How to Inexpensively Outsource Your Live Chat Operator

Published by
Kenny Novak
on January 29, 2015
Posted in How-to

More and more these days, websites are adopting plugins that allow visitors to connect directly to a web-based live chat agent. This agent is there to answer questions, ranging from customer support to sales. A skilled live chat agent can dramatically increase your conversion rates just by being available to answer questions without the delay of email or the hassle of a phone call. On the other hand, a “live” chat agent that’s really a mask for an Indian call center worker or a sophisticated software program can drive people away when they realize they’re being lied to.

The problem with a live chat operator is, well, it needs to be a live chat operator. You need a real person on the other end of the line, available to answer any questions that may come up. If you’re hiring people to do this internally, you’re going to be paying for 24/7 coverage through several people, which can get very expensive. The cheapest options, those Indian agents, typically hurt more than they help despite the savings. So where is the middle ground? How can you manage a live chat that’s both cheap and effective? The solution, as you may have guessed, is careful outsourcing.

Why Outsource?

There are a number of great reasons to outsource your live chat, most of which are great reasons to have live chat in the first place.

  • Consumers often report that having the ability to have their questions answered mid-purchase made them much more confident, and was one of the better features a site could offer in modern e-commerce.
  • Chat is faster and more responsive than email, call centers or other forms of communication.
  • Live chat is also cheaper than a dedicated business line.
  • One chat agent can manage multiple conversations at once, which isn’t possible with phone lines, though if multiple complex conversations are active, it can be trying.
  • Live chat helps people get immediate support if they encounter an error in the purchase process, where they would otherwise abandon their attempt and shop elsewhere.
  • Live chat is surprisingly low adoption even today, so implementing it is very likely going to give you an edge over your competition.
  • At targeted places in the conversion process, with known pain points, live chat can offer customized introductions in order to ease those pain points.
  • Outsourcing gets you all of this cheaper than hiring in-house agents to work around the clock.

The Keys to Successful Live Chat

So what makes a live chat agent successful?

  • Training. Even if you’re outsourcing, the agent on the line needs to be extremely well informed about your brand, your products and your process. Deep documentation is helpful, but you also need to empower them with at least some minor decision-making powers to help close sales or work with support.
  • Hours. Unless you’re limiting your live chat operation to business hours, you’re going to need coverage for when users are buying. For many online businesses, this can be weird times outside of typical business hours. International customers buy at hours normal to them, but deep in the night or early morning for you. Outsourcing to countries outside of America, like the Philippines, allows you to get that coverage.
  • Humanity. If your agents are typing or pasting from a script, they’re going to come off as robotic. The power of live chat is the connection with a real human, with real conversation skills. Allow them to flex those skills rather than forcing them to stick to a rigid script.
  • Sales. It’s entirely possible to hire live chat agents who are experienced in sales and are capable of closing deals when other agents may not.
  • Transcripts. A good chat plugin will allow the user to save a transcript, if they want to reference information in the future.

Tips for Cheap, Good Chat Operators

Hiring Live Chat

You have three options when it comes to hiring a chat operator. The first is to hire staff for your existing customer service team. Do not make the mistake of implementing live chat with your current team, unless your current team is incredibly under-worked. One skilled chat operator working full time will be able to handle approximately 800 support chats in a month. Whether or not your service volume will be that high or much higher depends on your customer volume. You don’t want to stick an over-worked customer service team on the task of trying to handle that kind of volume with their other duties. It will be neglected, 100%.

The second option is to hire American freelancers. You can use sites like Freelancer, Elance or ODesk to find freelancers who are willing to do customer support. Live chat is easier to set up than phone support on a remote basis, so you have that advantage in cost savings. Freelancers will run a wide range of prices, however, from cheap to highly expensive. The difference in price will, to some extent, indicate the level of skill and experience the freelancer has.

The best, and consequently highest paid, freelance chat support agents will be those with years of experience as well as the sales experience necessary to really make your chat shine. These agents are worth the money, if you can afford them, but they somewhat defeat the purpose of a cheap outsourcing.

Avoid the cheapest freelancers; while some may be excellent but simply don’t know their value, most will be low effort and low quality.

The third option is to hire in a country that has a low cost of living, but high standards for outsourced business. I mentioned this before, but right now, one of the best options is the Philippines. The people there speak and type fluent English, they are well versed in American outsourcing and they accept low paychecks due to the extremely cheap nature of living in the country.

Always give your potential freelancer a test or two. Give them documentation and access to a source of better information, and then have a co-worker pose as a customer to give them a few sample questions. Decide if their responses are good enough, and make sure to give them a question that would require coming to you for more information. Make sure they do so, rather than making up an answer or pleading ignorance. If they pass the test, you may have a good hire on your hands.

Written by Kenny Novak

Kenny Novak

Kenny is an SEM and SEO professional. He uses blogging and content marketing as a launchpad for small businesses looking to grow their online presence.

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