Greg DeVore

By: Greg DeVore on March 16th, 2011

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5 tips for offering online chat support without going crazy

Customer Support

In our previous article we talked about how we and some of customers use ScreenSteps Live to scale our support services through online chat. In this post I wanted to give you a few tips on getting started with online support chat. Following these tips have made offering chat support to a customers a benefit instead of a burden to our business.

Getting Started

1. Prepare your documentation

If you have your help resources set up correctly then you don't need to be intimidated about getting started with online chat. Just make sure you have a list of urls that point to common questions your customers have. Have this list handy so that you can easily paste the urls into your support chats. If you are using ScreenSteps Live for your documentation then be sure to set up all of your support agents with the ScreenSteps Live Support Client. The Support Client will save your agents hours of time when responding to support chats.

2. Don't worry about always having it on

You don't need to feel like you always need to have the chat service on. If things get too busy or you need to step out it's not a big deal. All the chat services we have seen will let the user leave a message that will get emailed to you. Chat is a tool to help your customers and help your business. Don't become a slave to it. Also, be aware that many chat services will let you limit the maximum number of simultaneous chats an agent can run. If all agents are busy then new chat requests will just go to your dropbox where they can leave a message.

3. Remember to say goodbye

When you step away be sure to switch your status to offline. That is the only way your chat service will know that you aren't available. If you leave the chat on but aren't at your computer you are going to get a lot of customers typing, "Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?" I say this because I have done this many times.

4. Use some sort of text macro program

Most of the chat services I have seen allow you to set up macros. I personally use TextExpander for this sort of thing. Setting up a few macros can really save you a lot of time and help you avoid typos in your chats. I find that short macros for commonly used words or phrases work better then full responses. Full responses in a macro often seem canned and impersonal (because they are). I use macros for the following text snippets:

  • Major urls (our store, our documentation site, our home page, etc.)
  • Product/business names (ScreenSteps, ScreenSteps Live, Blue Mango Learning Systems,, ScreenSteps Workgroup)
  • Phone numbers/email addresses

5. Know when to take it offline

Sometimes you might run into an issue that is too complex to deal with over chat. Don't be afraid to move your chat conversation to a different medium. If something seems a little too involved for chat we will ask the customer if we can switch the conversation to a phone call or a GoToMeeting session if necessary.


Online chat is a fantastic tool and, for us, a very important part of our customer support and sales strategy. If you aren't currently using online chat then you really should get started. If you have the right resources and strategies in place then it will become an invaluable tool instead of a time sapping burden.

About Greg DeVore

CEO of ScreenSteps