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July 20 2012

10 lessons learnt with Olark

Adding Olark's live chat to our website has helped us talk to existing and potential customers, and quite often even directly resulted in sales. Pancake Joe takes us through 10 lessons learnt from using live chat.

1. Be chatty!

It's sad that people expect canned responses or robots when they talk to a company. Make your opening gambit something chatty and it immediately gets people excited. "Howdy!" says far more in one word than "Welcome to Pancake. How might we help today?"

2. Pretend Keith Richards just walked in

I attribute this tip to Derek Sivers. It might not be his, but he's given so many we might as well credit him. When someone needs help, pretend it's Keith Richards. Or Brad Paisley.

3. Get their history

Medical students are taught to improve their bedside manner, including getting the patient's medical history. Before diving into an issue with customers on live chat, find out if they've contacted you before.

People assume their queries go into a black hole and have to start again with each new query. By pulling up their support history, you have their name, expert level & you find out if they've had problems before.

4. Be up front when you get it wrong

During training at call centres, new hires and told to let the customer rant, before apologizing and telling them how you're going to help. Like any software, ours will sometimes contain bugs. Admit you screwed up and no-one will post a rage comic about your business anytime soon.

5. Use their geo information (wisely)

Olark (our chat service) tells you which city the visitor is in. If I see someone is from a country that doesn't speak English, I'll try and say hello in that tongue. If I see someone is in a town I've visited, I tell them what I enjoyed there. Avoid sports. It doesn't end well.

6. Use a chat client you enjoy

I use OSX so I have pimped out Adium to my taste. Using iChat was a frustrating experience and made me dread receiving a message. You're going to be answering queries all day long, so you'd better use tools you can enjoy.

7. Live chat isn't always the answer

Some customers will want the immediacy of you fixing their problems there and then. No-one likes working with someone looking over their shoulder. If it's not something that can be fixed in a few minutes, get them to drop you an email.

8. Make yourself available

If you can't commit to live chat, visitors will constantly see a  "we're offline" message on your website. Giving the impression you'll be around to help when they need it can be just as powerful as the actual helping.

9. Put your stamp on it

Around these parts I'm known as Pancake Joe. It's not the most imaginative moniker, but people remember it the next time they visit us. Plus, it reminds me of Pickle Fred, the old chap who used to cycle around my town selling jars of pickled vegetables.

10. Don't be creepy

There's a fine line between the hotel that displays you a personal message when you get to your room, and one that suggests movies you might enjoy given your previous viewing habits. With services like Olark you can see information about your visitors, but no-one wants to be followed around a website.