Live chat on your website? The pros and cons

Michiel Destoop
July 30, 2019
⏱ 7 min. read

Live chatting is indispensable if you want to turn your website into an interactive communication tool. There’s no better way to prompt visitors on every page to enter into a dialog.

You are probably familiar with the live chat function on a website: at the left or right bottom of a web page there is a button, often shown as a speech balloon. When you click it, you can ask the support team a question that you expect to have answered as soon as possible.

Who's first?

Sometimes, the chat application will automatically ask a question as soon as the first page is loaded. This is, however, rather pushy. After the cookies notification this is yet another pop-up that your visitor wants to get rid of as soon as possible. Not the right approach!

If you want to take the first step in initiating a conversation, you need a smart approach. For instance, offer assistance 5 seconds after your visitor has landed on the page showing your rates and fees or another well-converting page. It is also a good idea to adapt your first question to the context, instead of using a "one-size-fits-all" text like "How can I help you?".

Live chat: from fast to faster

Here is a list of some typical live contact options that you can find on websites.

  • Postal address: sending a letter and waiting for an answer. This may take several days and is completely outdated. A visiting address is, however, interesting if people can drop by your store or company to ask you a question in person.
  • E-mail address: you can expect a response within 24 hours. You can follow up your communication with the company via your mailbox and consult this at a later date.
  • Contact form: information is gathered in a structural manner. This gives you the advantage of quickly obtaining the information you want. As a company, you should make smart use of this option, and only ask for the most necessary information. Of course, you should not forget to comply with the privacy regulations when collecting information! Another good tip: tell your visitors how long it will take before they can expect a reply.
  • Telephone number: people expect to be able to reach you during office hours. Big companies sometimes put callers through an options menu first, and some even place them in a virtual waiting room for several minutes. In every case, you hope to get an answer to your question quickly. As this is a dialog situation, both parties can exchange information.
  • "Call me" button: you can indicate when you want to be called. This is like a contact form and telephone number in one. You want live contact because your question is complex, but you don't feel like waiting or you may be visiting the website at an inconvenient time (e.g. at night).
  • Social media accounts: on the one hand, this allows you to follow the communication flow of a company. On the other hand, it gives you an opportunity to ask the company questions (privately or publicly). Thanks to the widespread use of Messenger and the "instant" aspect of social media you can expect your question to be answered very quickly, even outside of opening hours.
  • Live chat: similarly to telephone contact and Messenger, you can enter into a dialog immediately. The only difference is that you, as a company, will be more in control of the situation during a live chat on your website. You are the one to determine where and when the chat buttons will be available on your website. You can connect the visitor to the right support staff member based on the visitor's profile, visited pages and a few exploratory questions, if applicable.

Live chat support website 
Study conducted by Kayako (2017)

Am I speaking to a robot?

The visitor wants an answer as quickly as possible. If you can offer a good answer in an automated manner, after analyzing his or her question, you should certainly make use of this possibility. As a robot can do this quickly you will be able to serve more visitors.

If the automatic answer is not satisfactory, the visitor must be able to indicate this and receive assistance. Your visitors should certainly know when they are speaking to a robot, and when they are being helped by a real live employee.

Chatbots are on the rise, but it is difficult to make them sufficiently user-friendly and collaboration between chatbots and real live support staff members is also hard to achieve.

Complete funnel: from a cold lead to warm customer support

A live chat should not be restricted to a support channel for your existing customers. You can also offer it on your marketing-oriented website, similarly to providing a telephone number or a contact form.

Live chat is a low-threshold form of communication. Visitors can even remain reasonably anonymous when asking a question.

It can be the beginning of a sales pitch. A positive experience during a live chat session on your website will guide the visitor further along through the sales funnel: doubts are alleviated or limited, advantages are emphasized even more strongly and trust is created between both parties. These are all important elements for a successful sale.

Live chat tools – free of charge or not?

There is a great deal of chat software around. Often, it is part of a CRM or support software package. There are, however, also some stand-alone applications.

Some tools are available free of charge. Usually this is only offered as a first step towards a paying subscription. Most live chat tools are based on a subscription formula with a variable price. The price depends on the number of agents who answer questions online, or extra functionalities like artificial intelligence or integration with other tools.

Here are several tools with a free chat application:

An interesting free chat software application is Tawk.to. You can use this software free of charge, but for only one dollar an hour you can hire live agents to answer the incoming chats.

Please note: if you enter terms like online chat, live chat tools, or free live chat into a search engine you may be directed to XXX-rated websites. Certainly if you also want to add a WebCam functionality to your live chat button. NSFW!

If you are looking for live chat software you can also make use of the following comparison websites:

Our experiences with live chat 

At Husky, we have been making use of live chat from the very beginning: first for support in the application itself, later on also on the website. After all, when using an online application you should be able to get help quickly if you have a question about it.

In the meantime, we are on our fourth tool, which we have been using for more than two years: Intercom. Highly recommended, as far as we are concerned.

It also took us some time to find the ideal location. Chat buttons are usually located at the bottom of the page, on the right-hand side. However, in our app this is where you can control a contextual sidebar (e.g. to add tasks and milestones, or to participate in discussions). That is why our chat button is located at the bottom left. 

Always being able to respond to questions quickly is a challenge. Answering a support question during a meeting, or while driving, is quite difficult, for example. I sometimes park alongside a road to answer a question on my smartphone while opening my laptop with my free hand, ready to dig deeper when a customer has a question, or to offer clarification by using screenshots and screencasts (brief videos showing what is happening on your screen). 

We want to respond super quickly, particularly during but also outside of office hours. A holiday period is even more challenging, but as many of your visitors will also be on vacation there will be fewer questions.

The live chat function certainly contributes to positive customer response to our support, as you can read in the reviews on Capterra.

Live chat: a summary of the pros and cons

Pros

  • Low-threshold
  • At the right time, in the right place
  • Smart automation possible
  • Easy to install on your website
  • Measurable and connected to other online tools like CRM

Cons

  • Cost: recurring subscription + setting up and testing everything takes time
  • It is not easy to perfect the human touch in automatic messages
  • Huge offering of online tools makes it difficult to choose
  • High expectations with regard to response rates 
  • Your support and sales organization must be willing and able to support live chat
     

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