How to Hire Live Chat Agents Who Will Give Your Business an Edge

How to Hire Live Chat Agents Who Will Give Your Business an Edge

It’s impossible to shop online today without seeing that little “Chat With Us!” bubble in the bottom right. If you can hire live chat agents who give your customers an incredible experience, you can grow both your customer base and your brand reputation.

Take this exchange I had with a Shopify live chat agent:

I’m not sure if Jackson is still out there, but if he is, he needs a promotion stat.

While the best chat agents creatively solve problems and leave customers smiling, there’s more to it than that. Seven out of 10 Americans are willing to spend an average of 13% more with companies they believe provide superb customer service, an American Express study revealed. It’s yet another great reason to hire stellar live chat support.

We’re here to teach you how.

Determining the Support You Need

Maybe you’re on the brink of being swamped with live chat needs. Or perhaps you recently installed live chat software like Olark and aren’t sure how frequently customers will be hitting you up to chat. Before you start scouting for chat champs, you’ll want to gauge the level of support your company needs.

Support Hours
If you need live chat operators who can answer questions during a typical work day — 8 am to 5 pm — you could try to find a full-time employee or two part-time workers. If you offer 24/7 support, you’ll need to have chat agents on rotation to fill your customers’ needs. Also consider your peak times when it’s most important for an agent to be standing by.

Frequency of Tickets
A constant queue of chat tickets and issues that need to be escalated will require more help. Take into account how many hours you or your employees spend responding to chat requests and use that as a proxy for the hours you need for an agent.

Social Media Accounts
Do your live chat needs extend beyond your store to include Twitter and Facebook Messenger? If so, you’ll want to make sure you hire someone who is well-versed in social media or can be trained easily on those platforms.

Domestic vs. Overseas Help

With chat operators, the talent pool can be sourced from all over the world. Should you hire stateside or overseas? It depends on some key considerations, including:

For U.S.-based companies, hiring a domestic chat agent will be more expensive than hiring live chat operators overseas. Domestic agents typically require less cultural training, are better suited to work local hours and will come across more naturally to your local customers.

You need to determine how much time you’re willing to spend training overseas agents to provide top-notch local support. If you don’t have the time and/or patience to work with overseas chat agents, you likely won’t get the end results you hope for and should consider hiring domestically.

Time Zones
If you need an agent to work during U.S. hours, be aware what time that would be for an agent on the other side of the world. It’s important an agent has had experience — and won’t mind — working odd hours if those are required.

Cultural Differences
Part of your brand might be that you’re located in the south, in which case you might like your chat agent to have a certain southern charm to their writing style. Live chat operators in India will not have the same inherent ability to chat with a customer as an agent from Alabama would. You’ll want to test dialect and writing differences in the application process.

Phone Skills
A domestic chat agent might be a better fit should you need occasional phone support as well.  It’s something to keep in mind as your customer support team grows.

Four Key Skills Every Live Chat Agent Needs to Have

In a study from Oracle, 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience. Don’t let bad chat agents happen to you.

As you enter the vetting process, keep an eye out for these four key skills that set the superstars apart. It’s how you end up with an agent who’s more like a savvy friend than a cranky (or incompetent!) waiter:

1. Tone & Personality
It’s important that your customer experience at the chat level is just as friendly and informed as it is on the phones. You want every interaction to be quick and thoughtful, and to ultimately guide the customer toward a sale. A friendly, light-hearted tone can pacify the most irate customers and, as a bonus, swat down live chat trolls while maintaining your brand integrity.

2. Writing Prowess
Grammar, spelling and punctuation all matter when you’re a live chat agent. Your agent is representing your brand, so any glaringly obvious typos will be conspicuous to the customer as well.

In a study from Oracle, 89% of consumers began doing business with a competitor following a poor customer experience.

3. Good at Multitasking
Fielding customer inquiries can be quite the juggling act. Looking up a protocol, waiting to track a shipment, receiving a question that’s never been asked before — a lot can happen in that tiny chat window. You want an agent who will over-communicate to the customer (“I’m looking this up right now and might be two minutes”) and can stay cool under pressure.

