The Psychology Behind the Conversion Success of Live Chat

Written by Jeff Cole on July 14, 2017

Live chat customer support center operator service icons concept.

In the past few years, live chat has moved from a website gadget to a valuable marketing tool. Countless companies around the web leverage it both to attract new leads and engage in effective, real-time customer service.

The adoption rate of the tool is no accident: 79 percent of website visitors use live chat, and 73 percent consider it to have the highest satisfaction rates of all customer service tools. But what is it that actually draws us toward that little chat window? What part of our brains makes us intrinsically enjoy the tool, and how can your business leverage that insight to more conversions?

The Human Touch

When a member of your target audience interacts with your brand online, they receive mostly static content. Blog posts, whitepapers, videos, and even customer service contact forms are all designed to distribute relevant information from your brand to the audience.

That type of static content and information dissemination, of course, does not fill out the basic human need for human interactions. Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs places belonging near the base of the pyramid, not too far from the basic needs of shelter and food. Throughout history, psychologists have emphasized just how much we need human interactions to survive and thrive.

Unlike any other content on your website, live chat provides that human interaction. It gets your audience in touch with a representative of your brand right away, answering any questions directly and providing a touch of personalization.

The Path of Least Residence

A second psychological reason for why live chat is so successful is simple: Everybody loves convenience. In fact, as pointed out by Psychology Today, we are wired to take the path of least resistance when given the choice:

… the low-hanging fruit will (always) look more appealing… “Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura. Conversely, when one option is harder to get, we’re more likely to think it’s the wrong choice.

Translated to web behaviors, put yourself into your audience’s shoes: when you have a question, do you fill out an email contact form, or are you more likely to chat with someone about it? The answer becomes obvious. The more conveniently we can ask our question, the more likely we will follow through.

The Value of Immediate Responses

It’s often decried as a mark of today’s internet generation, but the same thing has been true for decades: when we want something, we want it as quickly as possible. In fact, in a partial rebuttal to the path of least resistance mentioned above, we’re willing to work harder in order to get something more quickly.

Most means of communication between you and your audience comes with some kind of delay. When they send an email, they have to wait for the response. The problem is that your potential customers actually hate this type of delay. In fact, when they have a question, your customers expect you to respond quickly. The fact that many companies don’t is probably a major reason why for the wide gap between companies who think they provide superior customer service (80 percent) and customers who actually agree (8 percent).

Live chat may be the only web communication tool in which this gap disappears. With live chat, you can answer questions immediately and even outside of business hours if some type of autoresponder or chatbot feature is included in the system.

The Reciprocity Principle

All of the above concepts apply universally to live chat. Whether you use it for customer service or lead generation, your audience wants to engage with a person, while getting positive answers as quickly and conveniently as possible. The final piece of the psychology puzzle is what makes it such a potent conversion optimization tool

Have you ever wondered why product samples and free trials are such a crucial part of most retail and SaaS merchants? It’s the same underlying principle that drives inbound marketing, and also works to help your live chat increase lead conversions: the reciprocity principle.

When we receive something of value, we’re more likely to return the favor. Traditionally, for digital marketers, that has meant anything from free trials to free content gated behind sign up forms, such as whitepapers or webinars.

In a live chat, the value proposition is obvious. It includes all of the above psychological leaning: get a fast, personalized, convenient answer to any of your brand-related questions. You don’t have to explain this value to each visitor, making a sign up to chat with you more natural and likely.

Using Live Chat to Optimize Your Website for Conversions

All of the above are compelling theoretical reasons why incorporating live chat on your website will boost your lead conversion rates. Of course, practical examples make the same point: as marketing expert Neil Patel points out, one of his clients boosted its conversion rates by an astonishing 45 percent through the simple, strategic inclusion of live chat on its website.

To your audience, the feature is simple and straightforward. A small box on your website expands on click to answer any questions your visitors might have. To your digital marketing strategy, on the other hand, that small box can have a major effect. It has the potential to turn your marketing initiatives and language from formulaic to personalized and convenient, offering a more natural ‘next step’ for your audience than any gated content could.