Live chat and appropriate customer service

Different service channels require different communication styles. For instance, phone calls rely on expressive vocal tones to convey mood and meaning.  Emails, meanwhile, rely on written detail — tending toward formal responses to more complex issues.

When it comes to live chat, the facets that make for good service change again. Contextual factors dictate how best to reply, including both your company branding / policies, and the tone and identity of the customer.

Striking the ideal balance to achieve appropriate service in a live chat channel is not impossible, but it does take some effort. So, what do you need to consider?

Formal vs informal

One of the most significant parts of appropriate customer service in live chat is striking the balance between formal and informal language.

Chat is chat — it’s natural conversation in a messaging format. People use it every day to talk informally with friends and relatives. As such, live chat service is rarely a good place for an overly formal tone/ use of language.

However, your agents are still representing a business. This means that being overly informal or ‘chummy’ can be jarring and off-putting too.

The impact of context

Determining the most appropriate customer service to give via live chat isn’t just about finding the right formality level. (Though it plays a huge role). A variety of contextual influences will also be at play, including:

  1. 1. Customer tone

Tone matching is a must in live chat conversations. This is where you adapt your messaging to match the tone displayed by the customer — without sacrificing the professionalism and/or guidelines of the brand.

For instance, if the customer is informal in the way they chat, then the agent can be more relaxed too. Conversely, an irate or formal customer will expect a professional messaging experience. (I.e., slang, GIFs, and jokey language would not be appropriate customer service in this context.)

  1. 2. Issue severity

Let’s say a customer is chatting because they have a problem with the product that has severe repercussions. Here, a jovial or informal communication approach isn’t going to instil confidence. This is an example of how the severity of an issue can impact what makes for appropriate customer service.

  1. 3. Generational differences

You should also factor in generational preferences regarding what makes for appropriate customer service. Younger customers may be happier with a more casual tone, or with the use of GIFs or emojis. Many of them have grown up with messaging technologies and a more colloquial voice for businesses.

Older, generations, meanwhile, tend toward wanting more formal interaction. For them, a live chat session is a part of conducting business. As such, they expect professionalism.

  1. 4. Branding

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how informal a customer is, or how simple the issue. For some brands and industries, a formal tone of voice is a must for appropriate customer service — even in live chat.

A good example is financial services brands. An informal chat may have a place in niche circumstances, but for the most part, there’s a need for a professional, formal tone. After all, money is at stake.

If you have a serious brand, then your conversations will need to reflect that — even in a more relaxed channel like live chat.


In many chat-based conversations, emojis feel natural. We use them to convey emotion in our text-based messages, to illustrate a point, or simply because we can.

One of the shortfalls of messaging in any form is the opportunity for misunderstanding. For instance, conversation partners can read a well-meaning message, but mistakenly assume it to have an offensive tone. This can (obviously) go on to cause issues. So, the answer many people have turned to for this miscommunication is emojis. In using emojis, they illustrate their feelings and provide context to their message.

But do emojis have a place in appropriate customer service — even in a live chat-based experience?

The answer is that it depends on your branding, and the contextual cues offered by the customer in question. (I.e., are they using emojis? Are they speaking more informally? Etc.)

Emojis are informal. So, whenever the company branding is formal, or the customer is speaking formally, emojis are a definite no.

Otherwise, it’s something to evaluate on a case-by-case basis, based on the brand, the customer, and the tone so far.

Timing it just right

Another factor to consider when creating the most appropriate customer service for a live chat channel is timing.

Because live chat is a real-time channel, there is a need for speed. The people reaching out through chat don’t expect to wait for replies. They want the instant gratification that comes from a near-immediate response.

As such, live chat software comes with tools which can facilitate super speedy replies. Things like chat preview, canned response and AI auto-text are good examples.

However, this need for speed can also present a pitfall for appropriate customer service.

First, the expectation of quick replies means that long answers may seem slow or unsuited to the channel. Waiting for a response in a ‘real-time’ channel damages the customer experience. Breaking up your bigger answers into more manageable messages sent one at a time can help. So can canned responses. (Even if a canned response is detailed, it can still be sent in a click – no need to spend time typing a lengthy response.)

Conversely, you also don’t want to reply with inhuman speed. If a customer sends a message and gets a response in the same second, it will not feel natural. There’s no way you could have read and typed a response in that time. The result is the sense that you’re either not listening, or you’re a chatbot. In anything beyond a quick-fire FAQ, this does not make for appropriate customer service.

Determining a baseline

As we can see, what makes for appropriate customer service — even in live chat — can vary wildly. So, the best practice is to create a baseline for agents to work from. This baseline would be laid out as part of your company/customer service policies and guidelines.

For instance, are emojis allowed? What’s the brand’s tone of voice? And so on.

It’s also important to remember that chat will always land more on the informal or relaxed side of customer communication. Even when formality is a must, the nature of chat is a closer, friendlier communication style. This is the balance you most need to strike.

Give your agents the agency to adjust their service as needed to create the best, most appropriate customer service for each customer coming through your chat window.

TL;DR: Appropriate customer service

There’s no one answer to what makes for appropriate customer service. But there are certain tenets to remember when providing it through a live chat channel.

Namely, any formality must be balanced with the friendly nature of chat — based on the other factors of each service interaction.

Useful links

The Mehrabian myth, non-verbal communication, and live chat software

Meeting the need for customer service speed

Agent empowerment: what is it, and why is it so important?