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With You provide free and confidential support with alcohol, drugs or mental health.

This Guide looks at how to set up a web chat service and support your staff to run it. It's great if you’re thinking about providing your website visitors with extra support or signposting.

Steps to running a webchat service

A web chat is a live service that pops up on your website and invites visitors to use it. It lets them talk to members of your team via chat messages.

You can use web chat to do 3 things:

  1. Help people get to information on your website that they couldn’t find 

  2. Signpost people to other services

  3. Offer direct 1-1 support, so that the chat becomes part of your one to one support offering

Trying out a web chat service is easiest for organisations that have a high number of website visitors. You make it available and see how often people use it and if its useful to them. Its quite easy to devise tests to see when it is used and what kind of support people are looking for.

When With You launched their web chat services they wanted to explore all 3 uses.

As they improved their website, helping people find things became less common. Since then they have improved their signposting and direct 1-1 support over webchat to the point where it is now an important service they run. 

They also now run services for different groups and organisations, using the same web chat system, but with entry points on different websites or web pages.

Your web chat platform will need to:

  • Meet your data protection and security needs in how it stores data

  • Be something you or your developers can easily embed in your website

  • Be something your staff or volunteers feel comfortable using.

You should also work out any other needs. Consider these questions:

  • What kind of monitoring of data do you need access to?

  • How many chats do you want to be able to run at any one time?

  • What budget do you have?

  • How will people give consent for any information you collect?

  • Will you be talking to people across many websites, or just one?

With You chose LiveChat because:

  • It was affordable when they launched (2017)

  • It has a free trial so they could test it out

  • It only needs a relatively small piece of code to be added to the website to get it up and running

  • They found it relatively easy and intuitive to use

  • It has functions for managing chats from multiple websites in one place, with clear labelling as to where chat visitors came from

  • It has a system for creating internal tags to add to webchat conversations that they could use for reporting

In 2023 they are changing from LiveChat to WhosOn. This is because LiveChat changed their pricing structure and increased their fees.

To run web chat successfully you need:

  • 1 (or more) people who will be answering the chats

  • 1 (or more) people who are on standby to give a second opinion/support or supervision to the person answering the chats. They hold safeguarding responsibility. 

The actual number of people you need will depend on how busy your webchat is. You could try the service out with just 2 people - one in each role. The person in the supervisory role will usually be able to do other work at the same time.

Depending on the service you offer, you may rely on volunteers or use paid staff to answer chats.

With You started their web chat service with a team of 2. Over time they have grown to answering 50-70 chats a day. Now they have 3 team members available during their opening hours.

You will need to train your staff in how to use the web chat software. This is an straightforward piece of skills development.

To provide a good support service your web chat staff need:

  • a good grounding in the overall support ethos and methods of your organisation

  • training in how communication by chat message works. This includes ways to make space for silence or pauses and ways to gather or consider information that you would usually read from body language or tone of voice.

With You only offer web chat roles to people who already have 2 years experience of delivering support services for the organisation.

They run remote training. This teaches techniques such as echoing (using the same language as the chat visitor you are talking to). It also covers tips and tricks - such as extending chats until people are comfortable enough to reveal questions they are finding difficult to ask.

The training programme includes 2 crucial stages:

  • observing more experienced team members answering chats

  • answering chats with a supervisor available to help you find information and make decisions about what to say.

Team members are always supported. All chat workers have access to support whenever they are answering chats.

Your chat workers will often need:

  • specialist opinions

  • safeguarding advice

  • a second point of view

  • emotional support.

Sometimes they will need this during a chat and sometimes afterwards. If possible build in support in a way that avoids changing chat support person. This gives the chat visitor a more consistent and reassuring experience.

The simplest way to do this is to make sure that chat workers can talk to each other and/or a supervisor using another chat system. That means they can get support while keeping the conversation with the chat visitor going in the web chat. You could use Teams, or Slack or any other instant messaging system.

With You use Sling. They chose it because they can use it for two purposes. 

It is a scheduling system that lets them allocate shifts to staff.

It also has a breakout area. This is were chat workers can contact each other and supervisors for support.

The team can also contact the supervisor by phone if needed.

Occasionally chat workers handle complex safeguarding situations. These relate to risks to the chat visitor and risks to children or other vulnerable people. With You took advice from police and safeguarding authorities to create procedures for online safeguarding when you do not know the identity of the person you are chatting with.

When you work in support services, sometimes we assume that any online service we provide must be 24/7. 

But 24/7 can be expensive, and not always that helpful.

The only rule is to make sure your service is available when you say it is.

Try not to make assumptions about what time of day the service will be needed. You can use data about when people are visiting your website, or you can experiment to find the best time.

With You offer their web chat service from 9am - 9pm. They are confident that this means the service is available for most of the people who visit their website looking for support.

From the point when a website visitor clicks your website's web chat interface, you want to give them a safe and meaningful experience.

You should:

  • Think about consent. What do they need to know before they start talking to you? What’s the simplest way for them to opt in or out?

  • Think about the conversation. Sometimes you will have exactly the answer someone is looking for but sometimes you won’t. How will you help them if you don’t have an answer?

  • Think about signposting sparingly - try not to just offer lots of different resources to read to someone who needs support. Instead take the time so that they feel heard. Then, perhaps select one or two things. Explain how and why you think those are relevant to their situation.

  • Think about how to end the conversation. Is there an opportunity for them to book a follow up chat? Or to self-refer to another service?

Your answers to these questions will determine some of the training you provide in the earlier steps. But they will also affect how you configure the live chat interface that website visitors see.

With You have set their live chat to pop up after people have browsed certain pages on their website for a certain amount of time.

People can also go follow a link on the website.

When a visitor opens the chat, they get a short statement about what happens to any chat messages they send. This covers privacy requirements. With You don’t ask for any personal data - but people often share it anyway as part of the conversation, so this step is important.

People tick a box to confirm they are happy to chat to a chat worker.

The worker gently leads the conversation forward. They focus on making sure the chat visitor knows they are being heard. For example, they let them know if they’re looking something up - rather than just leaving the chat hanging. They ask questions to try and get to the heart of what is bothering the visitor.

The chat worker's aim is to end the conversation with the visitor feeling like they have a forward step they can take. If that’s not possible, they want them to at least feel supported and informed.

Sometimes they will share resources. The team try to keep these up to date. This is trickier if they’re produced by other organisations.

Further information:

About this guide

  • Hear more from Steph Keenan who set up this service. There’s more on safeguarding and on how to use web chat features in this Catalyst case study.

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