Live Chat Software – Staffing and Designing for Real Patron Needs

Live Chat Software – Staffing and Designing for Real Patron Needs

Who’s Staffing Your Live Chat Software?

live chat software

What type of service is live chat for your digital branch, and how do you decide who is going to be staffing your live chat software? Knowing what type of questions patrons will be asked is important to know who those questions should be directed toward.

When we talk to libraries investigating chat software, many times the intention is to find a reference tool to be staffed by reference librarians. While having a great chat interface can be helpful for a reference conversation, having live chat setup as primarily a reference tool will miss who those questions will typically be directed to at the library.

Through Unique’s Patron Service’s division, we looked at all chats answered for our dozens of library partners from 2020 and compiled them according to their category or “tag”. Among our library partners, a common theme emerges that shows reference needs are not the primary need for patrons on your website. Card and account questions, holds, catalog search and material questions, and e-media questions cover more than half of our patron chats. The top 80% of questions asked by patrons would normally be answered by front desk/circulation staff at libraries.

live chat software

Where would you send patrons for help for these types of questions inside the library? While reference has the tools to answer these requests, it might not be the best use of their skillset. Freeing up your reference librarian’s time allows them the flexibility to help patron with those rabbit hole questions that make the best use of your reference assets. Many libraries using live chat answered by reference librarians purposefully bury the chat widget on the website to minimize contacts from patrons because their staff is feeling overworked already.

This doesn’t mean reference shouldn’t have access to high quality chat software. Finding a widget like Unique’s that can allow transfers from your primary chat to a reference library team can help protect reference staff’s time while maintaining an easy to communicate interface. Better yet, allowing chats from certain pages of your digital branch, like reference resources and databases, to be answered directly by your reference team while chats from other pages go to front line staff.

Why the discrepancy between thinking of live chat as a reference tool and the reality of what patron needs are? Live chat first appeared on library websites in the 1990’s when libraries were still the gatekeepers to information. As information became more readily available online, the thinking around the purpose of live chat hasn’t changed.

As the needs of patrons are primarily front desk/circulation related, it makes sense to staff according to patron needs, but to make staff available just like in the library. Unique’s approach to live chat makes staffing available on every page of your digital branch, just like many libraries approach having staff dispersed throughout your building. This enables a retail approach to customer service, providing an easy way for patrons to ask for help about whatever resources they may need assistance with.

Does your live chat software and staffing meet patron’s needs? Please feel free to contact us at for a free consultation and quote today.

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