Friday face-off: phone support vs live chat

Phil Kendall

Jul 2017 ⋅ 5 min read

Cartoon image of a woman with a headset on the left and a laptop with chat window on the right

Businesses are made and broken by the quality of the customer support they offer.

Whatever industry you're in, it's essential that you provide your customers with a quick and easy way to get in touch with you when they have questions, problems or complaints to make.

For decades, phone support was the easiest way for people to do this. Even after the advent of email, many customers still preferred to pick up the phone and speak to someone rather than having to wait for a written response.

More recently, however, live chat has become increasingly common, with pop-up windows allowing anyone browsing a company's website to get the answers they need in seconds.

But which is the better option?

As part of our ongoing Friday Face-Off series, we're taking a look at these highly popular types of customer support and finding out which of them is king. Join us as we discuss the merits — and demerits — of online chat and phone support.

Pros of Phone Support

Photo of a man sitting at a computer screen wearing a headset

Let's start by looking at the benefits of phone support as opposed to digital methods of communication.

More personal. Sometimes, customers just want to hear a human voice. Whether that's because they're upset and want to feel that their concerns are being heard, or simply feel that talking to someone directly is the fastest way to resolve their problem, there's no denying that phone support provides a personal touch that online chat and chatbots cannot.

Expert advice. Touch-pad telephone options can be annoying, but they provide a no-nonsense way of routing calls to the person best positioned to address them. Online chat support staff may be able to pass your query over to someone better able to answer it, but often they are required to be jacks of all trades, referring to a database of knowledge to answer all manner of queries by themselves.

Emotional subtext. Some problems require more care and attention than others. If a customer is so angry that they're on the verge of unsubscribing from your service, for example, then you know that you'll need to give them your full attention. But what if, when using online chat, you misjudge the severity of the situation and give the customer a response that they feel is lacking? Sometimes, just being able to hear someone's voice makes all the difference.

Inclusive and familiar. The majority of customers will be completely at home with the idea of picking up the phone to talk to a business when they're stuck. The same isn't necessarily true for online chat. For those who are not comfortable with technology — or who are simply not physically able to use a computer keyboard — then web-based live chat can be a daunting prospect.

Solve complicated problems quickly. It's not easy to explain complex problems via text chat - sure, you can ask the user to share a screenshot or a gif, but it's far quicker to just talk through the issue over the phone.

Pros of Live Chat

Screenshot of a past RotaCloud homepage showing live chat window in corner

Faster and easier to manage multiple queries. Unlike when taking phone calls, live chat allows support staff to respond to multiple queries at once. Staff can easily switch between conversations and help different people, cutting, pasting and using canned responses for common queries. As a result, customers get answers to their questions far quicker than when calling a busy helpline.

Opportunities for conversions. When one of your customers uses online chat via your website to ask for help, they're effectively talking to you from within your shop or office. Once the conversation is over — or even while it's still ongoing — they can make purchases, place orders, or view products with minimal effort. And with your guidance, they might even make purchases that they wouldn't have when browsing alone. Used intelligently, online chat can be an effective conversion tool.

Easy handover between staff. If you’re talking to someone over the phone, you’ll know when you’re being passed from person to person. In online chat, however, it’s quite possible for customer service reps to change over without interruption, with the entire conversation laid out in front of the new operator’s eyes.

Convenient for the customer. As well as being handy for those little questions that might not warrant a phone call, online chat does not require 100% of the customer’s attention and is easy to initiate. Customers are free to continue browsing your website, watching TV, or even talking to customers of their own while getting help.

Saves money. Because live chat operators can respond to multiple queries at once, it generally costs much less to offer round-the-clock support than if you were running a helpline. Providing that they have a firm grasp of the English language, your customer service team could, feasibly, be located anywhere in the world. This also makes it easier for you to offer 24/7 support without asking employees to work unsociable hours.

Answers don’t disappear. One of the great things about online chat is that, even when the conversation is over, both the customer and the company have a record of it. That means that, in the event that the customer forgets one of the steps or details they were given, all they have to do it read through the transcript. The business, too, can benefit from this, with keywords and particular utterances easily searched for afterwards.

Improved visibility in search engine rankings. Let's be clear: having online chat alone won't help your website rank higher in Google searches. It may however, do two things: first, encourage customers to remain on your website for longer, and second, improve visitors' browsing experience by helping them find what they're looking for. Both of these factors are taken into consideration by Google when choosing where to rank websites in searches, so your site could feasibly inch past that of your competitor's as a result.

The Verdict

Much of the time when we come to the end of one of our Friday Face-Off posts, we find ourselves occupying the middle ground, advising our readers to strike a balance between the two things under discussion.

This time around, however, there is a clear winner — at least in our minds.

There's no denying that phone support still has a place in business. Here at RotaCloud, for example, we spend a lot of time talking to new clients over the phone, giving them virtual tours of the software and helping them get set up.

For more general queries, however, live chat is the obvious solution for the vast majority of businesses.

Fast, convenient, cheap to run and actually increasing your odds of converting visitors to your site into customers or subscribers, live chat is here to stay.

Don't be afraid to embrace it if you haven't already — your competitors almost certainly will.

Which side are you on?

Do you have live chat on your company website? Do you still provide phone support? Share your experiences with your fellow business owners below!

Looking for more tips on how to grow your business? Head back to the RotaCloud blog homepage now and browse our categories!