What is live chat?

Live Chat Support is a relatively new way to interact with your website visitors. Usually the visitor initiates a chat request by clicking an icon on your website. This can look like this, for example:

Pure Chat chat button

Image: Pure Chat live chat button

The chat button can be positioned anywhere on your site. However, on most websites you’ll see it placed at the bottom right of the site.

Live chat can be used for prospective customers in order to help them with their buying decision or for current customers who need support with a product they have already bought.

Many large websites have started to offer live chat support within the last few years. But live support systems are not only suitable for the big guys; small and medium-sized businesses alike have started to realize the added benefits live support can bring to their websites.

In this article we will explain what you can expect from quality live chat software and how you can best integrate it into your website. These are some typical questions:

What does pricing for live support tools look like?

Entry point pricing usually starts at around $15 per month with an increasing number of providers offering completely free plans (freemium) with reduced functionality. Usually you can also try one of their premium packages for a period of at least 14 days (we only list tools that offer freemium plans or free trial periods in our comparison).

Prices can go up to a couple of $100 per month or more mainly depending on the number of full time live support agents required.

How do I install it on my website?

Just a little bit of background: getting live chat on your website hasn’t always been this simple. Even a few years ago offering live chat meant that you had to install the software on your own server and spend vast amounts of money to maintain the system – simply put, live support was out of reach for most small or medium-sized businesses.

Times have changed. Now all you have to do is to simply copy a couple of lines of code that the vendor provides and put it on your website. It’s really that simple and you don’t need to be very technical to be able enable live chat on your website.

What about the look & feel of the live chat widget?

If you have a nicely branded website, you obviously want the live chat widget on your site to enhance this user experience. For that reason please make sure you check out the “appearance customization” section in each of our reviews.

There are also general differences in terms of how live chat widgets function. Some of the tools just put up an image on your website that tells the visitor that an operator is online. After clicking the image a pop-up window will open up where the customer can initiate the chat.

We found that the better solution is a widget-like chat bar that stays at the bottom of all pages of the website. When a customer starts a conversation the widget will expand to its full size. There won’t be a separate window and the chat will remain active even if the visitor browses to another page on your website.

How do I answer incoming chat requests?

The chat console is your control center: from here you can answer chat requests, monitor who is on your site and many more things. Some providers offer their own console (browser-based or installed on your computer), others use an instant messenger like Skype, Google Talk or Pidgin.

Usually it is better when the provider offers his own chat console as instant messengers (IM) where not originally intended to be used for live chat support, which means that either not all options will be executable through the IM or you will have to remember keyboard shortcuts. Ideally the provider offers both options.

What additional features do live support tools offer?

Proactive chats

When there are free chat agents you can set your software to start chats proactively on their behalf. This way you will be able to reach a lot more customers. Make sure the chat does not start in an intrusive way i.e. forcing the user to manually close the chat in order to be able to continue browsing.

Offline mode

When there is no chat agent online you can usually choose whether the chat client will simply disappear or turn into a contact form.

Canned messages

This will help you with phrases that are used frequently; “Hello, how can I help you today?” would be an example. While this can save a lot of time, you should avoid overdoing it as it can sound like a robot when the answer is not really tailored to the visitor’s question. You’ll also find that quite a few visitors will suspect a machine answering their questions anyway, so don’t be surprised when they ask “are you a bot?”. Now you better surprise them with a really helpful conversion and they will keep coming back to your site.

Chat protocols

Most tools will automatically save a copy of the chat. This is great in case you want to assess the quality of your support agents.

Tracking & Live analytics

By using live analytics you can see where your visitors are from, which page they are on and what has referred them to your website (e.g. search term used). This is very useful in order to gain further insights on your visitor’s background, especially when you intend to start chats with visitors that seem most promising.

Integration with CRM tools

If you are using a standard CRM or helpdesk solution like Salesforce, Highrise or Assistly there are a couple of live chat tools that integrate directly with them. This way you can add the chat conversation to your customer’s existing profile.

Team work

When working in a team, especially in one with different departments, it is important to be able to transfer chats to one another. This generally works better with a vendor that provides their own chat console rather than an instant messenger.

These were some of the most important aspects to watch out for when choosing a live chat support tool.

About Robert Brandl, BA (Hons) Munich University MUAS

robert brandl

Hi, my name is Robert Brandl, and I am the founder of Tooltester. I used to work in a digital marketing agency where I managed website and email marketing projects. To optimize my client's campaigns, I always had to find the optimal web tools. Tooltester (founded in 2010) opens this knowledge to you, hopefully saving you endless hours of research. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

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