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Chat Conversations Vs. Email Conversations – What’s the Difference?

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A 2018 Forrester report states that email is still the most common channel for customer support. More than 50 percent of customers surveyed expressed a preference for email over telephone and social media.

If you’re thinking email beats out live chat – think again. In another recent survey by Kayako, 41 percent of customers preferred live chat compared to 32 percent who favored telephone and 23 percent who fancied email.

Here’s a list of five key differences between email and chat to inform the best practices that guide your organization’s customer support.

First Response Time

Customers expect faster response times than ever in email, and even faster in live chat.

A recent study by Toister Solutions shows that customers want a response to email within one hour – a higher standard than ever before. A survey by Zendesk shows that across industries, a first response time for email occurs on average four hours after initial contact.

Chat is considered a ‘live’ communication channel. Customers expect near instantaneous responses from support agents. According to a cross-industry survey by LiveChat, the average first response time for chat is 47 seconds. In the Support Services industry, that number dropped to 41 seconds. Retail lagged with an average first response time of one-minute six-seconds.

Replies to Resolution and Full Resolution Time

Once a conversation has been initiated, customers have different expectations of how many responses will be required to reach a solution.

The Zendesk Benchmark report shows that in retail, a support ticket handled via email took an average of 8 replies from a customer support agent. Full Resolution Time across industries took approximately 20 hours. Customers expect a longer full-resolution time when making contact through email compared to chat.

Another survey by Solvvy addresses chat specifically. The report states that the total handle time of an interaction was 14 minutes, involving 28 replies to resolution. The difference in these metrics shows that a successful chat channel must consider speed and immediacy.

First Contact Resolution

First Contact Resolution means solving a customer’s issue on the first try. Studies show that this metric is more important than any other parameter in measuring a customer support strategy. According to Service Quality Measurement Group, a 1 percent improvement in First Contact Rate generates a 1 percent boost in customer satisfaction.

Getting it right the first time can be helped by some techniques. Real-time visitor monitoring gives agents a lens through which to view the problem. A study by Solvvy states that the First Contact Resolution rate for live chat is 70 percent. Companies can use this number as a benchmark rather than a standard, keeping in mind that every point of improvement yields increased customer loyalty.

One survey shows that 94 percent of retailers provide email support, but 27 percent misread those emails. In providing email support, it’s crucial to make sure that customer support agents receive proper training. Also, customer contact centers should make an effort to hire agents with good analytical reading skills. Last but not least, it’s always important to ask the customer if they resolved their issue to their satisfaction. Written confirmation is a foolproof way to communicate the success of an interaction.

Free Text and Canned Responses

Perhaps the most significant difference between email and chat is that chat communication entails a high level of personalization.

Email canned responses differ from chat. Since longer response times occur more frequently with email conversations, organizations should set up automatic replies to acknowledge receipt of one to a customer.  If the issue takes longer than usual, the customer should get notified that the company is still working to resolve the issue. Finally, when addressing the issue, thank a customer for their patience at the end.

Personalized responses are a live chat best practice. Canned responses should be the starting point for an agent to build a customized dialogue with a customer. Should a customer think an agent is using a canned response, that’s a sure tell sign that the action did not meet expectations.

Similar metrics can measure chat and email, but the actual numbers related to these metrics reveal a stark difference. Chat is a ‘live’ channel, requiring instantaneous response times and near-to-life resolution times. Email entails interactions of longer duration and puts more emphasis on the agent’s ability to get the problem right the first time.

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Dani Apgar

About Dani Apgar

Danielle is a Co-Founder of RapportBoost.AI, and one of the world’s most successful enterprise artificial intelligence sales professionals. She led the sales, customer success, account management, and sales engineering teams for more than 3 years at Persado, a CNBC Disruptor Top 50 Artificial Intelligence company funded by Goldman Sachs and Bain Capital. She has personally closed six and seven-figure artificial intelligence/SaaS/ARR deals and has worked with companies like Microsoft, Travelocity, Caesars Entertainment, Pottery Barn, Expedia, and Zulily. Her clients had the highest rate of customer retention and satisfaction in the 200+ person company. Dani first worked with Tony in a Silicon Valley tech company in 1999. Dani was a founding Executive Director for Humans for AI, which aims to build the diverse workforce of the future leveraging the existing AI technologies. Dani volunteers and has traveled to Africa with Just Like My Child Foundation. Their mission is to empower vulnerable adolescent girls by enabling them to create healthy, self-sustaining families who prosper without further aid.

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