4. Fast Hands
You don’t want a chat agent who pecks at their keyboard in slow motion. That’s an easy way to annoy the person on the other side of the chat window.

Do They Need to Know Your Industry?

Not necessarily. While it’d be great if you could hire a chat agent who knew your industry and product line inside and out, that’s … probably not going to happen. So don’t let someone’s lack of niche expertise stop you from hiring them. It’s much easier to teach a savvy support agent about your industry than it is to boost their personality, grammar or typing speed.

How to Find Help

Now that you know how to spot a five-star live chat agent, where do you find these unicorns? We’re glad you asked!

Here are some of their top hangouts:

eCommerceFuel Jobs – The best eCommerce-specific job board out there, ECF Jobs is a one-stop-shop for all your live chat support operators. Your job posting will be sent to our entire email list, specifically to applicants looking for a customer service gig.

Hire My Mom – If your dream candidate is a part-time female professional with experience wrangling both customers and small children, look no further. It’s a great resource for live chat agent jobs from home.

We Work Remotely – Post a job for just $299 per month and your listing will go to the inboxes of applicants specifically seeking a customer support role.

Upwork – You can choose the level of expertise, price range and time per week desired in order to better vet candidates suited for what you need.

Post a Job That Attracts Top Customer Support Talent

If you want to find a top-notch rep for your company, you need to put some solid thought into how you convey that in your job listing. You might be tempted to make your listing as general as possible so as not to limit your candidate pool, but we don’t recommend that. The more specific your listing, the better suited your applicants will be.

Here’s how to make that happen.

Don’t Hide the Nitty Gritty
Employers sometimes avoid posting things like salary and hours required. But why hide that information only to find out your first option is someone you can’t afford? Instead, post all the important details up front. Give a salary range, mention the time commitment and even throw in some bonus preferences, such as if someone is bilingual or has worked in your niche before.

Include Some Subtle Directions to Weed People Out
Following directions is crucial for a live chat agent. Make sure to sneak in a minor test within the job posting, whether it’s what the subject line should say or a knock knock joke they need to answer. If any of your applicants miss this step, you can easily toss them from the pile.

Ask for a Brief Description of Their Work
Writing skills are important, so you’ll need to get a sense of how well they can write from the get-go. Ask for a mini bio or a short paragraph about the best meal they’ve ever had. It doesn’t matter what you ask, but how they answer it should tell you a lot about their writing ability.

Perhaps you’ve read through this list and are thinking, But what if I only get 10 applicants for the role? If you can set clear qualifications in your job description, those 10 applicants should be narrowly tailored for the task. Quality over quantity for the win! Now all you need to do is interview your favorites.

Two Key Tests to Conduct

You’ll want to use the interview as a way to see if a candidate’s written skills and personality are well-suited for the position. Two tests we recommend during the interview process are:

The Typing Test
Ask all applicants to take this speed test and submit a screenshot of their results with their application. An average professional typist typically hammers out 65 to 75 words per minute. So anything under 50 WPM is not ideal. It’s another way you can weed out the obvious typing turtles.

The Real-Life Scenario Test

The best way to test a live chat agent is to watch them in action! You’ll quickly be able to tell if they’re a great fit or not by how they handle in-depth chat sessions.

Some sample scenarios:

Give them 15 minutes to study 2-3 products. Then do a real chat with them and ask questions about those products to see how fast they can learn and synthesize information about your products.

Give them 15 minutes to review your company’s return, shipping and shopping policies. Then pose as a customer asking to return/replace a product and see how they respond.

Toss in a few ambiguous, off-policy questions to test how quick-thinking and resourceful they are.

Give them 15 minutes to study 2-3 products. Then do a real chat to see how fast they can learn and synthesize information about your products.

A Few More Questions to Ask

Tests are great, but getting to know your future live chat agent is important too. You’ll also want to ask questions that give you insight into their work experience and personality.

What CS tools are you experienced with?
Name a time you had a difficult customer and how you made him/her a happy customer.
How do you feel about repetitive work?
What writing projects have you done in the past?
What would you do if you don’t know the answer to a question?

