Starting with Live Chat: Strategy and Planning

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Chapter 4

Planning Your Live Chat Experience

Now that you know what live chat is, what its benefits are, and the objectives that you hope to achieve from it, it is time to consider the next step: beginning to implement your live chat software. To do this, it is important that you hire live chat agents who are professional and all about ensuring customer satisfaction. But exactly how many live chat agents do you need to hire to provide the happily-ever-after customer service that you dream of?

Just like how every live chat agent is different, every company’s needs will be different. By asking yourself the questions that we cover in this section of our eBook, you will eventually be able to find the number of live chat agents that is right for your company.

How Many Visitors Do You Receive Daily?

The first thing to take a look at when deciding how many live chat agents you need is how many visitors you receive to your website daily. A company who receives 50,000 visitors per day may need more live chat agents than a company who receives 5,000 visitors per day.

Although the visitor count doesn’t tell us everything we need to know about how many live chat agents we will need, it is a good place to begin formulating our estimate. According to our Chat-to-Visit Ratio Report, the chat-to-visit ratio moves inversely to the visit volume a website receives, from 8.96% for the 0-5K segment down to 0.34% for the 500K+ segment.

Based on the global sample, a business with 5,000 visitors might have 448 live chats per month, and a business with 50,000 visitors might have 1000 live chats per month. Until you implement your own live chat software, these metrics can be used as a basic guideline of how many live chats you might expect.

How Many Hours is Your Live Chat Available Per Day?

With your visitor count and your rough live chat estimate in mind, consider what your operating hours will be. A company who offers 24-hour live chat support may need to hire more live chat agents than a company that only operates live chat from 9:00AM to 5:00PM.

Depending on your live chat needs, we recommend that most companies new to live chat start off using live chat during set operating hours, such as from 9:00AM to 5:00PM. This can help you avoid overstaffing, and can also help keep your live chats to a manageable level while you train agents.

By enabling offline chat, your live chat agents will be able to address any missed chats the next workday. The information that you receive while your chat is offline will also help you gauge the demand for 24-hour live chat availability, and decide if longer chat availability is ideal for your business.

What Do You Want to Accomplish with Your Live Chat?

Here is where your objectives become important as far as making decisions about staffing.

If you are using live chat reactively in response to customer inquiries and concerns, then your company may need less live chat representation than if you are sending out proactive chat requests to your customers to generate leads. This is because the use of proactive chat is likely to generate a higher volume of chats for your agents to take care of.

However, what is true for one business may not be the case for another. Some companies may have a low acceptance rate for proactive chat requests, and may need less live chat agents than support teams that have a large inquiry volume even without proactive chat invitations.

To better understand the diverse nature of live chat objectives and how they might influence the amount of live chat agents you hire, let’s reference the following table from our Chat-to-Visit Report:

These findings show that for different companies, even in the same industry, the number of live chat agents needed to serve similar amount of chats varies greatly. Let’s look, for example, at companies A and B. Three live chat agents for Company A appears to be a normal amount based on their monthly chat volume (210 chats per month). Company B, on the other hand, handles a similar amount of live chats (301 chats per month), but between 58 live chat agents.

So why the enormous difference in support team size? The answer lies with Company B’s live chat objective.

Company B has 58 dealers all over the country, each of which has a single designated live chat agent. When visitors initiate a live chat session, they are routed to the agent who is responsible for their region based on their zip code, which they are asked to disclose in the pre-chat survey. Because the company’s objective is to provide personalized customer service based on each visitor’s region, each dealer has its designated live chat channel implemented, regardless of whether there is a high chat volume or not.

When looking to hire live chat agents, make sure to keep in mind what you wish to accomplish with live chat, and to make a decision that will best fit your unique needs.

Does Your Support Team Only Work Live Chat?

Another thing to consider when deciding how many live chat agents you need is whether your support team will work exclusively with live chat, or if they will also be answering phone calls and emails.

Per our Chat-to-Visit Report, the average number of live chat agents that a company needs to serve 2272 chats per month is 6. However, if your live chat agents are also busy answering the phone and responding to emails, the amount of chats that each agent will be able to handle per month will be diminished.

