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A new online chat option

Live chat grpahic supporting a supplier review

Deciding to add live chat to your website is just step one – deciding on a supplier can be time-consuming. Reviews of suppliers can aid your search…

Since writing my review of online chat options last month (was it really that long ago?), I’ve done more testing and refining. And then another option caught my eye, despite having stopped looking, and I’m really impressed with it so I’m adding this to the list…

Assistro

  • They are based in Melbourne and I like dealing with and supporting Australian businesses when I can
  • 15 day free trial – again, I like the fact no credit card details are required in advance
  • Can access via smart phones and tablets – needs a Google talk based widget
  • Clean, attractive website – doesn’t affect the use of the tool obviously but does inspire more confidence than the Live Help Now site
  • Prices based on business size – $0 (1 operator and 10 chats per month) to $36 a month (8 operators, united chats)
  • Can also pay for monitored chats – they’ll answer queries for you! Appealing but obviously costs more
  • Chat transcripts stored for 30 days
  • Can apparently install in less than 30 seconds – it is easy to install but if you don’t have an instant messaging account you also need time to set that up (and it’s worth noting that Google has just changed their chat to hangouts)
  • Can customise the chat window messages – but not the colours or branding unfortunately. However, that feature is coming in about 2 months and they’ll help clients one-on-one as required.
  • Form to collect contact details when you’re offline
  • Includes an installation guide on their website – and it is in Plain English, not tech speak
  • Requires a third party instant message client such as Google Talk, Pidgin or eBuddy
  • Chat window stays constant even as someone moves pages on your site
  • Chat window pops up after someone is on your site for 10 seconds but will not reappear once they close the window. Easy to close/ignore/minimise/respond once the window pops up
  • You can add it to as many websites as you wish
  • It is supposed to work with all major browsers
  • No contracts, just pay month to month via credit card – paypal option coming soon
  • Maintain a regular presence on Twitter – reassuring to see they are active and current as their blog is a bit light on
  • I received friendly support via their online chat and a follow-up phone call where they asked what features I want. My IT support also got follow-up support very quickly after he asked for help in their chat.

 ** Unlike the other options I reviewed, assistro not only has an affiliate program but is also worth mentioning via that affiliate program s0 the links to their site may result in an affiliate payment to me if you choose their paid service – it won’t cost anything extra for you either way.

Online chat solutions in review

Messages transferred between computersI have been researching online chat software for a client. There are a lot of options available so I thought I’d share some of my observations for anyone else who may be thinking of making their website more interactive.

Of course, these are my personal opinions and experiences, and are based on a user’s perspective. I looked at many websites, compared features and made a short list of  six suppliers to try – this is my short list.

Online chat suppliers

I will list these roughly from best to worst so you can skip the rest of the list once you’ve found one to suit you. I’ve added a couple of explanations at the end, too, so you can understand their terminology when visiting their sites.

Prices listed are as listed on their sites – presumably in USD so at least comparable to each other. You can convert to local currency online if need be.

Note many of these have an affiliate program if that is important to you. I am not an affiliate with them (I won’t promote products/services I wouldn’t use myself!) and note that the ones I like best either don’t have or don’t promote an affiliate program – I wonder how coincidental that is?

 Live Help Now

  • this was highly rated in a review I read, and I can see why
  • fully customisable although it takes a bit of effort to change every aspect
  • can respond to a chat via your desktop or mobile device
  • offers a 30 day free trial – with no credit card details to get started which I like
  • $21 per operator per month (nice to choose the number required but pricey if you have a few people)
  • SSL chat with data stored in a data centre in the USA (not in the cloud)
  • has a section where you can add ads to promote specials, etc
  • pre-prepared responses, links and images (most only have text)
  • two-way file transfers
  • hide chat or use a contact form when you’re offline
  • can run multiple chats
  • real-time visitor tracking & stats
  • print or email transcripts of chats – stored on the system for 3 months (or less upon request)
  • extra $50 a month to remove ‘powered by’ link on chat windows – very disappointing
  • can view visitor’s Facebook profile but otherwise doesn’t integrate with social media unfortunately
  • I received a welcome email the next day with a contact name – nice touch
  • easy enough to use although I sometimes forgot to swap between the operator and admin panels so couldn’t find what I wanted
  • can also chose a tab function so visitors can search answers or chat
  • free WordPress plugin

