more features and enhance the chat.

These features often provide access to additional features and give you the ability to add multiple users to chat. By paying for a service, the provider also has the responsibility to provide what they promised and it enhances security and safety.

Although paid software has a lot more features, it can be costly when adding premium features. With paid software, you are able to do more, but you don’t receive any of the additional strategy benefits – you still need to hire and train a team as well as implement and optimise your chat strategy.

Learn more about whether free or paid live chat is best for you.

How to install live chat on your website


Installing a chat window couldn’t be simpler; you simply need to add a small piece of code to your website and you are good to go. You can customise your window to fit with your brand, and add any details you want.

You can choose to capture emails and names or just let the customer talk without having to give any information, and when the conversation is finished, you can choose what to do with it.

User side

The user side is even easier, all they need to do is click on the chat window, enter their question, and hit send. You decide how much or little information you would like them to give, and they simply sit back and wait for your response.

Training live chat agents

The trickiest part about live chat is getting the actual conversation right. Many businesses think they can just put their phone team on chat, or even worse, anyone at all within the business, but that simply won’t work.

Creating conversations that are actually going to make a difference for your business requires careful planning, training and ongoing optimisation. The skillset needed to be a live chat agent is completely different from anything else, so just simply installing a chat widget and putting your in-house, untrained team on there is not going to give you the results you want.

From the agent side, depending on the software you use, they will have an interface with the conversations, and be able to answer questions and switch between the chats. Providing agents with a well-thought-out conversation flow and a comprehensive knowledge base is crucial for customer service.

When it comes to lead generation or driving sales through your website, this requires very specific sales techniques and skills.

If this sounds like a lot of work, you can outsource your entire chat operation to the experts and get the best results.

Read our full step by step guide on how to install live chat on your website here.

typing on laptop

Outsourced vs in-house

Choosing whether to handle things in-house or outsource your live chat can be a daunting thought, but you need to choose correctly or you won’t see the results you want.


Handling things in-house means that you will need to hire new employees, or move current employees onto live chat. However, simply putting your existing phone team on live chat is not a good idea, as it requires a completely different set of skills.

Chat agents need to be fast typers, great with computers, and able to handle conversations with personality through text. The cost is often significantly higher, as you need to hire new agents, pay for software, cover QA, sickness and maternity.


Outsourcing your live chat is terrifying, let’s admit it. You’re trusting another business with the face of your brand, to talk to your customers! But by choosing the right live chat experts to go for, you can ensure your agents are highly skilled, the strategy is well thought out, and you will get the result you want.

If you choose to outsource chat, it will be significantly costlier, however, you will have every step of the process handled for you by experts – from implementation, strategy, set up, agents, to ongoing optimisation.

Read more about the benefits of outsourced vs in house chat.

Benefits of live chat

Whether using live chat for customer support, lead generation or sales, there are ample benefits, here are the key points:

  1. Help when customers need it – even out of office hours
  2. Quick responses
  3. Free and easy to use
  4. Guide customers around the site
  5. Discover customer pain points & increase satisfaction
  6. Handling a range of queries

Live chat makes for happy customers and better data. Get to know your site visitors better, interact with them in real time and increase conversion and satisfaction at the same time.

Read more about the benefits of live chat.

people sat at a table with laptops

Chat best practices

Getting the conversations right takes a specialised skill set, which is why we have a dedicated recruitment and training team to ensure our agents get the support they need. Here are our top skills for agents to have.

  1. Leading the conversation – guide customers through the site, help them with their issues, steer the conversation towards your goals and make sure they’re happy before the chat ends.
  2. Typing skills – slow typing can agitate customers, and incorrect spelling and grammar just makes you look downright unprofessional. Getting the typing skills right is crucial to effective chat.
  3. Building trust – live chat is a real conversation between two people, by building trust through genuine discussions, you can break down barriers and increase satisfaction.
  4. Communication skills – overcoming common objections, keeping up with the customer and ensuring you check in on them are among a few of the skills needed for a successful conversation.
  5. Knowledge – ensure your agents have access to a knowledge base with information on the business and a cohesive conversation flow tailored to your goals.

Final Thoughts

Live chat isn’t as simple as just installing a free widget and putting your existing team on chat, it requires knowledge, planning and ongoing optimisation. If you don’t get this right, you simply won’t see the results you want and it will be a waste of time.

If you need expert assistance on any step of this journey, or you’d like to learn about outsourcing the entire operation to an experienced team, get in touch.

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