Just 14% of UK online retailers offer live chat as a customer service channel.

In a recent survey by idealo, only a small number of UK retailers offered live chat as a customer service channel, and in the rest of Europe, an average of 18% of retailers offered access to live chat.

Live chat is the online support service that provides instant help for consumers who are seeking immediate help from a customer service assistant in real time. It normally appears on ecommerce sites or service providers in the form of a little text box that says “how can I help you?”

As you would expect, the most popular method of contact from the survey is by writing, with an average of 91% of all online shops offering contact via email or contact form. Although I’m surprised this figure isn’t even higher.

Perhaps this is down to many European retailers preferring customers to pick up the phone. Italy for example goes heavily against the email trend, with 98% of their online retailers offering phone contact, but only 56% offering email contact.

This leaves live chat somewhat in the doldrums.

How important is live chat to ecommerce? Would customers prefer this method over others if it was more readily available? Let’s take a look at some other studies to find out.

According to eDigital’s customer service benchmark, live chat has the highest satisfaction levels for any customer service channel, with 73%, compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone.

Even though just 24% of customers actually used this method, the satisfaction levels far outstrip other customer service channels. More information can be discovered in our latest Internet Statistics Compendium.

In another study, BoldChat found that in the USA, 21% of online shoppers prefer live chat, which is only slightly less than those who favour using the telephone (23%) and far ahead of social media (2%). 

The same study reveals why those respondents prefer live chat.

79% claim that it’s the immediacy of the response that makes live chat the preferred method. The ability to multitask also figures highly, with more than half (51%) saying this is the reason they use live chat.

Good and bad practice

In my experience, I’ve found live chat to be a highly efficient customer service channel. Outside of ecommerce, I’ve used Bluehost’s live chat to help with the transferring of a domain, a technical nightmare that at the time I was far out of my depth in.

I had minimal wait time, friendly customer service, and even though the problem was fairly complicated and I struggled to explain myself brilliantly because I was a novice, everything was fixed in a speedy fashion.

Live chat is the ideal channel for dealing with a company in a different country. Phone calls can be prohibitively expensive, especially with the high liklihood you’ll be kept waiting on the line. You also don’t have the frustration of waiting for a reply to an email, with the added hurdle of being in a different timezone causing a delay.

I would however suggest that the live chat option is rather hidden within the Bluehost help section. 

This is a shame, as it was an effective service and much more preferabe to a similarly lengthed phone call.

Other companies I’ve experienced sit at the other end of the spectrum. 

I completed a user experience comparison of the Sky and Virgin Media websites last year and found both of their live chat services to be fairly obtrusive.

Sky’s live chat option appears immediately when you’ve clicked through to the bundle option page.

Virgin Media is similarly eager to help. Even though I didn’t need it, I almost feel pushed into using the service with its full page takeover.

At the time I found these to be as annoying as any pop-up. However Sky has seen an increase in both sales and customer service satisfaction after implementing its live chat service so it’s certainly nothing to be sniffed at.

The problem I had with Sky at the time was that at various points a link to the live chat wasn’t provided when I could have possibly needed it.

Best practice would be to have a constant link to live chat at every step of the journey, but without quite so much obstruction for the customer who wishes for a fast transaction.

In conclusion…

The positives of live chat are many. 

  • Live chat provides immediate contact with a company in a way that can be ambiguous with a prospective email.
  • It removes the frustration of using a telephone, waiting in a queue and the subsequent costs/anger/time wasted. 
  • The customer can do other things while using live chat, making multi-tasking an actual realistic proposition. 
  • If a problem is particularly technical, it’s sometime easier to explain things in writing.
  • Let us not underestimate how much some people just don’t like using a phone and talking to a ‘live’ person.

If those customer service wins haven’t convinced you, then how about this final stat from BoldChat:

  • 31% of online shoppers from both the US and UK say they would be more likely to purchase after a live chat.

For more information on live chat, read Graham Charlton’s post consumers prefer live chat for customer service.

Further reading for beginners

During my first year at Econsultancy I’ve been making a point of writing beginner’s guides to any new terms or phrases I find particularly baffling, or that I might suspect other people may find baffling too. 

The following related articles should help clear up a few things…