DIY, Hire or Outsource your Live Chat Support

customer service options

There is no question that Live Chat Support can add massive value to your customers and boost sales. E-Commerce is fiercely competitive and the constant battle for customer attention demands that you do not waste a single customer interaction.

With your store open 24 hours a day you need to think about how you can remain responsive around the clock. We are going to look at your options to run this kind of function on your website:

  • Do it yourself
  • Hire in-house
  • Outsource


DIY – The Superman Option

diy live customer support

This is the most cost effective option, but is unsustainable due to what you have to sacrifice to keep your level of service high.

If you are bootstrapping your business there may be no way around this in the early stages. You may have to roll up your sleeves and guts it out for a while, but you should always have one eye on the future. The sooner you can take yourself out of the equation the sooner you can invest your time in business growth.

There are some serious questions for the entrepreneur to consider before taking this on. There are sacrifices that will need to be made to make this work. Both personal and professional:


Frequently interrupted sleep will make you less effective in your waking hours. If you have had kids then you will know this all too well. At least you (usually) only have one baby to deal with and they will go back to sleep. A busy night for your store and you could find yourself completely ruined for the next day.

A lack of sleep has been linked to:

  • Slower activity and decision making
  • Poor short term memory
  • Increased error rate in your work
  • Irritability

None of these make for an enjoyable or productive day. If frustration creeps in then you also risk a less than positive interaction with a potential customer.

There are also health risks that you should consider. Being an entrepreneur can be a busy lifestyle and if you do not make yourself a priority there can be serious long term consequences that are heightened by a lack of sleep. This can include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Hypertension
  • Mood disorders
  • Reduced immune function
  • Lower life expectancy

While you may get away with some short term hustle, it is not viable or wise to take on this kind of workload long term.


Even more important than sleep is your ability to focus on an important task. Your work each day is what will drive your business forward, and being drawn away from this will kill your productivity. You may find yourself working hard and not making any real progress.

Some people can snap themselves back to the task at hand quickly, others take some time to warm up. This is an individual choice so perhaps a more important question is what is the cost of that time that you are taken away from these higher level tasks?

Response Time

Unless you remove yourself from your normal life it is inevitable that response times will suffer. There will be the constant threat of a customer enquiry coming through when you are in the shower, in the car, or at a lunch meeting.

If a customer is left hanging on live chat with no response it is a bad first impression for your business to make. This will cost you sales, and defeats the purpose of having live chat in the first place.


If you are operating on a shoe string budget then this is the cheapest option by far in dollar terms. The time cost is significant, and in the early stages of your business this may be a trade off worth making.

This can only be a short term solution. If you think otherwise you will hit a ceiling very quickly for what your business can become.

Market Awareness

What better way to stay in touch with your customers than to speak to them directly? This level of involvement can be valuable, but only if you have the time to do something with the feedback you gather.

While the direct involvement is useful, it is something that you can replicate through reporting of key metrics.


training customer support staffWe have established that managing your own customer service 24 hours a day will inevitably become a poor use of your time and energy. You need to be focussed on the bigger picture and long term strategy of your business if you are to grow into a serious business.

To improve your prospects of presenting a professional and high quality service at all times you are going to need some help. If you are going to hire in house there is a lot of preparation that is going to have to go into this before you go live.

Documenting Procedures (SOPs)

If you have been handling the customer service yourself then you will bewell placed to do this. This should be in the back of your mind from day one so that you can build an FAQ database as you go. If not, then you have created another standalone task for yourself.

For an e-commerce site you will need to have at least the following topics covered:

  • Product
  • Payment
  • Shipping
  • Returns

There may also be topics relevant to your niche that will require documenting so that your agents are well prepared to handle whatever comes their way.


This step in the process can be the most time consuming, and potentiallythe most frustrating. To be efficient with your time you will want to apply some filters at the beginning of the process so that you can quickly sort the wheat from the chaff before you conduct any time intensive screening, or interviews.

  • Ask for specific details to be provided with an application. Those who miss important details will not have the attention to detail required for a customer support role.
  • Use a language and/or grammar test early in the process to filter out those who will not make the grade.
  • A typing speed and accuracy test is also critical for this type of role.

If you really want to go deep you can conduct personality tests, but this may be overkill at this stage.

Engaging a recruitment service can save you from sorting through hundreds of applications, and organising tests. We have used Virtual Staff Finder on many occasions and cannot recommend them highly enough.

If you would prefer to do your own sourcing here are some helpful sites:

There is also a relatively new service called Freeeup that is a happy middle ground between done for your recruitment and DIY. We have used them in the past for short term jobs and have been very pleased with the results.

This is an agency that provides an on demand staff service for a range of technical roles. This can be a good short term solution, but very expensive to use long term for a 24 hour service. The other downside is that anyone you hire here will always be an employee of Freeeup, not your company.


When you bring your new hire on board this is when the real work begins. If you are looking to cover a 24/7 support service then you may be taking on multiple people at once, and it will take some intensive work in those early stages to ensure that your staff are equipped to be reliable representatives for your brand.

Establishing the communication channels between you and your team will be critical to how well your live chat will function.