To decide whether you want to have a separate support team dedicated to live chat, you can analyze factors such as chat volume, agent performance (especially when handling emails, chats, and phone calls), and whether your agents are spending too much time idle. Once you have hired or assigned your live chat agents, you can access these metrics under your agent performance report.

What Is Your Chat Agent Level and Ability?

What level your agents perform at is a big factor in how many live chat agents you might need. If you have a team of seasoned live chat agents, chances are they will be able to tackle more chats at a time and at a steadier pace than if you have a team composed of mostly newcomers.

So how many chats should each agent take on at once? The industry benchmark is 2-3 live chats per agent at a time, but experienced agents may be able to take on more. In order to keep customer satisfaction levels high and avoid response delays, we recommend not going above 3 live chats at a time when possible.

You can make sure that your live chat agents are getting the right amount of simultaneous chats by creating a maximum concurrent chat limit for when chats are set to be automatically accepted. You can opt to give different agents different limits, or give every agent the same maximum amount of live chats. For example, you can automatically give Agent A (an experienced agent) up to three chats at a time, and give Agent B (an agent who is just beginning training) one live chat at a time.

This helps you tailor the live chat inflow to each agent’s skill level, and can be useful for training purposes. It can also be useful to limit live chat intake if your customer support team responds to phone calls and emails at the same time as live chat.

How Is Your Agents’ Workload?

Do your live chat agents seem swamped? Then you might be short-staffed. According to our 2017 Benchmark Report, over the course of this past year, agents’ live chat count increased an average of 44.2%. This means that live chat agents are handling more chats than ever before.

Agents taking on a high volume of chats per month is not a problem, unless it impacts the quality of customer care. Unfortunately, the more chats a live chat agent deals with, the lower customer satisfaction will be on average.

Our Benchmark Report explored this topic in depth a year prior, in 2016. We found that customer satisfaction rate is highest when an agent deals with about 500 chats per month, and it decreases sharply once agents start to handle between 1000 and 1500 chats. If an agent deals with more than 1500 chats per month, the satisfaction rate plateaus at around 75%.

Since agent workload fluctuates year-round, we recommend that your company consider hiring part-time seasonal workers for the holidays. We also suggest that your company provide consistent and effective training to accommodate the ever-growing demand for live chat.

How Long Are Your Agents Spending on Each Chat?

To prevent idleness, it is important to provide your agents with a guideline of how quickly they should strive to solve live chats. However, it is also important to make sure that your customers’ inquiries and issues are being taken care of the first time, or in one live-chat session.

Customers value speedy live chat resolution, but not when it comes at the expense of quality customer care. A customer who leaves a chat session with an unresolved issue may grow frustrated and speak badly about your company to friends, family, and across social media. They may also be forced to contact the company again, which in the end results in a greater agent workload and more time spent on that customer’s issue. Similarly, a visitor whose doubt is left unresolved after their first time contacting your company may never convert into a paying customer. Therefore, it is important that your business prioritize first-contact resolution above the need for speed.

How long you would like your live chat agents to spend on each chat is up to you. In 2017 Benchmark Report, we found that last year’s average chat duration was 14 minutes and 25 seconds – 1.4% faster than it was in 2015. To keep your live chat duration down, we recommend that you make use of new software advances, such as canned message shortcuts.

Do You Need to Make Any Staffing Adjustments?

Just because you have assembled your dream live chat team does not mean that your work is over. Too many idle agents, budget cuts, seasonal traffic changes, and a growing demand for live chat are all reasons you might have to rethink the amount of agents that you need.

There are many ways in which you can gage the need for staffing cuts, increases, or adjustments. You can view agent availability, workload, and efficiency with the Live Chat Reporting System and use this tool to adjust staffing and shifts where necessary.

Another metric that you can use to see how your staffing plan is doing is customer satisfaction levels. Allowing customers to rate agents’ performance with the post-chat survey will help you determine how satisfied your customers are with their service. A high customer satisfaction level may be an indicator that your live chat experience is functioning smoothly, and that the quality and the number of agents that you hired works for you. On the other hand, a low customer satisfaction rating may be an indicator that you need to make staffing adjustments. Whether this means adding more live chat agents to help ease the workload or providing agents with additional training, don’t despair—there is always something that can be done.

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