Live Chat Customer Support: Common Types of Miscommunication

Offering live chat as another channel to talk to your customers? Before inplementing this newest, seemingly popular method of customer service and support, you need to step back and consider not just the reasons to offer it, but what can go wrong (I can hear it now: “What could possible go wrong?!?”)

Just remember that Murphy is alive and well in the digital age. As a matter of fact, he is having a heyday! Anything that could go wrong not only will, but at lightning fast speeds and on enormous scale.

In a series of posts, I want to offer some ideas to consider and some problems to avoid if Live Chat is coming to a customer support center near you. All of this information comes not ony from academic sources, but from those who have already stumbled. Learning about what has happened to others illustrates the pitfalls far better than any chart or graph with numbers. And it helps with the “why” part of best practices.

Today – the issue of communicating clearly over online chat.

Miscommunication is a common problem no matter the medium. But online there is more room for misunderstanding due to the way Live Chat interactions behave.  There are several examples of communication running off the rails during a series of emails, producing a blog post, leaving comments, and participating in forums.

Much of the problem is caused by the inability of one or both of the parties to share the perspective of the other, a problem with context. They simply can’t walk in the other’s shoes so the customer is unable to communicate what’s wronfg and/or the agent is unable to understand the what the customer wants. There are several ways this happens:

  • The customer is unable to “establish intent” – What is the problem?
  • The agent and customer are unable to establish a common ground. The references or language used are not commonly understood by both parties. (This makes a good case against jargon.)
  • Lack of audio-visual cues makes context maintenance difficult. Without being able to rely on body language, facial cues, or tone of voice, text communication can quickly become confused, especially if one person or the other is attempting communication that relies heavily on those cues….like certain attempts at humor.
  • False assumptions are made by either or both parties. Again, no cues to rely on so what you typed is not taken the way you meant by the customer no matter how straight-forward it seems to you. Chaos reigns!
  • Scripted responses do not adequately address or fit the problem. A great justification for abandoning scripts. And if you are going to use canned responses for any reason, this still applies. Take care!

The issue with creating a shared context or perspective gets worse when one or both parties rely more heavily on their own perspective in creating context and not making any effort to meet the other halfway. Or each overestimates how closely the other shares the same perspective.

False assumptions made at the beginning can also throw the interaction off track. This can indicate a lack of listening skills. Both the customer and the agent then look at the experience of using chat as being less robust and useful for communicating non-routine information. (Canned responses can contribute to this as well).

When it can take only one bad experience to make customer leave, you really need to take the possibility…or near probability…that what you “say” is not what they “heard”. Make it part of your planning to include training about these problems and emphasize the care it will take to maintain relationships this way.

This is not your teenager’s chat with friends. It is a business operation and your agents should understand and practice it as such.

We also have a White Paper that goes over this issue as well as the others I plan to address in future posts. Please help yourself:

Give Customers the Gift of Chat: Implementing Live Chat into Customer Service Channels


Source: Do You Read Me? Perspective Making and Perspective Taking in Chat Communities. By Michael Dickey, Gary Burnett, Katherine Chudoba, and Michelle Kazmer for Journal of the Association for Information Systems, January 2007.


Scroll to Top