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This is part of our ongoing series on Scaling Customer Service, based on our Customer Service Scaling Timeline. This month we’re covering Stage Two.

live chat in actionOne of the most exciting customer service innovations to reach smaller companies in the last few years is live chat. While enterprise companies have had access to this tech for several years, it’s just become affordable and light enough for companies like Zopim, SnapEngage, and Olark to offer it to regular-sized companies.

Live chat allows companies to provide instant customer service by chatting with customers while they’re trying to use the product, providing unprecedented potential for insight and retention.

So, is live chat the future?

Well, yes and no.

The potential of live chat is undeniable. Increasingly customers want support at the speed of conversation, and chat allows this. The ability to offer instant help to a customer before they get frustrated is an incredible way to build customer satisfaction. And the personal nature of chat both increases customer friendliness and affinity with the company.

The problem is that live chat is an expensive time investment.

We’ve experimented with live chat and spoken to numerous startups who have as well, and the same points keep arising:

pin that says multi tasking kills1. It’s incredibly distracting

We’ve read all the studies that say that multitasking doesn’t really work, and in fact keeps us from doing our best work.

Live chat is a living distraction. Whether you’re writing something, programming, or even responding to customer tickets…once you hear the “ding” of a live chat, your brain is derailed. Even worse, the customer on the other end may have large gaps in their response – giving you just enough time to restart your previous task before getting distracted again.

2. If you do it badly, it’s worse than not offering it.

offline live chatThe world is all about expectations. If you list an average response time of 4 hours on your support page, your customers won’t get as upset if they don’t hear anything in hour 3. If you tell your customers that the product will arrive in 3 days and it arrives in 5, they’ll be upset.

The same thing applies to live chat. If you don’t respond to a live chat, it’s a slap in the face to your customer. Clearly, they’re not worth your time.

But just as bad is the plethora of “currently offline” live chat widgets across the web. If a customer encounters a live chat widget, they expect to be able to talk to you right away. The lack of an on-duty agent is upsetting; they got their hopes up about live chatting and now it’s gone.

Removing the widget from the page when offline isn’t much of an improvement. Customers who previously used your live chat will now wonder where it’s gone, and crankily resort to a standard message.

3. It’s amazing

Despite the above, connecting with your customers so instantly and personally is completely powerful. Nobody is denying that.


So, what’s the punchline? Should I use live chat?

During the second stage of our Customer Service Scaling Timeline, we suggest you give it a try. Unless you’re flooded with customers (in which case, congrats!), you’re going to want to do whatever you can to reach those using your product and find out what you can do to make it more addictive.

In our view, live chat quickly becomes unmaintainable after this phase, and isn’t really practical again until you can have someone dedicated to it full time…at which point, it once again becomes a reliable and powerful way to connect with, help, and delight customers.


Are you a UserVoice customer? Check out SnapEngage’s live chat integration with UserVoice.

Pin photo courtesy of Daquella Manera.

Evan Hamilton

About Evan Hamilton

  • Zal Dastur

    Live chat is not for everyone. We have written a short blog post about live chat vs call back and which one is right for your business.

    http://blog.lucep.com/difference-between-call-back-tools-and-live-chat/

  • aditi

    Yes i think you should use live chat app,it is useful for those people who have website and they want manage their website.i want to share my experience of one of the best live chat app that is tiger.do. Tiger.do is a real-time website management app with the best website visitor engagement tools. Its not only a website management tool but it also helps you to study analytics of your website.It has its own analytics system.For more information: https://www.tiger.do

  • Hi,

    I have been using live chat on my website for over a year now. Honestly, I did not find it expensive at all, infact, it has reduced my call support expenses because my customers are able to resolve their queries right at the website. Yes, there are many enterprise live chat solutions such as live person and live chat inc, that are a little expensive but they provide the value for money. My suggestion would be, if you own a start up, do not go for solutions that are offering enterprise features. Live2Support.com and few others have reasonable rates and provide more than required features for a startup.

    Another point you made that “ding” sound is distracting, I don’t think it is a big distraction. We are in an age where we have to set different notification tones for different apps such as facebook, whatsapp and what not.

    Lastly, you have mentioned about offline forms. Well, true if you are offline when the customers are seeking help, it can backfire. But if you take it from an optimistic perspective, at least there is a place for your customers to leave a note. Not all the companies can afford 24 hour call support or even live chat support for that matter.

    It is like with everything else in the world, you should be smart enough to use it in your favor. Just my perspective and experience of live chat.

  • Stephan

    Good article. I used zopim and also I tried trial by Onewebchat but it wasn’t the best option for me … I’ve found short mention about Lime Talk (limetalk.com) so I’ve tried it and now I been using it for 6 months and it suits me….

  • Tony Xu

    Very well said, especially the “ding” point lol 🙂 In terms of cost, it’s still possible to find affordable or even free solutions for small companies. We’re using tawk.to which is free and comes with most features we need. Check out our website http://www.perfocal.com for an example. 🙂

  • Deni

    I am currently working for a live chat service company and most of our customers are really satisfied with the live chat service. But you are definitely right, it is not for everyone. We’ve had few clients who stopped using livechat, mostly because it didn’t fit to their corporate strategy/product. In my opinion live chat is rather for high-involvement, more complex products, for which the decision buying process is longer and more intense. What do you think?