Online Chat Etiquette for Sales Professionals

Online Chat Etiquette for Sales Professionals

Communicating with prospects is a high value activity. Companies that give it proper attention will be rewarded. But even the best salesperson needs to properly consider their given medium. Especially when the sales professional is using online chat.

When you read a communication book, you see a lot of talk about practicing good communication, for example, how to properly open a salutation. But how do you converse with this person on the other end of the thumbs, that is, in an online chat with someone typing to you?

A lot of people are likely to be on their mobile devices, so they’re in that “quick hit” mindset when they’re in the chat. So if you take a long time to respond, even when you’re trying to think of just the right way to phrase whatever you want to say, you could lose them.

Be Human

As a human be on the other side of a chat, if I send a chat in and I’m looking at a company, first of all, I want to see that the person I’m chatting with has a name. Sometimes you only see it’s the company responding, and there’s the company logo there next to them in the bubble. Right away, that feels like I’m talking to some corporate magnate with no name. It’s hard to have a whole lot of empathy for a company. But say you go into a more human mindset and put a face to a name, like “My name is Chris Handy,” with a name and picture there. If someone sends a chat on our website and I’m the one who responds, you can see that it’s me, a real person, responding.

I have more liberty as a human being to respond to you in a more natural way than a company,  who has to conform to a corporate style guide and use just the right language and tone, can. That’s not to say that we need to throw out the company tone, throwing caution to the wind and using poor language or bad slang. However, abbreviating, using more natural flow of conversation, and quick responses to let people know “Cool, I’m working on that,” these kinds of natural reactions have a greater impact. There’s also more flexibility; for instance, using lowercase is not inappropriate in a chat.

I’ve often found that using this more human approach keeps the conversation going longer because it takes the people on the other side of the thumbs off their guard. I’ll often use lowercase specifically. The iPhone corrects for this, but if I’m on the desktop and I’m responding to someone, I’ll intentionally go all lowercase because it feels more natural in a messaging context and it helps the other person lower their guard a little bit too. Then you start to see something interesting. They start to decapitalize their words too, which I think is a really interesting phenomenon.

You can try different things, but overall just be there and be empathetic to what they’re trying to do. Get a quick answer over to them and ask them why they need your help. That has been the most effective way to communicate in our experience with clients, and we’ve seen it roll out in very pleasant ways.

I find for myself that I have a lot more flexibility and patience for someone on the other end of a chat—or even on the phone—if I can feel like they’re a human being and they’re not some kind of robot. You immediately gain points with a human face, name, all of that. You can “get away with” a lot more. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

Be Timely

Once I see that there is a face and a name behind the other party, I have a little bit more empathy to wait for a minute, but still not terribly long. You have a very limited time to get back to people. They’re in and they’re out. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and people will just leave the browser tab open for a little while, but you don’t have more than a few hours. You really don’t have more than a couple of minutes.

It’s the employees who respond in under a minute or two who are seeing the best results, because if you think about what a live chat is, it’s somebody who has a question right now and they’re sitting there right now, waiting for an answer right now.

To downplay the importance of that by not getting to it for an hour or requiring that they e-mail is a fallback on our system. Sometimes, if we just can’t get to it, it does fallback and it says, “It looks like we’re not around. Put it in an e-mail, and we’ll get back to you.” But that’s not our first preference.

Our first preference is to go ahead and have the conversation right now, and the customer will do one of two things. They might decide, “I didn’t get the answer I’m looking for, so I can go on and go about my search in a different place.” In this case, you’ve saved yourself time. You don’t have to have the sales meeting where you have to answer that question, you don’t have to have the calendar volleyball that is associated with that, and they’re off and running, so they have nothing but good things to say about their experience.

The other thing that could happen is that maybe you do have what the customer needs, and maybe you could learn a little bit more about what they need before you have a sales appointment. Let’s say they asked, “Do you have feature X, Y, and Z?” You could answer, “That’s a great question. Actually, we do have feature X and Y, but Z may not be exactly as you describe it. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you’re looking to accomplish?” That type of back and forth can allow for someone to open up and tell you more.

The best way to get people talking is to come in and say, “I’m going to look that up for you. While I’m doing that, can you tell me a little bit more about why you asked?” One of the mistakes I see people make is that they don’t know the answer to a question immediately, and so they go off and try to find the answer before they ever respond in the first place, whereas if you responded in the way I suggested there, you could tell people you’ve got it, “Got it. Working on it. By the way, why did you ask?” So they have confirmation that you’re listening and they could be telling you more about themselves.

While you’re off running around, checking out what’s going on, figuring out how you’re going to answer this question, you can be giving them more information, getting more context, and even, clarifying what they need before having to go, because perhaps your understanding of their question is not what they’re really looking for.

Make sure you fire back quick answers, like, “Okay,” even before you go along with the rest of the answer. Often, these platforms will show when the other person is typing. So you can afford to type a quick “Okay,” and then type the rest of it so people know you have it and that you’re on it. You can have a lot more messages sent that aren’t necessarily complete and have them come through as a series of messages, and it’s more of a back-and-forth conversation.

Be Honest

The other thing is to just be on chat when you say you’re on. We’ve talked about waiting times, but if you say you are on and you have the live chat window available, and then only afterwards does the customer discover that you really don’t respond in real time, this hurts you. There are a lot of companies that have a chat window out there as bait, just so that they can grab e-mail addresses, and they never intended to be on in the first place. That is immediately a bad taste in people’s mouths.

You do get an allowance in a lot of cases, because people are figuring this stuff out on the other side, just like we’re figuring it out on the company side. Everyone is figuring out how to navigate this stuff. They get that sometimes you’re not there right then. But it should not be happening every time.

Pay attention to these things: being human, having a face and a name, not making people wait too long, and then most importantly, not lying about whether or not you’re doing live chat. If you’re doing live chat, do live chat. Don’t make it just another contact form on your website.

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