Found Your Dream Candidate? Consider a Trial Period.

You might consider a trial period for a few reasons. If this is your first hire for a future customer support team or the first hire to handle live chat, for example, you might want to proceed more cautiously than if this is your sixth time hiring someone for this type of role.

Remember to be clear to all candidates, as well as in the job listing, if a trial period is part of the hiring process. You don’t want someone to think the call for a job offer is actually a call for a trial period.

One option is to run a probationary period in which you set a time, say two weeks to one month or whatever amount of time you deem long enough for a new hire to be trained. If they work well with the team and at their job, they are immediately promoted to their permanent position. Here’s a sample template you can use from Workable.

You could also opt to hire someone as a contractor for a set period of time, say three months, to make sure you are both happy. Replacing a new hire is costly to all involved, so this can be a good opportunity for both sides to test workplace fit. Once the contract time runs out, you can extend it with a full-time offer that was discussed during the interview process. And if someone on either side is unhappy, they can choose this time to end the working arrangement.

The verdict on trial periods is mixed. Make sure that you set up a trial candidate for success by staying in contact with them, being a good manager, giving them written processes to follow and offering lots of mentorship and guidance. You should never use it as a way to take advantage of potential hires. But it can be a great way to make sure it’s a good fit before committing for the long haul.

Training Your New Live Chat Employee

Now that you have a superstar customer support agent-in-the-making, arm them with everything they need to do their job well. Not even the fastest typist or spelling bee champ can help every customer without some of these tools in their belt, provided by you.

Create a Master Product Guide
Consider this guide the bible of your brand. It should contain everything about your products — from specs to dimensions to how it ships to the ingredient list. As the owner, you know which questions get asked most, so get that information in there!

Don’t leave anything out and plan to use — and update — the guide frequently as your team grows. Let your new chat agent know there will be a test on the guide in the coming weeks so they’re motivated to study it inside and out.

Maintain Clear Policies
Don’t leave any question to chance when it comes to things like shipping, returns, exchanges or common complaints. You should have these policies already in place so that your chat agent knows exactly how to respond.

For ambiguous situations that fall outside your guidelines, make sure you provide higher level guidance on how your agents should respond. Let them know if you’d prefer they make decisions on their own, or if they should come to you or management with questions outside of policies. And if you ask them to make judgment calls, give them cultural principles to follow as well as maximum dollar amounts they can spend without pre-authorization. Then don’t get mad at them when they make slightly different decisions than you might have. 🙂

Oversee Initial Live Chat Sessions
If you can manage some simulations before your new agent goes live on the first day, great. If not, sit at a desk or on a video call with them so you can help them feel more at ease. This will take time, particularly if they’re using new technology. The more chats they can do, the better they’ll become.

Schedule a Training Week
Make sure the first week on the job is a training week. Be readily available to answer any and all questions. Watch interactions with customers and offer feedback, both good and bad. But don’t expect things to go smoothly without you after week one, so make sure you continue to check in with feedback and suggestions throughout the first few weeks.

Take Time to Review the Work
Depending on the help software you use, you should be able to read transcripts between your chat agent and customers. Do this at the end of every week until you feel confident with how they handle things. Offer regular feedback on how you would have handled situations differently in real time rather than during a quarterly review.

Watch How They Follow Protocol
Be mindful of how well your new hire follows current SOPs. These processes are crucial to keeping customers aware of current policies, so it’s something you want to keep a watchful eye on.

Have an FAQ List
Let your live chat agents know what type of questions come up consistently and have saved replies for them to use. This will help them do their job more efficiently. Even better, build a process where agents can add their own saved replies so the rest of the team can benefit from them, too. Then add these to your master product guide.

Remember the Grace Period!
No one knows their customers and product line better than you. Keep that in mind as your new chat agent learns the ropes. It will take a few weeks to be as knowledgeable as you are.

Managing a Stellar Support Team

Baseball great Ted Williams once said, “Managers get paid for home runs that someone else hit.” It’s the simple concept that a great leader will create a great team.