Banckle

  • 14 day trial (1 operator, 25 chats)
  • free WP plugin
  • Works across browsers & platforms (including mobile)
  • detailed stats reports (easy to export)
  • multiple chats
  •  unlimited operators and the ability to chat with other operators (eg ask them a question to help a customer)
  • offline contact form
  • searchable archive of chats
  • track & record visitor data
  • transfer chats between operators
  • customisable
  • pre/post survey
  • $9 = 1 operator online at a time, no customisation, their name; $29 = 4 operators, no customisation; $69 = 8 operators, customisation. Note an annual payment discount applies.
  • Many help videos
  • Can save/print/email offline transcript easily (as can member) – but Banckle staff can’t access them
  • SSL and works over https
  • they apply good security measures– not stored in cloud but can choose to use Dropbox
  • sharing links work
  • simple to operate
  • my client couldn’t access the backend through their strict firewalls unfortunately

Website Alive

  • $30 USD per month or $98 for additional features (supervisor access, recording stats, adding photos of operators)
  • customisation
  • chat with transcripts (searchable and download as csv files, or email at end of chat)
  • email form if offline
  • visitor tracking & analysis
  • pre/post chat survey
  • multiple chat lines
  • spell check
  • auto-greetings
  • 2 operators allowed
  • mobile chat (including transfer current chat to mobile or back!)
  • transfer chats to other staff, internal chat room
  • integrate with Facebook & Twitter (ie they can start chats from there!)
  • can embed onto all pages for permanent viewing, text link for emails
  • Free 10 day trial, 60 day money back
  • Nothing to download – access from anywhere, easy set up
  • No document sharing
  • Participate in Truste Privacy Seal program
  • “All chats are saved in our system for future reference

Comm 100

  • WP plugin
  • 15 day trial
  • $21 per operator per month – no mobile access, 3 months transcript storage, no email transcripts
  • $29 per operator per month – mobile access, email transcripts, indefinite transcript storage, chat queue
  • Discounts for multiple operators & annual payments
  • Per & post surveys
  • customisable
  • multiple chats
  • spell check
  • pre-prepared responses & URLs
  • offline message form
  • transfer chats, internal chats, supervise chats
  • visitor stats & web path,
  • visitor can be emailed transcript
  • search transcripts
  • minimal stats (missed chats, operator metrics – more in $49 plan)

Zopim

  • From review – good layout, basic customisation, very easy to use, great info on visitors, resembles Facebook chat
  • Free 14 day trial, 5 day money back refund
  • Free – 1 operator, 14 day archive, 1 chat only
  • $14 ($11.20 if pay annually) per month per operator unlimited chats, 2 triggers
  • $25 ($20 if pay annually) per month per operator – unlimited calls, unlimited triggers
  • Offline contact form or hide it
  • track visitors
  • transcripts for visitors & archive
  • encryption on SSL sites
  • customise  widget colours
  • pre-prepared responses
  • manager can supervise chats
  • plugins for WP
  • transfer chats to mobile device
  • internal chats
  • dashboard for stats
  • permanent window
  • FAQ indicates some teething issues with IOS; they are looking into SM integration; friendly service via chat!

Conversion Support

  •  this was actually at the top of my list until I tried it
  • Free 30 day trial
  • Free WP plugin to include chat on a blog (last updated Nov 2012)
  • Mobile access
  • customisable
  •  visitor tracking, stats & reports – but I couldn’t find any stats within the admin area
  • no contracts, no software to download (just code to site)
  • pre chat survey
  • offline contact form (or hide)
  • incoming seen by all online
  • pre prepared responses
  • multiple chats
  • integrate with FB or google talk
  • records transcripts
  • Free – 1 operator, 100 chats
  • $10 per month  –  5 operators, 3,000 chats,
  • $20 per month – 10 operators, 6,000 chats
  •  simple to install 
  • button on the site sits below the footer despite changing settings to put it elsewhere
  • Can’t change time settings to local (eg transcripts will show 5.30pm when it is 11.30am for me) which will make tracking chats more difficult
  • chat works through my client’s strict firewalls but dashboard access shows an error message
  • Transcripts emailed instantly & easy to access in backend. Can’t delete them so they are there forever
  • Links appear as text not a hyperlink – push feature described on the site but the relevant buttons not visible in the admin area
  • Cloud based storage
  • Service very poor – chat operator can’t answer how-to questions and they never emailed me back

