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Talk to me. Or rather, talk to your customers.

Live chat is the best way to boost overall satisfaction with your customer service, according to the latest quarterly Zendesk Benchmark report released today.

In an analysis of live chat as a customer service channel, Zendesk, a provider of customer service and support ticket software, found that customers who choose the live chat option are generally more satisfied than those who call, email or use social media channels.

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Jason Maynard, senior manager of data and analytics at Zendesk, said live chat moves customer requests away from web forms and feedback tabs to real time interactions, which enable questions to be answered directly in the web or mobile experience.

The survey found that customers appear to like the back-and-forth style of a conversation. Specifically, Zendesk noted, live chat customer satisfaction increases as the number of chat messages exchanged increases.

Customers may be happier with agents who are more engaged in the customer support process, "either by asking more troubleshooting questions or simply taking the time to ask the customer how his or her day is going," Zendesk theorizes.

Or, as one customer told CMSWire in a non-scientific man-on-the-street survey in Savannah, Ga., "I feel less anxious when I have an opportunity to explain my problem and get a sympathetic response, right now."

Customers, it seems, just don't have time for patience.

But Not So Fast

Zendesk's findings confirm what Forrester reported last month, which noted customers want "an accurate, relevant, and complete answer to their question upon first contact so they can get back to what they were doing before the issue arose."

Over the past five years, the number of online US shoppers who used live chat grew from 38 percent to 58 percent, Forrester reported (fee required) in a study of customer channel preferences.

However, as with anything customer related, there are caveats.

Maynard said it's important for live chat agents to be well trained, with ready access to the resources they need to address customer issues. "They also have to know when a question is too complex for live chat and would be better turned into a customer service ticket," he told CMSWire.

And they should also know the obvious: "Don't try to bluff the customer. If a customer asks a question and the agent does not know the answer, then just say so and offer to get back as soon as possible with more information."

Zendesk noted that satisfaction with live chat drops when the customer has to wait more than 30 seconds for a customer service agent. There is also a positive correlation between a company’s live chat customer satisfaction rating and the average number of messages exchanged between an agent and visitor during a chat conversation, Zendesk states.

And multitasking — that bane of modern work and life — also takes a toll on live chat. "Although live chat allows agents to respond to more than one customer at once, as agents start handling more and more chats, the increased workload may impact their ability to respond quickly and thoroughly," the report notes.

A 50-year-old man in our on the street survey said he gets frustrated by inattentive live chat agents. "Sometimes it seems like they just answer with canned responses, like asking 'Can you provide your order number?' after you've already provided it. For that reason, I still tend to use email. I'm less likely to respond in anger to a redundant question," he said.

A 25-year-old woman noted that she likes using live chat for the immediacy, but echoed concerns about the quality of the agent interactions. "It's great when the agent is thoughtful and empathetic. But the minute it seems like he's asking me to repeat myself, I x-out. Otherwise it becomes too painful to continue," she said.

To optimize customer interactions, Zendesk stressed that companies monitor the ebb and flow of their live chat request volume by day and hour. In its study, it found more than half of all chats occur between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., local time, and decline gradually thereafter.

There's also variation in demand for live chat across the days of the week: Most activity occurs on business days, peaking on Tuesday.