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.

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.
  • 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. WP Curve uses Helloify (Dan is a co-founder) which is free for one operator.

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.

Helloify

helloify_150Helloify is a startup co-founded by WP Curve co-founder Dan and his colleague Luke. It’s interface is simple and they have native apps on Windows, Mac, Android and iPhone. It’s also free for one operator and the business plans are built for teams with features like direct team messaging and ‘Team Only’ mode for when you are out of the office. WP Curve uses Helloify to support it’s client base and all team members have an account and can jump on and help customers direct when needed.

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  (WP Curve uses Helloify which has native apps on Windows / Mac / Android / iPhone and a web app).
  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.

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About

Robert 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</a.

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