Tonight I have eight chats on the go. A customer in Canton, Michigan wants help with our API. A recent signup from Indonesia is having trouble connecting Olark to Pidgin, while I’m shooting the breeze with a customer in his native German. It’s just gone 10pm for me and a customer from New York needs a link to upgrade their account.
New users to Olark can find it overwhelming to suddenly encounter all these people wanting to chat and ask questions. Here’s how to hit the ground running using some of the tools available.
Set up your chat client
I use Adium. The best part of Adium for me is that I can customize the look and feel. I’ve made it look like the Mac operating system’s old default chat program, iChat, but with a few extra distinctions.
- Enable ‘Create new chats in tabs’. This way, I can alt-tab between chats to see what needs answering.
- Enable ‘Show Adium status in menu bar’. If you really need to concentrate on one chat, you can quickly mark yourself as away to stop any new chats coming in.
- Download Adium Xtras. The most important of these are the Candyball status icons. Blue means the visitor is typing, so I know I can answer another chat in the meantime. Orange means there’s a message waiting for me. Red means another operator took the chat. Dark gray means they went offline, and I can close the chat.
Chrome has a mode which starts a window without “cookies”. This means I can browse a visitor’s website ‘clean’ without extensions like AdBlockers or Flash blockers. I see their website exactly as intended, without a cached history. In Firefox & Safari, this is called Private Browsing.
Custom search engines
Sometimes I’ll want to find and send one of our help articles to a visitor. By default, Chrome will search Google when you type a term into the address bar. Instead, you can set up a custom search engine, which will be triggered by a keyword.
Our help articles are hosted by Desk.com, so I created a new search engine with the keyword “desk” and the URL as
?q=%s at the end simply means replace the
%s for whatever I want to find and then perform the search. For example, in my address bar I’ll type “desk adium”, which will immediately bring up all our help articles with the keyword “adium”.
Chatting tips & tricks
- If a certain task will take a few seconds or a couple of minutes, tell the visitor. I’ll often overestimate the time by a little, so that the visitor’s expectations are managed.
- Ask visitors if they’d like you to find them the help article rather than pointing them to your main support page. Not only is it courteous, but it gives you a few precious seconds to check on messages from other visitors.
- If you’re heading away from your computer for a short while, start winding down chats five minutes before. Let your other other operators know. This gives your colleagues a few minutes to finish what they’re doing before jumping on chat, and also gives you some time to close out chats.
- Set yourself to “away” several minutes before you have to leave, so that you don’t receive any new chats and can finish up active conversations.
- If you ‘tag’ your chats for use in CRM software like Desk.com, do it as soon as you work out what the issue is. When you’re juggling chats, it’s very time consuming to go back and read a chat to remember what it was about and tag it after the fact.
If in doubt, be human
The simplest “hack” when it comes to chat is just being human. If you don’t know the answer, tell the visitor you’ll find out. If you need a minute, let them know. If you’re just starting your day and the tea isn’t quite taking effect yet, don’t be shy. Never forget how delighted people are just to have a friendly person at the end the line trying to fix their problem.