Live Help Helps

Consumers are now increasingly seeking live communication with internet merchants before purchasing online.

This trend however is contrary to the self-service model employed by most web sites.

The majority of business web sites were designed on the premise that consumers would purchase any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without the need to first interact with a sales or customer service representative.

The self-service model unfortunately does not recognise that some consumers still want the assurance of live communication.

The quandary for online merchants is now knowing how to fill this customer service need at an acceptable cost.

Three alternatives normally associated with online customer service are e-mail, phone and live chat.

E-mail is the most common option, though it has often proved ineffective in meeting live communication needs as many businesses still fail to promptly answer e-mail enquiries.

Live phone support is often an expensive exercise, far and away from the lower operating costs otherwise promised by the internet.

The option increasingly proving to be an effective tool in meeting customers’ needs is live chat services.

Forrester Research Inc., a US based technology research company, reported that 30% of online buyers turned to live chat for customer service in 2003, up from 19% in 2001. Forrester also suggests that the acceptance of live chat will grow “as online chatting teens grow up,” to 59% of online buyers in 2007.

Chat services allow your customers to ask questions with an almost instant response from your business.

Online live chat services allow a business to communicate with its customers in real time through messages typed in a chat box window within the business’s web site.

There are several types of live chat facilities available that businesses can use.

The services are commonly available through an application service model for a monthly licence fee. Many live chat providers also offer free trials.

The chat service providers normally facilitate the chat service on their own server and therefore eliminate the need for the merchant to purchase any special software or equipment.

In most cases the services can easily be installed in the business web site by adding a small amount of HTML code.

Importantly, almost all online consumers can use the live chat services.

The consumer normally does not need any special software to be able to engage in the live chat session as the chats operate through the internet browser.

The benefit of live chat is that the communication occurs at the exact time the consumer is making their purchasing decision.

Live chat can also be used as a selling tool at crucial times such as when the shopper takes an excessive amount of time in the checkout and appears to need help making a decision before they would otherwise abandon the shopping cart.

These services can also offer customer service representatives background information about the customer; information that e-mails and phone conversations may lack.Some live chat services for example provide user behaviour information by showing the list of pages the consumer has visited on the business’s web site, the pages they visited on previous visits and any past chats the consumer has engaged in.

A live chat operator can also handle multiple chat sessions simultaneously compared to a phone support operator who can only conduct one conversation at a time.

Most live chat services demonstrate the availability of the service with a graphic icon on each page of a web site. The graphic icon lets customers know when the customer service representatives are ‘online’ and available to offer live assistance.

If representatives are ‘not online’ the icon can also double as a message bank to allow consumers to send e-mails. The graphic itself is often very prominent on the web site and therefore encourages customer contact.I have found that live chat works very well in quashing those niggling questions that would otherwise prevent sales. The feedback received from our customers who have used live chat through our web sites has been overwhelmingly positive.

If you want to better service your customers’ communication needs, you may like to consider trialing live chat on your web site.


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Sharon Wild writes ecommerce articles for Qld Business Review, she is also Strategy & Marketing Director of

Sharon Wild
Strategy & Marketing Director of e-JAZ, Sharon has been involved in the e-commerce community for several years. She successfully manages Australia's largest online jewellery store, Gillett's Jewellers.

Sharon can be contacted via email on