There are free software solutions like Tawk that will allow you to test the waters without incurring any cost. As with any free products though you will not get the features that come with paid solutions.

Here at Live Chatify we use Live Chat Inc. software. In our view it is the market leader, and most reliable software on the market. The pricing is very reasonable and support very good.

Communication Channels

Unless you have everyone working in an office you are going to have to setup a system to ensure that things run smoothly. Remote teams live and die on communication, and the last thing you want is for your new customer support team to be losing leads through poor planning.

  • Communication with your team (Email, Slack, Trello, Skype, Google Hangouts)
  • Accessibly SOP documents (Google Docs, Wikis, Private Webpages)
  • Cataloguing of customer leads and contact info (Email, Google Docs, Aweber)
  • Staff scheduling and time tracking software (we use Time Doctor and love it!)

It is easy to get carried away with complicated solutions, so remember that simplicity is your friend and will limit possible failure points.


For an in depth look at the costs involved in setting up your own team check out our post here.

The biggest part of this equation is the sheer number of hours you have to cover in a week to maintain 24 hour availability – 168 hours in total. This requires a team of agents, and the cost that comes with that can be significant.

As your store’s turnover grows you could build up your team one at a time. Slowly buying back your own time as you cover a shift with a support person. I would recommend starting with the night shift so you can get some sleep!

With an annual cost upwards of $30k for a full time team this is an option that is beyond your average start-up on cost alone. When you factor in the associated work required you could be forgiven for putting this on the backburner until you can afford both a team, and a manager to run it for you.

What if I told you that you could achieve the same level of coverage, and service for a fraction of the cost?

outsource customer support


If you want to save yourself the headache’s associated with both DIY and in-house customer support you can outsource the lot with minimal time and effort. This will free up your time, and headspace to concentrate on the activities that will benefit your business the most – the customer leads will be delivered to your fingertips daily.

There are a number of companies that offer this service and investing some time in your due diligence should ensure you end up with the best fit for the needs of your business. You should check at least the following:

Competency of the service

The biggest risk to your business when outsourcing any task is that the service level will not meet the high standards required to support your brand. It will be worth your time to conduct some basic due diligence on a number of services.

When doing your research we would encourage you to look at the following questions as a minimum:

  • How responsive are the chat agents on their own site?
  • Are they transparent with their pricing?
  • Do they make it easy to speak to someone directly?
  • Are there examples of existing customer sites provided so you can test out their service in real time?

The speed, quality and accessibility are all key indicators on the type of experience that is on offer.

Fee Structure

If you are satisfied with the service on offer you then need to consider what pricing structure will best suit your business. There are a number of variations to this which we have summarised below:

Capped Plans

You will have a set number of chats or leads included in your plan. Once you hit this limit your service would either cease, or jump up to the next tier. In some cases you would pay per chat for all additional customer interactions.

These costs can add up quickly so if you choose to go with a capped plan you should read the agreement and be clear on how excess use will impact your bill.

Pay Per Chat/Lead

As the name would suggest, you pay a set rate for each customer interaction. This can be a good option for new or low volume e-commerce stores. Some services may have a minimum spend, or monthly retainer built into their pricing.

Unlimited Plans

This option will remove any limitations on the service you have employed. Your pricing will be predictable, and your service limitless. One flat fee, for one great service!

There will often be pricing levels depending on the size of your site and the traffic levels expected. So your cost would grow in proportion to the size of your business.

Unknown Plans

You may find a number of services will not provide any pricing to you until you have committed to trying out their service for a period of time. Often this trial period is free, which is fantastic. What isn’t free is the time you have to put in to setup the service.

Once you have invested your time getting all of your training documentation set up you could be less inclined to switch. It is easier to continue with the service and this expectation could be priced in.


Your final consideration will be who you will be dealing with on an ongoing basis. Whenever you outsource a task communication is key to ensuring the relationship strengthens long term. If the people you deal with are not chosen carefully then outsourcing could create more headaches for you than it solves.

Having immediate access to your long term account manager instead of a sales person will help you get a feel for the compatibility from the very first interaction. You need to feel comfortable that this person has a genuine interest in the long term health of your business if you are to move ahead.

Working together over the long term is key so that you can optimize your customer’s experience on your site. Ongoing improvements will include:

  • How leads are qualified and communicated
  • Ongoing improvement to FAQs
  • Opportunities to improve site content
  • Deal with any issues swiftly

Most importantly, a strong relationship will allow you to step away from this part of the business with confidence. Being able to concentrate your efforts on the leads that are fed to you will ensure that you will be directly influencing the revenue movement in your business.

Final Word

There is always a fourth option… do nothing. But then you are leaving money on the table and allowing customers to pass on by who may have on the cusp of making a purchase. If you take control with proactive customer service then you have that opportunity to be at the customer’s fingertips when needed. How you do it is up to you. The easy way, or the hard way.


Here at Live Chatify we pride ourselves on the quality of our work, the accessibility of our people, and value the relationships that we build with our customers. We invite you to test us out on all of the above and we would love to hear from you for a consultation.


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