Online chat glossary

operator – the person who answers the chats for the business. If you have a system with multiple operators, you can usually personalise it and use their names; if you only have one operator function but multiple staff, they will have to share a name.

pre-prepared response – often called a canned response. SImply a commonly used answer or question that is added to the system to save time and typing during a chat. For example, I could have ‘Yes I write guest blog posts’ or ‘My monthly newsletter is free to subscribe to’ as canned responses.

 pre-chat survey – the ability to ask some questions before allowing someone to chat with you. Common questions are name and email address but you can add things like ‘what do you want to ask about?’ or give them a choice of departments to chat to.

permanent window – the chat window will stay open and visible even if making decisions around a pile of coloured pencilsthe visitor changes pages within your site. This is most relevant if the chat window is not a pop up window (ie is embedded into the page)

How do you decide?

If you are looking at doing something like adding a new feature to your website, how do you go about the process?

I love the simplicity of just grabbing one option and running with it, but I would never feel I had the best deal unless I had looked at other options as well. I like to shop around a bit – even if that just helps me learn more about the features to look out for – then create a short list and decide.

Do you need to look at options yourself or are some good reviews enough for you?

Reviewing the usefulness of old content links

Old content can still be good or it can be out dated, depending on the topic and the opinions given.

Since May 2012, I have ended each month with a blog post referring back to some of my old content (from my newsletter and blog). I’ll list all seven posts at the end of this one.

It has been interesting to read things I wrote in the past and think about how relevant they are today and how else they can be applied to good business communications.

To be honest, much of my content does still apply as writing doesn’t change rapidly – had I written about mobile phones or social media it probably would have been a different story!

Did it work?

Looking back, reviewing old content each month:

  1. was an easy way to find new content I guess – there was some time involved in deliberately going back to that month of past years and I did have to think of what to write about the old content
  2. created easy posts to write in advance and schedule
  3. helped build more links within my site, especially bringing some of those older pages back to life.
  4. didn’t have any significant effect on the number of readers to those posts (compared to posts made around the same time, there was little variation in reader numbers – with the exception of making procedure manuals accessible which was 3 to 6 times more popular than posts within a week of it going live). Given only one post stood out, I’d say it was more about the topic than the old content link.
  5. also didn’t seem to have attracted particularly more or less discussion either
  6. took advantage of work I did in the past – leveraging is a great concept!

The biggest question to me, however, is what you thought of it.

Was it interesting to revisit old content? Or maybe I was too subtle and you hardly noticed that I was doing it?

Would you like me to continue this into 2013? If so, are there any changes you would like me to make?

My old content driven posts were:

May – planning future communications
June – making procedure manuals accessible
July – knowing the right terms
August – consistency over stats
September – reading efficiently saves money
October – accepting feedback graciously
November – dividing up business tasks
December – honesty in blog comments

Breadwinner review

As 2012 is the national year of reading, I am going to share some of my reading this year through a series of book reviews. Here is the first one…

Breadwinner: a fresh approach to business success

by Tom O’Toole with Lowell Tarling
BAS Publishing, Seaford 2009

Some time ago, an IT trainer told me about a video by Tom O’Toole from the Beechworth  Bakery. The trainer (and others at his training company) were using it in a business course to cover customer service. I then heard of Tom O’Toole in passing a few times.

Driving through Albury last year we happened across a Beechworth Bakery outlet and stopped for lunch. Whilst there, I bought a copy of  Breadwinner by Tom O’Toole.

I admit I didn’t start reading it until January but was very impressed with it once I started. So much so we detoured to Beechworth on our way back from Canberra a few days later.

