Best practices for getting started with live chat

Congrats! You’ve signed up for live chat to talk with your customers.

This quick guide assumes you’ve already added Olark or another live chat to your webpage and have set up your IM chat client to connect. We figure you’ve tested on yourself or with your team, have passed the tapping of the mic, “HALLO, Is this thing on?” phase, and are all the way to the “Hey, it’s live and ready for customers and site visitors to start talking to me and what do I do next?” phase.

How to use live chat to talk with your customers.

(If you’re not set up yet, go to (any page) and chat with one of the Olark team members, or send us an email at and we’ll get you going con pronto).

So there you are with a freshly scrubbed chat box on your site. It’s been 10 minutes and no one has started a chat yet. What gives?

The first thing you want to think about is how to present the chat box so it gets noticed and is extremely inviting to your customers so they want to click and talk without reservation (If you only want some people to see you, check out Targeted Chat).

Part One – Setup and Presentation

Getting Set Up

  1. Make the chat box as seamless a fit into your site as possible, but NOT invisible. E.g. use your site’s color theme but try not to make it hard to find – a little contrast/shading difference can work wonders to draw the eye to the chat box. Also try a slightly different font color for the “click here to chat” messaging on the minimized chat box.
  2. Use an Attention Grabber (a custom image above the chatbox) to draw eyes to the chat box. You can also utilize a Click-to-Chat image from an advantageous location on your site (top bar area or side of the page are the most effective) to open the chat box. This can also give you the advantage of having multiple ways to find/start a chat. Your mantra should always be, “Make It Easy”.

Now, how can you coax the user into making that all-important first click to initiate a chat?

  1. As comfortingly bland as our default chat box messaging is, you can, and you should, do better than this. Personalize the words in your box to reflect you and your site’s unique way of communicating. Let people know there is a real human behind that first click. “Click here to chat” is completely understandable and clear. But you’ll get better results with “Hey, we’re here and ready to talk to you and answer your questions” or “Chat live with El Presidente of Acme Widgets.” Have fun and entice people to chat with you. We had one report that a customer with low chat usage quadrupled the amount of chats they were getting when they switched the “Click here to chat” to “Talk with our CEO, Chris, now.”
  2. The same advice extends to your offline messaging. Take it away from the corporate, “We are offline now, send us an email to and we will answer you as soon as possible” and create something more like my personal favorite (also from real life) “It’s probably 3am and we’re sleeping, but we super double-dog promise to answer you the moment we get up and to our computers.”

Slight changes like these can make a world of difference in how much buy-in to chat and communication you get from your customers.

Part two– Chatting like a pro

Okay, you got your visitor to click on the chat box. This is your big chance! There are a few of basic rules we observe every day to keep customers happy and we think you should too.

  1. Answer the chat quickly. Immediately, like now. Even if you’re in 6 chats already and are super busy, take the 4 nanoseconds to say, “Hi, Bill here, what’s up?” There are few things more annoying and frustrating for your customers than initiating a chat and then waiting… without seeing any sort of reply.
  2. Be personable and personal, right from the start. If you can see the name of the person you’re chatting with, use it. A “Good morning, Rolando, what can I do for ya?” will go a long way towards relaxing the visitor who may be tense about talking to a stranger, especially when they are having trouble with something and are asking for help.
  3. Let ‘em know you’re not a bot. Train yourself to NOT speak corporate. React to the verbal/written style of the chatter and speak their language. If you’re answering chats on a gamer site, use slang and truncated words and call them ‘dude’. If they are new to your product, slow down and simplify your message; if it’s with a developer, ramp it up and speak tech talk straight to the point. If you sense a sales/marketing VP in a suit behind that chat window, adjust accordingly. Become a verbal chameleon.
  4. Keep it light and personal. A little joking and lightness (if you typo, tell them you’ve won the Typo King competition at your company for 3 years running, Boohya!) can go a long way towards making your visitor feel at ease. If they ask where your company is located, tell them how hot or not the weather is and ask them what it’s like in Madagascar (or wherever they are) at the moment. A little offline chatter within reason fully humanizes the interaction.
  5. Add an avatar and be creative with it. I alternate my own avatar between images of The Dude and Fred Rogers– one gets me a million responses quoting The Big Lebowski (which I can recite in its entirety from memory) and the other gets somber respect. Who, I ask you, will raise their voice to Mr. Rogers? BTW, avoid like the plague clip art images of peppy looking people with headsets queuing up to take your call. Robots!
  6. Take it easy with the canned responses. Sure, I use TextExpander every single day – typing shortcut software is an indispensable tool for chat – but I shy away from standard answers to most questions and strive mightily to adhere to list items 2, 3, and 4 from above. Being human is so much more effective and likely to produce loyalty, that I try to edit my canned responses before sending to personalize it per user and their issue. It’s well worth the 8 seconds it takes to do so.
  7. Never give up on a difficult case and never show impatience. Let the visitor give the clues for ending the chat. Always say “Thanks for dropping by, don’t hesitate to come back if you have more questions.” Do it right and I guarantee that they will come back.

Hope this helps, bubba. For a deeper dig features-wise, do some poking around in the Support Center, searching by keyword or browsing by topic. 

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Bill Thompson

Read more posts by Bill Thompson

Bill is the Guru of Customer Happiness for Olark. He's been building and writing about community and online customer service since Internet 1.0.