Building Rapport in Live Chat

We’re starting a new series on building rapport with users. This was originally intended intended to be a single post, but there ended up being way too much to cover, so we’re going to break it down into tasty bit-sized chunks of gooey informational goodness. Each week, we’ll cover one specific tip you can use to build rapport while chatting with a user!

To start off, let’s talk about what rapport is and is not.

What is Rapport?

When you have rapport with someone, you feel connected to them. Even if you’ve just met, you feel like you know them somehow. Maybe you share something in common, and it makes you feel like this other person just “gets” you — and vice versa. Maybe you communicate well and understand each other easily. Maybe you just feel safe around this person and instinctively want to trust them.

Obviously, when you establish rapport with a user, it goes a long way towards engineering happiness. Even when you’re not able to give them the answer or the solution they want, if they believe they can trust you, they may still walk away happy.

Now, rapport can seem like this mystical quality that you either have or don’t have with someone. And on a deeper level, it’s true. The more you get to know someone, the more you’ll discover what you do have in common with them, and the more genuine rapport you’re naturally going to feel (or not feel).

At the same time, rapport can also be manufactured on a more superficial level. This is not to say, of course, that we should be fake during a chat. This just means that… well, there are strategies we can employ to help us connect more quickly to a user. It may seem artificial at times, but if it helps us engineer happiness, is it wrong?

I say no.

What is Not Rapport?

Okay, so what is not rapport? Well, for one, rapport isn’t just being warm and friendly. Yes, rapport often entails warmth and friendliness, but warmth and friendliness can just as well backfire. In fact, with certain users, if you exude too much warmth and friendliness, you will only be met with skepticism and condescension.

So no, rapport isn’t just about being warm and friendly and cheerful and personable and cuddly and squeezy. There’s much more to it than that.

Lesson Zero

To get to the core meaning of rapport, I’m going to quote myself* and debunk a myth we all learned in kindergarten:

Kindergarten steered us wrong

What’s the first lesson we all learn as five-year-olds? Why, the Golden Rule, of course. The rule that says that we should do unto others as we want them to do unto us. Well, as I realize now, the Golden Rule is a crock pot of steaming baloney.

No, we shouldn’t do unto others as we want them to do unto us. We should do unto others as they want us to do unto them.

As customer service reps, we’re trained to be professional. We value communication that is clear and concise. We’re solutions-focused.

And that’s how we treat our customers.

Problem is, our customers don’t always want someone who’s professional, clear, and concise, and who only offers solutions. Sometimes, they want someone who’s warm and understanding, who’s anything but concise, and who focuses not just on the technical issue, but also on personal feelings. If customers get frustrated with our product, what they need isn’t a support rep to explain the product to them, but a human being who will empathize with their frustration.

That’s the secret to amazing customer service (and being an amazing human). We must learn to recognize what someone needs from us, and we treat them how they want to be treated, not how we want them to treat us.

And that’s the key to building rapport. You have to figure out how the other person likes to be treated. And if you can figure this out without the other person having to tell you, then all of a sudden, they will feel connected to you. They will feel like you’re easy to talk to, like you get them, and like they can trust you.

That’s rapport.

And this is your teaser. 🙂 Stay tuned for the tips!

*Kayako published an ebook earlier this month on customer support. They asked me for a quote, and that’s what you’re seeing here.