Control the Conversation

It’s difficult to feel in control of a live chat. It feels like more of a face-to-face conversation than email, with each message exchange feeling instant. This immediacy creates a close connection to a customer that can make it harder to keep a conversation productive. Bow to this immediacy and you lose control and, with it, the ability to create a great customer experience. You’re now just along for the ride and hoping it ends up somewhere positive. What you need is to control the conversation and remain that confident expert guiding things to a resolution.

In my experience, chat goes sideways if the pace hits an extreme. Once things move fast they can end up off track. While it’s vital that support (not the customer) control the pace, that’s hardest when a chat moves fast and in short bursts. There are a few steps that help.

First, remember that you don’t have to engage with everything. In quick exchanges a customer’s raw frustration can come through. This often includes colorful language directed at you, the product, or the company. It’s best to just let this stress pass. You don’t want to admonish the customer for their tone. That only escalates things. Instead, stay in control (of both the conversation and your emotions) and remain focused on the task at hand, which is the only part of a message you need to engage with.

It’s also important to be deliberate in your phrasing. Short, fast messages can be sloppy. Clear, direct writing helps you keep control of the conversation; lose that clarity and all bets are off. A common mistake is to pose a question that’s intended as a statement or direction. As one example:

This is going to take me some time to dig into. Do you mind if I follow up with you later by email?

I asked that once knowing it would take over 30 minutes to sort out and had a customer respond, “No thanks, I’ll wait.” Not great! Instead, be decisive when it’s called for and if there’s a direction for how things need to go, just say so.

One way to do this is to create a shift in context. Once a live chat is off the rails it’s unlikely to go back to a productive conversation. This is when email comes into play. But for a shift to email to work you have to be firm; make it a decision rather than a hopeful question. It can help to be self-deprecating as that gives the customer a sense that they’re being escalated. Next time you’re lost, feeling stressed, and juggling a customer who simply cannot understand why it’s taking you this long, try something like this:

To be honest, I’m not sure what’s wrong here. It’s a bit of an odd case. Let me check with the rest of the team and figure out what I’m missing. I’ll follow up with you by email later today.

That buys you time and gives the customer a sense that they’ve been escalated to the pros. Your pride may take a hit, but try to shrug that off and move on. Plus, it’s easier to learn or figure something out when you don’t have an impatient customer pinging you for an update every 2 minutes. The chat was no longer productive, but at least you controlled what the next step was and are now on a path that lets you best help the customer.

Emotion is often what accelerates chat. Confusion, anger, and uncertainty can all cause messages to fly back and forth. The customer wants an answer now. You need a few minutes to compose yourself or figure out the root of the problem. The most important thing is to not leave yourself to the whim of a customer’s feelings and emotions. Understand that you can, and should, control the conversation.