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Adding an online chat feature – good idea or not?

Maybe it seems a little back to front. I mean, first I reviewed some  online chat software and now I am writing about whether or not adding online chat to a website is worth considering.

For me, that’s the order things have happened – I did the research because a client asked me too. And now I am thinking about adding chat to my site as well.

Of course, I could wait a while and see how chat goes for my client… Yet again, their business is so different to mine that any data would probably have limited value.

So what’s so good about offering online chat functions?benefits

 Here are what I see as the reasons for adding chat to a website…

  1. you appear approachable and interested in helping potential clients
  2. it is simply another way people can choose to contact your business
  3. you can solve issues quickly – no waiting for emails or loosing people because they can’t find the answer they want from your site
  4. some people prefer to interact online instead of via the phone – and I suspect this tendency will increase
  5. an online chat can be quicker and less intrusive than getting a phone call
  6. by answering immediate questions, you can learn what people want to know when visiting your site – and maybe what is missing (or hard to find) from your site
  7. it’s a relatively simple way to make your website more interactive
  8. as a service provider, it can also be a great customer service tool for existing clients
  9. for someone like me, knowing how to use a new feature can be beneficial in advising my clients

And what’s NOT so good about adding chat to your site? Costs

If online chat was perfect for every website, we’d all have it, right? So here are some downsides to adding an online chat function…

  1. it costs money – there is quite a range of prices but you are likely to pay for the software and maybe hosting
  2. it will take time to set up – choosing a supplier, adding the code to every page on your site, customising the system to match your site/brand/clients
  3. there may well be time and money in getting a designer involved to integrate things nicely into your site
  4. it’s a new tool to learn how to use
  5. it’s potentially a distraction – being interrupted as you work and having a new set of stats to look at and worry about
  6. if you can’t be online a lot of time when your clients may expect you to be, it may give an impression of being unavailable or disinterested. Most software shows you are offline – yes, people can leave a message for you to get back to them, but not all will and the offline message may not be great. Some software has the chat button disappear when you are offline so that could be a solution if you are frequently unable to monitor chats.
  7. it may not suit your audience. Taken to extremes, a blind audience is more likely to prefer phone calls to online chats, but there would be less extreme examples where chat would be a waste of effort to install
  8. being live, you need to think faster than if answering an email or even updating social media. If writing (or writing clearly with good spelling) is a struggle or you’re concerned with being 100% accurate, then an online chat feature may be intimidating

Making the choice

weighing benefits and costs on scales

Have I missed any other points to consider?

I think it’s also important that a website gives the right impression. Do you think online chat is suitable for professional businesses or perhaps just for more informal or technology businesses?

Or put it this way, would you ever use an online chat feature on a professional website?

12 Responses to Adding an online chat feature – good idea or not?

  • Tash Hughes says:

    According to some research done by Fifth Quadrant, online chat ‘is the preferred channel for consumer customer suport’ – read the article at Dynamnic Business.

    That (and the points raised in that article) certianly are tipping the scales towards adding chat to my site…

  • Sherryl Perry
    Twitter:
    says:

    I used to have online chat on a website where we were selling a product. It was very well received. A side benefit of it was that it would chime every time someone visited (or left) my site. Also, it had the ability for them to leave an email. I haven’t installed chat software on my blog but I wouldn’t rule it out. As my SBA marketing adviser once told me, the more ways that we provide customers/clients to contact us, the better. There’s always going to be someone who prefers one method of contact to another. There are actually still people who want to fax.

    • Tash Hughes says:

      Hi Sherryl, thanks for leaving your ideas. It’s good to know you had success with online chat and would consider using it again, even on a blog.

      The software I’m looking at tells as someone comes or goes, too, but I think I might find a chime a bit distracting! I guess that depends on your business type or role – customer service could use that info, whereas if I am writing something I like to concentrate on it.

      I still offer a fax number but it is rarely used…

  • Susan Oakes says:

    Hi Tash,

    I think it can be a good idea for a product because usually of you have a problem you want an answer now. I would be lost if my web host didn’t have one. I am not sure of the benefits for a service business. Today as many businesses have customers from around the world unless it is manned it might not be an advantage.

    • Tash Hughes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Susan.

      I find that interesting as my perception (which could be way off the facts!) is that more product businesses would have broad customer bases than service businesses so the time zone issues would be more noticable.

      You have me wondering though if a ‘leave us a message’ offline approach is best or perhaps setting it so the chat option disappears when you’re offline. I think having it disapepar doesn’t set false expectations and the email information is there anyway…

      • Susan Oakes says:

        Hi Tash,

        You are right about product companies and time zones. What I have found is some man their chat line 24 hours such as web hosts. Other for example if you only sell within Australia will have the lines manned to cater for Western Australia. Also they probably have people in the different time zones to cater for the customers. Agree if you have one to set it to disappear is a could idea.

      • Tash Hughes says:

        Thanks Susan.
        Those time zones can make life tricky – a character in a book I just finished was saying how stupid time zones are and that life would easier if people didn’t make such rules, and that sentiment certainly applies in situations like this! Of course, time zones aren’t because people are difficult but that was the humour in the story 🙂

  • Gavin says:

    Hi Tash,
    Great article! I’ve been using live chat for the past couple of years across a range of different websites, the results are amazing.
    I completely agree with the downsides you listed, it was a huge challenge to properly resource it with staff often forgetting to log in, or forgetting that they were logged in and leaving to go to lunch or out to appointments. There’s nothing worse that visiting a website with live chat and then being ignored when you send them a message.
    After seeing the benefits AND the challenges of live chat, I set up a website called http://www.livechatmonitoring.com (shameless plug alert!) that address points 3, 4, 5, 6, and 8 in the second half of your article.
    When managed properly, live chat is an incredible tool for capturing more leads from your website. Our monitored service suits people who aren’t able to be online 7 days a week, but also allows for the business to sign in when they are available and have us there to manage the overflow if they get busy or need to sign off.
    If a business is managing this themselves, then there are some awesome choices out there to chose from depending on what features you want. There are some great free programs available too!
    Cheers,

    Gavin

  • Pingback: Managing and turning off new tools like online chat

  • Mike says:

    Hi Tash, I think it’s all depend on the staff that is operating live chat. Good live chat operators are always committed to help and the attention of your online visitors.

    • TashWord says:

      Hi Mike,

      I agree that without good customer service people any form of customer contact is dubious – and good staff make a huge difference 🙂

      And staff levels and capabilities is probably another point to consider when deciding if live chat is suitable for any particular website.

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