Live chat support is the latest must-have feature for any customer-facing website. More and more you will come to notice a small icon somewhere on your favourite website that connects you directly to a member of the customer service team. All the big online stores do it, software companies do it and of course the sites selling such services do it too! So the question is whether or not you should add it to your website. Well, in our opinion almost any site can benefit from adding live chat support to its repertoire. You can find countless studies and articles all over the web detailing positive findings when websites implement these features.
In a nutshell: if you sell things, you will most likely sell more and if you provide a service, customers will like your service more and hence you will get more business. You can never really do your site any damage by adding live chat support so, to us anyway, that makes it a no brainer! Many people think it must be very expensive, but check our reviews and you will see you can get in on the action for just a few dollars a month.
In this guide we'll take you through the things we think are important when choosing a live chat support service. These are the things we were looking at while reviewing the products on the market. Once you're fully keyed up, we suggest checking out our top ten list to investigate some of the best services out there.
With most live chat support systems there are two sides to the user interface and so two different aspects you must consider. One side is the client facing user interface which is the part that will go onto your website and that your customers will interact with. Typically what this means is that you add a button to your web pages which launches a pop up window for your customers to chat in.
The most modern service will do this in a slick, easy to use way where everything stays on the same page and just floats over the top. Older services will launch new browser windows to do it, which you have to be careful with because most modern browsers will disallow pop-ups. The oldest services sometimes use a Java application embedded in the web page which is quite clunky and we would recommend avoiding.
The other side of the user interface is what your chat operators will see. This will either be a downloadable desktop application or a web based console that they can access. We are in favour of the web based console option as it means your operators can log in from anywhere in the world just through their browser. However, desktop applications are not without merit as they often provide a slightly richer user interface. Some services even provide both, but either way you should be looking for a pretty similar feature set from each.
Probably one of the most distinguishing aspects of a live chat support service is the functionality provided for operators to deal with customers and chat sessions. At the top end some services will offer a full remote assistance feature whereby an operator can take complete control of the customers' computers (with their permission, of course). This can be useful for some types of business, but may be overkill for others. At the bottom end of the scale all operators will be able to do is chat one on one with a customer, which can be enough for some sites.
Somewhere around the middle of the scale you would expect to see a variety of different features to help operators work efficiently and resolve calls easily. This can be something like co-browsing – where the operator can 'push' web pages to a customer's browser and help them fill in forms. Call escalation and department management is a helpful feature which will let you automatically assign calls to different departments and let operators transfer calls to the best person for the job. In terms of time saving, canned responses can be very useful to allow operators to respond to common questions very quickly.
Our advice is to make sure you know what features are available and what you need to do with the software to ensure you get good value for money.
Reporting is something that can often be overlooked when people talk about live chat support systems. There is no point in investing a significant amount of money in something if you can't see that it is having positive effects on your business. Most live chat support services will at the very least be able to report on your site traffic, often by integrating with Google Analytics.
However, the best services will be able to show you full reports on the route visitors took through your site, which page they were on when they abandoned a shopping cart and more. This kind of information can be incredibly useful when it comes to making changes to your site in order to increase sales.
The other aspect of the system that good services report on are the calls you are taking and how your operators are dealing with them. If you are running a large operation it can be very useful to see these kind of reports in order to analyze which operators are dealing with calls most efficiently. If you combine this with the post-chat surveys many services enable you to run, you can get a good idea of how live chat support is benefiting your business.
If you have an existing infrastructure in place and use various different systems to manage your online business, it may be worth checking for a live chat support system that can integrate with them. The most popular system to integrate with is Salesforce as so many businesses use it, but you can find integration points with others too. If you have developers in your organisation you can also find services that are fully custom extendable.
The other decision to make on this point is whether you want a solution that will run on your own servers or one that you pay to have hosted for you. If you have the capability, it can work out cheaper in the long term to run things on your own servers, but for most people it's probably best to opt for a hosted solution so that you have a service guarantee and very simple setup.
The Bottom Line
Live chat support will add value to almost any type of website and any type of business and, after reading this, you should have some idea of the things to look out for. There aren't too many really bad services out there, but do make sure to check our reviews to avoid the real turnips. Why not start by checking out our top ten list of the best live chat support services we have found.