Personally, I generally don’t find biographies or autobiographies satisfying as a business book (as interesting as they may be to read for pleasure) but this book was a great blend of the two. Tom starts with a chapter on his philosophies from business and finishes with a chapter on his personal philosophies and lessons. In between was his autobiography from childhood to business success.

There are a number of thoughts in the book that I have come across before (if it’s to be, it’s up to me;  it’s the little things that make a difference; goals are just dreams with a date) but they had an impact because they fit in Tom’s story – he shows how they helped him rather than lecturing readers with clichés.

Tom was a poor kid growing up on the banks of the Murray – and his childhood and family certainly gave him stories to entertain with in his book! Imagine kangaroos and frogs living in the house, brothers sharing a bed and living with your front door open and you’re heading towards young Tom’s world.

While Tom discusses his poverty and hardships, it is neither a pity party nor a ‘look how good I am for rising out of this stuff’. It is his story so he tells it, tells it honestly and lets us see how things influenced and taught him.

It’s a good read which will have you laughing and thinking.

From a business perspective, Tom does give ideas and examples of customer service and how to build yourself and your team for success.

In Tom’s words “this book is about making dough, the paper kind. It will hopefully get you out of your comfort zone, it certainly got me out of mine.” And me out of mine.

I recommend grabbing a copy and investing your time in it. Once you’ve read it, come back and let me know how it motivated you or changed your business.

Repeat what works

“if it aint broke, don’t fix it” is an expression that really makes sense to me. I see no reason to spend time on something that is working when other things need my attention.

Yes, everything in business should get reviewed periodically to check for possible improvements. But reinventing the wheel each time you do something is just a waste of time in my mind.

For example, if your current marketing plans keep you a steady stream of clients that meets your work and profit requirements, then stick to it! Keep an eye on new avenues but don’t drop the past efforts to grab the latest trends like twitter and Facebook – those new things may not work with your audience for one thing, and it will take time for you to learn the most effective ways to use new ideas in your business.

I came across a sales page recently which talked about repeating simple procedures – I thought it made good sense and reminded me of the above quotation. The writer made the point that a surgeon follows the same steps every time a certain operation is performed, a javelin thrower throws the same way every time and a bank uses the same forms and processes for every loan they approve.

Having a simple procedure makes it easier to complete a task, but more importantly, it ensures you get the best results in the most efficient way every time – even if different people carry out that same process.

For things that are working well in your business, do you have a simple procedure to follow? And that someone else could follow for you? Once you write out such procedures you can save time to work on the things that are broken – and prepare procedures in those areas to find an effective way to do those tasks.

It’s not quite the same as leave good things alone, but having a written procedure for things that work allows for almost-mindless repetition so things keep running along smoothly.

Top 10 business saving tips

Lately I’ve heard a few business owners talk about ways to save money in their business so here are my top 10 tips for saving money without scrimping on product/service quality.

  1. review your recurring costs (such as website hosting, bank fees, phone rental and internet service) – it amazes me the difference in prices for the same service so it can be extremely worthwhile to compare what’s available
  2. look for energy efficient options – even if you don’t think the environment is an issue, low energy light bulbs, efficient heaters and the like can save you money especially if you have big premises and/or a lot of staff. This includes things like adding curtains or blinds rather than have temperature gains/losses through windows
  3. compare suppliers periodically – they don’t all adjust prices the same way at the same time and some will offer you great ‘honeymoon’ rates but not be as competitive later. Even if you don’t change suppliers, it will keep you in touch with reasonable industry rates as a reference and negotiating tool
  4. consider who you outsource to – the cheapest price is not always the most cost effective option (putting aside cheapest isn’t always best!) If Sally charges $100 an hour and Mary charges $80 but Sally is twice as fast, paying Sally will probably be the cheaper option. If Sally can also do another task it may be cheaper to use her for both as she knows your business and is already working for you.
  5. send statements and reminder invoices soon after an invoice is due – you will generally get better results for less effort if you ask for money when the project is fresh. Debt chasing is a waste of your resources
  6. buy cheaper when it doesn’t impact on quality. For example, if store A and B sell the same product at different prices with the same level of service, buy from the cheaper store. Likewise, buying 100 pens is often cheaper per pen than buying 10 of them.
  7. recycle and reuse as much as possible. In bigger companies, a fortune can be saved if you use old letterhead or with compliment slips as staff note pads; use the back of envelopes for calculations and scribbles instead of paying for notepads; print drafts on the back of old papers; use incoming packaging to package your products.
  8. turn everything off! Make sure the last person out turns off the lights, get everyone to turn off their computer and monitor at the end of the day, turn off monitors when away from your desk for more than 10 minutes, turn off printers and scanners overnight, and so on – you may be amazed at how much this can save over a year
  9. be prepared and communicate clearly with suppliers and service providers – wasting their time will cost you money
  10. monitor your marketing – if an ad isn’t helping your business then it is a waste of money (and that could include free ads!) Even ads that are working may be made less expensive (smaller size, less frequent use, etc) so try and compare the results

