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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?

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