Canned responses for live chat: An overview of Olark Shortcuts

When you’re talking to a customer on live chat, quick responses are critical—a few seconds' delay might be all it takes for someone to go from feeling personally cared for, to wondering if you’re there at all.

Having canned responses for chat - like frequently-used greetings, questions, and explanations - can shorten response time keep responses snappy. That’s why, back in July 2015, we introduced canned responses—or, as we like to call them, Shortcuts.

As one of our most beloved and powerful features heads into its third year, we wanted to take a few minutes to revisit Shortcuts basics and best practices, and to share some creative examples of Shortcut use from our customers.

How do live chat canned responses and Shortcuts work?

Shortcuts allow you to save frequently-used answers, phrases, greetings, etc., link them to simple shorthand commands, and recall them in just a few keystrokes during a chat. The extended answer or phrase is the canned response, and the shorthand command is the Shortcut.

For example, if you wanted to add a Shortcut for the canned response “Hey! How can I help you?”, you’d open up your Shortcuts Preferences page, add that message, and assign a shorthand version like “hi”, to bring it up in chat.The Shortcut ";hi" is used to access the canned response "Hey! How can I help you?"You can add both team and personal Shortcuts. Team Shortcuts are accessible to all agents on your team; personal Shortcuts are just for you, and are a great way to put your own human touch on greetings, signoffs, promotions, and other common messages.Personal Shortcuts are unique to each agent, and override team Shortcuts.To use a Shortcut in a chat, just type a semicolon followed by the Shortcut, and then choose the correct canned response from the menu:Canned responses appear in a menu above the chat textbox when an agent begins typing a Shortcut. And that’s it! Using a Shortcut reduced twenty-four typed characters to just three. Try doing the math on how much time and energy that’ll save you in a long workday (hint: oodles).

Shortcuts are only available with a paid Olark plan. 
Upgrade your free plan or start a paid plan trial to create your own Shortcuts.
Get Shortcuts for Your Team Already have an Olark account? Add Shortcuts now.
Need more help with Shortcuts? Try this handy guide.

What makes Olark’s canned responses and Shortcuts special?

Great question. There are a few subtle features that make Shortcuts unique:

  • Visual menu vs. autocomplete: While we wanted to make chats more efficient, we also wanted to preserve chat agents’, well, agency. That’s a big part of the reason we don’t auto-complete a canned response as soon as the agent starts typing a Shortcut. Instead, we pop up a visual menu so the agent can choose the correct response from a list that updates dynamically based on what they’ve already typed:Instead of autocompleting canned responses, Olark uses a dynamic visual menu that lists possible responses as the agent types out a Shortcut.If we had gone the auto complete route, naming Shortcuts would get complicated. For example, you couldn't have “;hi” and “;highlight” because if you tried typing “;highlight” the “;hi” would always expand before you could get it spelled.

    Showing the agent their options keeps the system flexible. It’s also a good way to protect against the embarrassing scenario in which an agent accidentally sends the wrong auto-completed canned response:Autocomplete might lead you to order someone a burger when they wanted a beet salad.

  • The humble semicolon: We wanted agents to be able to choose from a menu, but we didn’t want them to have to start by opening a menu, as that adds a lot of extra mouse action. So we looked for a super-simple keystroke trigger to open the Shortcuts menu, and landed on the semicolon.

    The semicolon key is accessible but not overly used in chat. Rarely do characters come right after a semicolon without a space. It's also in the home row of an English keyboard.

    Since semicolons are usually typed after a word, we could program Shortcuts in such a way the phrase "here is a semicolon;" wouldn't trigger the menu.

  • Real-time Shortcut creation: We’ve all had those moments when we realize we’re typing the same thing for the umpteenth time today. We wanted to make that scenario productive rather than infuriating, so we made it super easy to create Shortcuts and canned responses in real time during a chat.

    To create a Shortcut from the chat console, just mouse over the message you want to save, and click the arrow icon to turn it into a canned response and assign a Shortcut.To create a canned response and Shortcut in real time from the chat console, mouse over a message you want to save, and click the arrow icon.

Do you have any good examples of canned messages for live chat?

We do! Here at Olark, we use Shortcuts for all kinds of things, including greetings, answers to frequently asked questions, and troubleshooting instructions.

Most of our team uses canned responses for customer service. As a result, we have a number of Shortcuts already loaded that add a friendly, human touch to chat sign-offs. Some of our agents even include their shift schedule in their sign-off Shortcut, so the customer knows when to follow up if they’d like to talk to the same agent again.

