Live chat vs. phone support

By Laura Shear, Writer

Published June 9, 2017
Last updated June 9, 2017

It goes without saying that today’s customer service tools are not one-size-fits-all. Different communication channels—social, phone, email, chat–offer different benefits to the company and to the customer. When it comes to offering highly personalized, on-demand customer service, live chat and the phone are the most obvious options. Both allow for a close agent-customer connection and both let customers explain a problem or ask a question and receive an immediate response. There are a few key differences between these channels, however, that can impact when and how you use each channel.

Proactive support

One notable difference between live chat vs. phone support is timing. Whereas phone support is typically reactive (a customer initiates the conversation), online chat can be deployed as a proactive support channel. As such it may be the difference between a customer browsing your site and then leaving without buying anything or finalizing a decision and checking out with a purchase. With live chat, agents can gently nudge customers toward a purchase, and/or answer a question that’s keeping them from clicking “Buy”—something agents simply can’t do over the phone.

Real person in real-time

Both channels allow for real-time interaction, many customer might prefer the phone over chat because being able to speak directly with a person can make for a more personal connection. This is particularly true for complex problems. Literally hearing a human being on the other end can be reassuring to some people, and prevent confusion around ambiguity: live chat support doesn’t always convey tone, so a statement might come off as sarcastic, rushed, or irritated when the sender meant nothing of the sort. That's often not an issue in call centers.

Keeping records

Another key difference between live chat and phone support? Recording and reviewing customer conversations. Both chat and phone support allow for this, but with chat you have the added ability to search text. This can clearly expose critical information about when customers need help and why. Live chat analytics provide insight regarding referral links (what brought them to your site) operating system and device (how customers want to reach you), active or idle status, time spent on your site, number of visits, number of chats, and location.

However, as stated above, recording phone support captures an agent’s tone, making it possible to QA how your customer support front-line is making your customers feel, and the tone of their reactions. That’s invaluable information.

High-volume, low tolerance for waiting

Live chat allows agents to simultaneously provide support to multiple customers, which is great for service departments dealing with a high-volume of easy and moderate support requests. Customers hate waiting, and live chat can vastly decrease wait times while easing pressure on agents.

But what about the difficult problems? Or VIP/long-standing customers? Chat isn’t always the best option for them. Very often, they require the attention and human connection afforded by phone support. That’s one of the many reasons providing support via both chat and phone is great, because it allows companies, and by extension their customers, to use the best channel for the specific requirements of the customer and the issue.

Customer expectations

The landscape of customer expectations is rapidly changing. No single channel will ever be able to meet all the needs of every customer. Your customers, just like you and your team, use a variety of channels in their everyday lives. Social media to share experiences, instant messaging for quick updates, phone calls for in-depth conversations. And they're taking those expectations with them into their customer service interactions. Three years ago, 62% of customers expected companies to respond to emails in half a day. That number is now 79%. Likewise, 3 years ago, 59% of customers assumed their issues would immediately be resolved if they called a company. Now that 66% have that expectation.

An omnichannel solution

In keeping up with the changing habits and expectations of customers, there's still a need for both live chat support and a call center. Customer support that's designed for omnichannel gives customers extra convenience: live chat when they're on the computer and phone support when they're mobile. Only picking one may be the right solution for some, but offering both is the best option for many.

How Live Chat Helps Businesses and Consumers

The Zendesk family of products are designed to work together to help you provide seamless multi-channel support, no matter which configuration of channels you choose.