If you want a live chat agent to hit it out of the park and make it into the Customer Service Hall of Fame, follow these simple steps (and we’ll ease up on the baseball puns).

Measure Their Performance
Use your chat software to monitor the stuff you can measure, like how quickly your agent responds to customers and how well they answer the questions. But there are things you can’t calculate with software. Pay attention to the tone they use and how well written each conversation is. Continue to offer feedback and praise regularly.

Let Them Flaunt Their Personality
If you allow your agents to inject some humor or personality into a chat conversation, not only will the customer get the help they need, but they might even have a pleasant customer service experience. Imagine that! The best chat agents make you smile or even laugh out loud as they deliver solutions. Remember Jackson from Shopify? Or how about this Amazon chat agent, whose role-playing was uploaded to Imgur?


Use Top Performers to Train Others
You can take a back seat to training an all-star support team once you have a chat agent that rises to the occasion. Use your best live chat agent to implement change and to train new support staff as they join the team. Not only will this instill pride in your employee’s work, but it’ll take something off your plate too.

Give Rewards
If you find yourself reading a conversation like the one Jackson and I had, offer praise but also incentives. Whether it’s in the form of a bonus for outstanding support, some paid time off or a gift card, make sure you offer benefits for those who go above and beyond for customers.

Ask for Feedback
Create an environment that allows your live chat agents to come to you if things aren’t going right or if they see room for improvement. You want to be open for feedback and create weekly check-in’s so that any issues can be escalated quickly.

Our Top 5 Favorite Live Chat Software

We scoped out the software reviews in our private community to glean the top software that store owners are using (and loving). Here they are, in no particular order:

Members love Olark’s weekly analytic reports for a holistic view of how things are running. It also gets high scores for being reasonably priced and reliable.

One store owner notes that LiveChat’s best feature is the ability for chat agents to see what the customer on the other side is typing in order to respond more efficiently to customer inquiries. It’s one of the more expensive options for chat software, but also one of the most feature-packed.

Tawk is completely free software with an open API so you can add data into the system as well as extract data like customer emails. One store owners says it “started bringing in value the day it was installed.”

Zopim ties into Zendesk as a full native integration. One store owner also praises the mobile app for staying in touch with customers while on the go.

This software offers the ability to customize a chat button with an agent’s face and will fully integrate with HelpScout. Also lets you view what a customer is typing in real time.

Ready to find your own amazing chat agent?  Post your chat job listing right here.

The Checklist

Ready, set, chat? Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to do to hire live chat agents who will solve your customer dilemmas and make outstanding customer support the new norm.

Determining the Support You Need
Number of hours needed
Frequency of tickets
Additional support on Facebook Chat

Domestic vs. Overseas
Cost per agent will be less overseas
Determining time zone coverage needed
Cultural differences in tone and manner
Phone skills needed eventually? Consider domestic

5 Key Skills for Live Chat Agents
Knowledge of the industry
Tone and personality
Writing prowess
Fast typist

4 Favorite Job Boards
eCommerceFuel Jobs
Hire My Mom
We Work Remotely

Tips For Posting a Great Job Listing
Include all the details like salary and required skills
Hide directions to see if they follow them in the application
Ask for a brief description to test written skills
Ask important questions upfront

What to Test For
Writing skills
Typing skills
Real-time scenarios
Ask questions to get insight into their personality

Trial Period
Put the trial in writing
Limit it to a set period of time
Set them up to succeed during the trial

Training Your Employee
Create a master guide to your products
Have clear customer policies in place
Do live chat conversations with them
Schedule a training week
Regularly review their work
Watch how they follow SOPs
Have an FAQ List ready
Remember the grace period

Managing a Stellar Support Team
Measure their performance
Let them inject personality
Use top performers to train others
Offer rewards based on performance
Ask for feedback

5 Favorite Chat Software

Andrew Youderian
Post by Andrew Youderian
Andrew is the founder of eCommerceFuel and has been building eCommerce businesses ever since gleefully leaving the corporate world in 2008.  Join him and 1,000+ vetted 7- and 8-figure store owners inside the eCommerceFuel Community.

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