Other live chat canned responses examples include:

  • Frequently requested URLs - think /pricing, /features, /mobile, or a /holiday-landing-page
  • Instructions - steps for product assembly, installation, uninstallation or usage
  • Misdirects - like it or not, people might reach you accidentally. Pre-program a nice way to tell them they may have reached you by mistake :)
  • Email capture - make it easier for your agents to collect an email and initiate a follow-up with, "Can I send you a transcript of this chat so you have the links and info? If so, what's the best email address to send it to?"

And we have a special team Shortcut to direct customers to little easter eggs on our site. Come say hi sometime, and we might make your day with a bad pun:Photo of a bear...we use shortcuts to let customers know we can't "bear" to say goodbye. One of our favorite tricks is using Shortcuts to store help center links that we frequently share with customers. Having those links handy means we never have to keep a customer waiting while we dig through our documentation for the correct page.

We also asked a few customers to share their Shortcuts and canned responses for inspiration. Here are some of our favorite examples!

Answers to common questions: Ariela Fajardo runs a gourmet cupcake shop, Create Your Cupcake, in Atlanta, Georgia. Create Your Cupcake uses Olark to help customers who visit their online storefront; to boost efficiency, they’ve honed in on a handful of common customer questions and created quick, friendly canned responses so they can use Shortcuts to respond. Ariela’s list includes answers to questions about the store’s flavors, locations, and shipping options:

Live chat canned response examples from Create Your Cupcake, answering questions like "Where is your store located" and "Do you offer gluten-free cupcakes?"Personalized greetings: Lori Stevenson, of Maggie Louise Confections in Austin, TX, uses personal Shortcuts to add her name to greetings. She’s also created a Shortcut to use when she’s not able to give a customer her full attention right away. "When I’m on a call, I can just hit that Shortcut to acknowledge that I am here and will help them soon," she explains.

Live chat canned response examples from Maggie Louise Confections.Resource links and invitations to engage: Gregg Sourbeck of uses Shortcuts to direct customers to the webinars on the company’s YouTube channel, and to extend invitations to workshops and conferences. "Once they get [to YouTube]," he says, "we have opt-ins for free reports so we can get their name and email address into our email marketing system."

Live chat canned response examples from The Restaurant Expert.Mobile-friendly Shortcuts: It’s the little things that count. Leon Espenshade, of Systems 4PT, has different "greeting" Shortcuts that allow him to customize his introduction to fit a customer’s device. "I use the shorter 'Can I help you?' for mobile users, to try and take up less of their screen," he explains.

Live chat canned response examples from Systems4PT.One Shortcut to rule them all: Sometimes a single Shortcut can provide a huge efficiency boost. Michael Williams, of Elevation Sports, created a "Quote" Shortcut to help his team easily refer customers to the website’s price quote form. "We've found that a high percentage of people who engage us in chat are doing so to get a quote," he says. "By adding our quote form to a Shortcut, we can expedite the time it takes to get them pricing."

A powerful live chat canned response from Elevation Sports.The Shortcut gives the customer two options—either head straight to the quote form, or provide the chat agent with the information needed to generate a quote. Either way, everyone saves time.

How much time can I save with Shortcuts?

Here's a back-of-the-envelope estimate: Let's say you send a lot of URLs, say, to those webinars mentioned earlier. Each of those is preceded by a greeting. And you throw in a few Shortcuts to other responses.

Looking at the average Shortcut listed above, they save you about 50 keystrokes each, and much more for longer paragraphs.

Let's say conservatively that you use 1-2 average-length Shortcuts per chat and you have 3 chats in a day. That's 150-300 keystrokes saved per day, plus any time it would have taken you to hunt for an answer. This starts to really add up!

Okay, I’m intrigued. How do I make my own Shortcuts?

If you want to start testing out some Shortcuts of your own, you’re in luck—you can create as many as you like with Olark premium. Sign up for a 14-day free trial to get started.

Get Shortcuts for Your Team

Already have an Olark premium account? Get the full rundown on Shortcuts in our help center, or add your own Shortcuts now.

And finally...if you’re already using Shortcuts to do something awesome, leave a comment below to tell us about it!

Check out relevant topics on: Olark Essentials

Kate Urban

Read more posts by Kate Urban

As Olark's Story Sherpa, Kate is responsible for shaping and shepherding human-centric stories of sales and support (say that ten times fast). In her free time, she enjoys mountain trails, bear hugs, and chocolate everything.