The practical guide to live chat implementation

This is a guest post by Robert Brandl – more on Robert below. 

Many website owners are turning to live chat to support customers, close leads and understand more about buyer behavior. If these things are important to your business then this guide is for you.

How does live chat work

Feel free to skip this section if you are up to speed on how a live chat feature on a website works.

informlychat

I’m sure you know what live chat is. Here is it in action on the Informly agency page.

Live chat allows you to instantly communicate with your website visitors via instant messaging. On a basic level, the instant messaging part of the software works in the same way as a normal desktop messaging application like Skype, however the website visitor doesn’t need any special software installed. The chat simply appears within their browser window, and the website visitor can chat with an operator by typing into the live chat box.

Why use live chat

Any opportunity to have more interaction with your customers and answer their questions quickly is a good thing in my book. But here is some specific benefits you may not have thought of. I’ve taken these from this detailed article by Kiss Metrics.

  • Customers love live chat and regard it as an important website feature
  • Live chat can reduce costs and reduce incoming emails
  • Live chat can increase sales
  • If your competitors aren’t doing it then you can get a leg up. Informly chose it’s data centre provider based on their support and having live chat was a big factor.
  • Live chat enables you to better understand your customers which in the long run will lead to better products and more business.

When to use live chat?

Live chat is best used:

  • When you have at least one operator that will be available for the majority of the working day.
  • When you are looking to increase your conversion rate or capture interested people who may otherwise simply leave the site.
  • If you want to follow traffic and page views in ‘real time’ to find out how your site is being used.
  • If you are interested in being more proactive in supporting your customers and to learn more about their needs.

However, there are many more uses for live chat – the more you use it, the more you’ll understand its potential and see how it can be slotted in to your existing sales and support departments. Many live chat providers even support different departments or tiers for your customer service so that you can assign them to the most suitable operator automatically.

Live chat features

In addition to basic text-based chat, live chat tools offer a number of other features to help you control your chats, share your workload and understand more about your website visitors.

These might include:

  • Analytics data about your customer’s location and the language they speak
  • Information about their habits, such as the pages they have viewed and the number of times they have visited your website
  • Archived transcripts of visitor chats
  • Operator-initiated chats and automatic chat prompts
  • The ability to collect custom information, either via JavaScript or using a form
  • Multiple operator chatting, so you can pass chats to different team members
  • Automatic translation of multilingual chats
  • Skins and themes to make the chat box match your own website
  • Screen sharing and automatic page redirection
  • Offline tools, such as a contact form when no operators are available
  • Integrated voice chat tools and VOIP technology

The number of features you’ll enjoy will vary based on the product you choose and the package you’re using.

What is the cost?

Live chat is generally very affordable, although there can be a wide variation in price between basic plans and more advanced features. Informly users Olark here are their pricing plans.

olark_plans

Most live chat providers offer a free trial as well. I tried Olark and ClickDesk trials but ended up going with Olark mainly because I liked the display better on Olark however ClickDesk looks to be very similar and a great option for windows users.

Downsides

There are lots of live chat pros but what about the downsides?

  • Live chat can be a time-consuming method of communication so it’s worth looking at whether people are converting more after participating in the live chat.
  • To use it effectively, you’ll need to be online and available to take chats for a reasonable amount of time each day (or have a team member who is).
  • Live chat is also a little more open to abuse and misdirected enquiries, and it can take time to develop a strategy that will help you manage live chat effectively and make the best of its various features.

Live chat providers

There are many live chat providers, Here is a summary of 4 of them.

Olark

olark

Based in Palo Alto, California, Olark offers live chat tools mainly for small- and medium-sized businesses. Its plans range from a free, limited service through to the Ultimate plan, which includes a phone support hotline. Olark offers support for smartphones and tablets, statistics about chats and basic information about each website visitor. The chat box can be extensively customized to match your website’s colour scheme. The cheapest paid plan starts at $15 per month and includes one operator.

Zopim

zopimZopim’s live chat tools are used by some very well-known websites, including CNet, MSNBC and TechCrunch. Unlike some other live chat tools, Zopim provides its users with a web-based dashboard so that operators can monitor and respond to live chats through a browser, although it is possible to use a third-party application if you prefer. One of Zopim’s main advantages is their live analytics dashboard that gives you valuable information about your website visitors at-a-glance. Prices from $11.20 per month and per operator.

ClickDesk

clickdeskAs well as live chat, ClickDesk offers a few other innovative features that will attract businesses with larger teams. It provides integrated VOIP tools, an in-built help desk ticketing system, and integration with Skype for both live chatting and voice calling. The company also guarantees 99.95% uptime, so anyone who needs a solid, reliable provider can enjoy the peace of mind ClickDesk offers. At the moment, they don’t offer a web-based client or live analytics. Their cheapest paid plan costs $9.99 per month.

