7 Keys to Making In-app Chat Work for SaaS Product Success

November 12, 2015 Comments

Impact Index

Initial Effort LowHigh
Ongoing Effort LowHigh

It’s going to take a lot to choose the right solution and integrate it into your processes, so this is rated Medium-High to High on Initial Effort.

Once installed, you will actually have to talk to customers more (GASP) so this is rated Medium to Medium-High on Ongoing Effort.

A little something different this week

We tend to wax poetic about the WHY of a thing before getting to the tactical bits in most of our posts. This week, we’re going to mix it up a bit. We’re going to get straight to business, then we’re going to make some potentially controversial statements without being too long-winded about it, then we’re going to wait for you in the comments. Looking forward to seeing you down there!

7 keys to making in-app chat work for SaaS Product Success

1) Appoint a Chat Czar

For a small team, having people rotate through “in-app chat duty” and then come together once a month to discuss what they’re seeing is easy. At scale though, managing in-app chat can be super complicated to get right. This is why it’s important to not just “throw in-app chat into the app and route them to customer support.” A Chat Czar not only establishes the processes for managing in-app chat at your company, but they’re the ones who will periodically review chats to keep a subjective finger on the pulse of what’s coming through chat. This person will usually just be the Product Creator (or Product Manager, or Owner, etc…) but it’s worth thinking about this as another title. It’s that important.

2) Take the time to test and choose the right tool for you

Like many things, in-app chat is simple in theory but incredibly complex in practice. Each tool has nuanced differences that can make a huge difference in how it works for you, so if you’re not already using one, take the time to try a few out and see what works for you. There’s no reason you have to do your due diligence in a vacuum. Install one for two weeks, switch, move on. If you’re a Segment.com customer, it’s super easy to install and switch between tools like LiveChat, LuckyOrange, Olark, SnapEngage, Userlike, Intercom, Zopim, and more.

3) Manage response time expectations

Nothing is worse than sending a message off into the void and wondering when it’s coming back. Nothing, that is, except getting something back that is ambiguous. How many of you love hearing “cool I’m gonna get to that soon” when talking to a friend or coworker? “Soon” can be 5 minutes or a week. Manage expectations by ensuring that your users understand what timeframe to expect a response in, and what times you are in the office. Also: Use timezones, people! The world is not flat, and your users are not at most 3 timezones away anymore 😉

4) Sign your automated responses as automated

Everyone loooooves setting up automated responses, but how many of you have sent a real email or chat to someone and found out later they didn’t respond because they thought it was automated? Messages can be both personal AND automated. Let your customers know the difference.

5) Respond when you read it

Respond. Even if it’s a “huh. cool just read this. we need to think about this. I’ll set a reminder to ping you in two weeks once I’ve had a few hallway conversations with people about this” People don’t mind that. They’d rather that than:
Get no answer ever
Get no answer for 6 weeks
Get a canned answer about how “their suggestion was awesome and it’s being forwarded to the product team”

Product Fail Yeti says:

Why waste your time with In-App chat? Your customers don’t have anything valuable to say and you will be overwhelmed with spam.

Can you believe that guy? Don't listen to the Yeti. #FightTheYeti


6) Have regular chatrospectives

To be successful, you need to regularly review what’s coming in through chat. Otherwise you’re just doing a lot of work for no reason. Make the effort you put into chat measurable by tying it directly to improvements in your application. To make this happen, have regular “chatrospectives” — believe it or not, that’s a made up word — where you go over feedback and decide one thing to change/build/improve/deprecate based on those discussions. Obviously, the Chat Czar runs Chatrospectives.

7) Tell people about what you get out of chat

Whatever comes out of your chatrospectives should be publicized. Write a blog about it. Setup an automated chat message to inform them about it. Use Ramen alerts to notify them in app. Whatever you do, your customers should know that “December 2015’s Chatrospective improvement is XYZ”. Even if it’s small, your users will love seeing this. Yes, you might get people complaining about why their complaint wasn’t the one that was fixed, but every complaint is an opportunity to surprise someone.

Let us know how you succeed with in-app chat

These 7 keys to making in-app chat work for Product Success come out of years of experience working with dozens of software companies. Do you have any other best practices that increase in-app chat’s efficacy? Let us know in the comments. We’ll be waiting.

Wrong form ID


Why this matters for Product Success

Let’s get a little long winded about why this stuff matters for PS. As we’ve said many times before, PS is about the periphery. Most Product Creators are experts in their field. They know the domain of the product inside and out, but a lot of times customers will interact with your product in ways that are more boilerplate. We’ve talked about these things before: Status Pages, About Pages, E-mail receipts. In-app chat is no different.

Simply establishing the fact that you are available makes your customers feel better. It makes them not just view the product as some pixels on the screen, but as an extension of the people behind it’s creation: you.

As Product Creators, we don’t need to (and in fact could never possibly) establish deep relationships with each customer, but we can establish a relationship where our customers know that “Hey building stuff is a super tough multivariate optimization problem, but we’re listening, and we deeply care, and we’re doing our best.” Having in-app chat and doing the 7 things above goes a long way towards conveying that message.

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Nothing to see here. Just a yeti.

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