What other ways have you used to save money in your business? How much did it save you?

Managing feedback

When I’m writing for some of my corporate clients, a number of people need to be involved in the document – usually a mix of technical experts and legal advisers, along with a manager or two. If you have ever had to deal with a committee consensus, you’ll know that this process can be frustrating and time-consuming.

The best results arise when everyone has the appropriate input with one or two people having responsibility for the final result – usually the writer and a senior manager.

Here are some of my tips to keep this process under control:

  • have all feedback come into a central place so it can be collated – and if a technical expert can collate it for you, even better!
  • as much as possible, get everyone involved to review the same draft by a specific deadline. This way, you can blend all of the feedback into the document in one go rather than having many drafts and missing details in the confusion. Most stakeholders then do not get another review – legal, management and you get to do final checks.
  • get the document as accurate as possible with one or two client representatives before it goes to the group
  • explain any potential issues before they start the review. For example, I often write ‘refer to page xx’ in a draft document rather than ‘refer to page 10’ to allow for layout changes. I warn clients of this when I give them the draft to save them and me dealing with page numbers unnecessarily
  • understand as much as possible who is who amongst the stakeholders. If Jane and Mary give opposing feedback – which should you rely on as technically correct and which is an opinion?
  • be willing to give way on some points if they aren’t important so that you can stand your ground on points where it is important – remember that the same information can be written in multiple correct ways, and it can be personal choice as to which is ‘better’

As a writer, it is my job to take their technical knowledge, legal requirements and document intentions and provide them with a clear, easy to read document. So sometimes I do exactly as their feedback requests (e.g. changing a measurement from 5mm to 5cm) and at other times I adjust their feedback for clarity.

Use your words wisely!

What is a review?

Looking through some blogs recently, I have discovered some unusual interpretations of what a review is…

The online Oxford Dictionarydefines it as a formal assessment of something; a critical appraisal of a work; or a report after the event.

It seems simple – a review is a report about a book, course, website, blog or whatever to help others decide if the work is of potential use/interest/value to them. A review is not an ad (“this product has these features and is available only from us”) or a list of facts (“this website has 10 pages about getting fit”).

If you are writing a review, the following points may help:

  • include all relevant details so someone can find the item easily if they want to. This includes the author and publisher for a book, product name and supplier/manufacturer for a product,  name and URL for a website or blog, and so on
  • give a summary of the item so the reader understands what you are reviewing, but don’t try to include everything – remember, no one wants to hear the punchline before the joke.
  • be honest – that doesn’t mean only list bad things or be nasty, but don’t say it is wonderful if it has some faults or problems. If I write a negative review, I always try to include something positive as well
  • give an assessment, such as ‘thoroughly recommend this book’, ‘great value for money’ or ‘not as good as their previous model’. This helps the reader decide whether they want to know more or not.
  • qualify the work if required. For instance, a book or movie review may state ‘entertaining for the under 10s but tedious for adults’ or ‘thought-provoking but not suitable for teenagers’ so parents can choose not to allow children to read/see it
  • be impartial or upfront about any connections as this builds trust and your credibility – a rave review about something you profit from may damage your reputation

Reviews are a great way to give value to others, but only if people can trust you to give honest, genuine reviews.

Happy writing!