SnapEngage

snapengageOne of SnapEngage’s strengths is its integrations. The software slots comfortably into Basecamp, Desk.com, Zendesk and many other cloud tools. SnapEngage also places visitors onto a map alongside their browser, platform and the languages they are likely to speak. Once you have a SnapEngage account, you can re-use the widget on as many sites as you wish. They recently launched a slick web-based console that you can use in addition to (or instead of) an instant messenger. SnapEngage is a bit pricier than the others: it’s $49 per month but already includes up to 4 operators.

How to integrate live chat

Because every live chat system is different and the way you integrate it on your own computer will be different based on what setup you use, we won’t go into the nitty gritty detail on how to set it up. Each provide provides lots of resources on how to set up their software but the general approach is:

  1. Grab the code from the provide and past it into the template for your website. 
  2. While visitors don’t need software installed generally the website owner will. This software is sometimes provided by the provider or the provider might integrate with your existing software  (Informly uses the Apple Messages app on the Mac but there are plenty of others like Shype etc).
  3. Add the account data given to you by the chat service to the messaging software you are using.

The same can be applied to a mobile device with services like imo.im.

Best practice tips

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when implementing live chat:

  • Make sure customers aren’t left waiting. This is very annoying for a website visitor much like waiting around to be served in a store. 
  • Make sure people who handle the live chats are able to solve customer’s problems most of the time. It’s not like a support ticket, people are there waiting live and it’s frustrating to be told every time that you need to log a ticket.
  • Realise it’s an opportunity. Every time a customer starts a chat with you it’s a great opportunity to learn more about their needs and how they use the product. Make sure your operators can manage this well.
  • If you are being asked the same questions often and your chat software supports it then canned responses can be handy.
  • To have more website visitors engage in a chat, try automatic triggers that send an opening message after they’ve visited a certain amount or type of pages.

Further resources

livechathappinessHere are some other useful resources we consulted when building this guide.

Article author: Robert Brandl

robert_brandlRobert Brandl is the founder of the Tooltester Network, where he provides in-depth reviews of hosted software solutions such as live chat support tools and website builders.

His live chat review site is Chat Tool Tester and you can find him on Twitter @robertbrandl.

About

Dan Norris is a co-founder at WP Curve and a passionate entrepreneur with an obsession for content marketing.

  • http://www.supremacyseo.com/ Travis Jamison

    Nice post Robert,
    Live chat has been a double edged sword for me. I’ve learned a TON about my traffic coming through and what they are looking for, and it definitely increases conversions through the roof. The time suck is hard for an ADD person like me to deal with though.

    • http://www.tooltester.net/ Robert (Tooltester Network)

      Thanks Travis! I know what you mean, I also find it highly effective in terms of conversions. But this is really one of the tasks that should be delegated to a dedicated support worker once you’ve achieved some good results yourself. Let’s see how that goes, it’s one of my next tasks.

      • Hugh Mayhall

        I think you should start outsourcing the chat service. I recently started using 365chatsupport and it has given me really good results and i am now getting a lot of time to concentrate on other parts of my business.

        • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

          Thanks mate we like doing it. I think we’ll keep it in house. It’s part of the service.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Ha nice Travis same. I’m using it more selectively now. Agency users within the app can access live chat and I have it on the agency sales page but that’s it. For everything else I’m using an in app messaging service (Intercom) which isn’t live chat but it’s a bit less friction than email.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Jamesschramko James Schramko

    I like using the leave a message function with LiveChatInc that pushes the ticket into zendesk. It requires no instant answer and is highly qualified.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Good stuff I’ve so far opted to not show the live chat box if I’m not online but I imagine if I do I’ll get more people contacting so perhaps I should. Thanks for the comment. Within Informly I use Intercom which is similar, it’s not live chat but it’s a messaging system that feels like less friction than email and I find lots of people use it compared to before when they had to go to the support page and click a link to email me.

  • clickwebdesign

    I used Olark for about 12months, but having to login to an IM I wouldn’t normally use was a pain. Switched to ClickDesk because of the Skype integration which is great, but I miss the easy customisation of Olark,

    Cheers

    Chris

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Hey Chris this is actually the precise reason I decided to use Olark. It integrates with the messaging app on the mac which I use for text messaging people so it’s open some of the time but I use Shype all day every day to chat to my team so I’m always online. I didn’t really want to always be available to customers so it helps me to have it separate. But they did seem very similar, I used ClickDesk in my old company and it was great.

      Thanks for the comment.

      • clickwebdesign

        Ah that’s handy for Mac. Just “live chatted” with Olark and Zopim, both have Skype integration planned for future releases.
        I use Skype with my team too, I can switch to “away” which disables the live chat, while my guys can still see I’m about.

        • http://www.tooltester.net/ Robert (Tooltester Network)

          In my experience Skype is not quite as reliable as other chat systems such as GTalk. Messages sometimes get stuck for up to 30 seconds. That’s why not all live chat providers support them. Have you ever had any issues like this?

          • clickwebdesign

            Hi Robert, interesting, yes I have but very rarely. I just assumed this was possibly a connection issue but from your comment it sounds like it may have been skype related.

  • Marinus

    I’m a big fan of live chat as well, love to talk to the people on my site. I used to Olark, but I switched to Userlike because I don’t have to use a downloaded client. I think Olark has the best chat-rule system, but Userlike seems more stable.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Cool Marinus good to hear mate thanks for your comment.

  • http://dannyfries.com/ Danny

    Just yesterday, I had a small question regarding the Inform.ly payment model. I was amazed when Dan answered within minutes. Excellant service.

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Danny it works well when you are online! I’m going to turn my live chat back on inside the app now as well now that I’ve moved to paid only so I can improve the service I’m giving people.

  • David

    HeyBubble live chat is a good alternative to those providers.
    They’re totally free while Beta, and have a LOT of great features!

  • Jeniffer Maben

    Robert, Nice review.
    I am using Live2Support since 2011. I tried some others before choosing Live2Support but I am very much comfortable with Live2Support. Great features at low price.

    • http://www.tooltester.net/ Robert (Tooltester Network)

      Thanks Jeniffer, I’ve reviewed Live2Support too. It can’t really measure up to the tools mentioned in the article. The interface is quite clunky and it looks outdated. Here’s the review: http://www.chattooltester.com/reviews/live2support/

      • Jeniffer Maben

        Hi Rovert, I don’t think if its clunky and outdated. I subscribed its gold package. Features are awesome. Its web analytic feature is very helpful to measure performance of website. Keyword tracking, referral URL and visitors Geo location tracking are important for my business. 24/7 customer support is never ignorable. Team behind Live2Support is supportive and helpful.

      • Griffin Robert

        Hi Robert,

        I don’t agree with your words. I am using Live2Support since 2012 and never found any single bug. Great balance of features and price at Live2Support.

        • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

          And very active online! In 5 minutes I got this comment, one on Google + (which had nothing to do with my post) and one ‘cold email’ all about Live2Support. At least you got the spelling of Robert’s name correct unlike your colleague below.

  • thechatshop

    Interesting post Dan. You cover the basics really well – perfect for anyone looking to implement chat themselves. I would be more than happy to answer any more complex questions in regards to live chat if anyone has an unanswered questions.

    Kind regards
    Joe

    • http://inform.ly/ Dan Norris

      Thanks Joe and thanks for the offer.

  • http://techgyo.com/ Sreejesh

    Awesome list, how many of them are free and are there any opensource wordpress plugins other than these services?

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      Hey Sreejesh. There doesn’t seem to be too many good free ones out there. I used to use LiveZilla which was great and used to be free but they moved to paid only.

      Let me know if you find one.

      • http://techgyo.com/ Sreejesh

        I think Clickdesk and Zopim both have free version. I’m using Zopim on http://creative11.com

    • Rahul Patel

      ClickDesk offers a free forever plan. This plan is without any time-period restriction so you don’t need to worry about next 15-20 days after Signup. See all our plans http://www.clickdesk.com/compare-plans.jsp’ async data-rl=’

      • http://techgyo.com/ Sreejesh

        Yes, I’ve tried that on few of my sites. Thanks

      • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

        Thanks Rahul good to know mate.

  • dale carnegie

    Good looking software but currently I am using eAssistance Pro live chat software and it works very well. If anyone need this software can get from https://www.eassistancepro.com

  • Amy Thomson

    Currently I signed up with webbochat.com they are new but the quality of interface and features are vast, moreover they have low pricing which is based on number of operators not features. So with trial you get full features and you can also negotiate pricing….Its good

    • http://wpcurve.com/ Dan Norris

      They should use some of your money to hire a designer!

      • Amy Thomson

        Yeah right they are new but software is good and cheap and fulfill my requirement

  • http://www.clicktofone.com/ Dale

    For a comparison of chat pricing in the 1 place I found http://www.business-live-chat.com helpful. Contains 3 providers currently…