Live chat software isn’t anything new in the online world, but it’s still something that can be extremely valuable to customers and (as you’re about to find out…) for conversion.
Making a phone call disrupts workflow—and often involves sitting on hold—and email response times can be slow, whereas live chat is fast and more personal.
But when it’s done badly, such as failing to respond to customer inquiries or appearing as offline for long periods of time, live chat can actually have a negative impact on conversion.
Most people have heard of heritage providers like Velaro and Kayako, but there’s a wave of new live chat software startups that suggest a paradigm shift in the world of live chat.
I’ve identified six big trends in particular, and it seems to me that each of them speaks to a desire to improve the conversion rate of live chat as well as making it a more powerful tool for marketers and CROs.
The data associated with live chat software has been a little lacking in the past – measures like ‘number of messages required per customer’ can be misleading if a customer is particularly chatty or an inquiry is very difficult to explain.
Traditionally, this has made it difficult to optimize the live chat experience with an aim to improve conversion. HappyFox Chat is one company that’s looking to improve this aspect of the live chat experience.
With a background in helpdesk software, they place a lot of stock in data and provide users with info about wait times, response times etc. as well as just average chat duration.
They also offer a UI that allows agents to manage multiple chats in a number of different ways and displays contextual information from other apps (via integrations, of which HappyFox aims to have 100 by Christmas 2015) on the dashboard.
Other companies, like PureChat, are looking to change the face of live chat based on data we already have about live chat.
For example, that unhelpful ‘User is currently offline’ message often associated with live chat is pretty unpopular…which is dangerous given that we know 45% of US customers will abandon a transaction if their query isn’t answered quickly.
Having reliable data that relates to live chat software is hugely valuable for marketers and CRO testers, as it allows them to really understand the impact live chat has on their website and whether or not the expected ROI is worth the cost.
I think it’s fair to say that a lot of existing live chat products are a bit…beige.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t do their job well, but aesthetics often seem to be an afterthought on the part of live chat software developers.
Products like Chatra are aiming to change that with a friendly, IM-like user interface that substitutes impersonal, anonymous stuff like ‘Visitor #17364’ and silhouettes with colors and corresponding names like ‘Jaffa Orange’.
While it’s true that nice, friendly design doesn’t automatically mean better conversion, it’s the flexibility and leg up that a modern piece of software offers that can be a difference maker.
For example, dedicated Mac, Windows, iOS and Android apps that function like iMessage or WhatsApp mean that support agents aren’t tied to their desks or work computers.
Features like one click group chats and the ability to see what visitors are typing before they hit send, both available in Chatra, make use of technical advancements to make the lives of support agents easier.
But why is that important for conversion?
As well as allowing agents to respond more quickly, it makes hours of support more pain-free and manageable. Mobile and cloud apps open up all sorts of different ways to compensate agents for answering OOH queries from home.
Many business owners will recommend against building a house on rented land. However, that hasn’t stopped some new live chat products relying heavily on integration with existing software.
For example, Chatlio’s entire service is built around integrating live chat with Slack.
As far as integrations go, I have to admit that it seems like a pretty good choice: maybe it’s just me, but every organization I speak to these days seems to be using Slack.
Chatlio doesn’t require its own app or tab, which is perfect if you’re already a Slack power user and don’t want to have to get to grips with a new piece of software.
At the other end of the scale, Intercom is building their own live chat service (Intercom Acquire – currently in beta) to integrate with their core product offering – a service that helps you merge existing communication channels like email, helpdesk software and CRM packages into one platform.
Even newer modern chat services that don’t have mobile offerings of their own, like Olark for example, offer integrations with apps like Jabiru and Trillian.
Integrating live chat with existing tools is a good way to improve efficiency; many support agents will already be trying to balance using a suite of products like Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp etc. The more tools support agents need to juggle, the more likely it is that they could miss potential customers’ inquiries.
Clearly, this has a negative impact on conversion, not to mention how the brand is perceived, so integrations serve a much bigger purpose than just making support agents’ lives easier.
For this point I’m focusing on the feature itself, rather than a particular tool, as it now forms a key part of many major live chat providers‘ offerings and has been around for a few years.
‘Triggered actions’ proactively prompt conversations with potential customers when certain criteria, such as time spent on page or navigating towards the ‘close window’ button, are met.
If you find these annoying (and there’s no doubt that they can be if the copy used is obnoxious), apparently, you’re in the minority. Back in 2012, BoldChat found that 66% of UK and US shoppers are ‘receptive’ or ‘appreciative’ of the customer service team making the first move with live chat.
Additionally, 57% of those surveyed indicated that proactivity would actively encourage them to chat with a website’s support team.
In terms of conversion, the advantage of proactive triggers is that they allow webmasters to turn every page on their site into a prospective landing page. If nothing else, even just enabling the default triggers and text provides a last ditch effort to recapture leads who are about to abandon ship.
PureChat provides chat solutions for more places than just your website – their hosted widget comes with a URL that can be added to email signatures, social media pages etc.
Pairing live chat with social media helps people to avoid long email chains and provides potential customers with times to get in touch – PureChat allows users to create a schedule and display their availability automatically when they’re logged in on the web or a mobile device – without the need for a website.
This in itself says something about how live chat is changing to keep up with the way technology is evolving. For example, a business owner might generate a lot of leads through Twitter or Instagram but operate entirely on Etsy. A service like PureChat gives them a way to implement live chat to answer queries without setting up a standalone website.
Live chat has already proven its worth when it comes to lead gen so, even though it’s early days, I expect that we’ll see more live chat tools try to make inroads into social media, hosted pages and so on.
With the rise of compact startup teams, and even solopreneurs taking on all aspects of business themselves, job titles are becoming more fluid.
As a result, it’s not uncommon for people with development skills to be taking on support roles and vice versa.
This is reflected in the creation of a couple of different support tools that, in my opinion, would probably be pretty intimidating to those without any development knowledge.
They also offer a publish and subscribe API that allows both group chats and the broadcasting of messages to (potentially) tens of thousands of clients as well as screen sharing and the ability to switch seamlessly between camera video, screen share or voice only.
Like Respoke, it’s a product that works best if you have some familiarity with JS. As well as in-browser video chat, it’s already been used to power in-game chat, P2P file sharing and video chat that allows you to take control of other participants’ cameras.
As a non-techie, I’m pretty sure that these products are beyond me. However, even I can see their potential to create something a bit more interesting than your standard live chat window in the corner of the screen.
As live chat becomes ubiquitous, creating something eye-catching and out of the ordinary that does more than just pop up and say ‘Hi, can I help?’ holds all sorts of potential for improving the conversion rate of a site…even if I’m not quite technical enough to nail any of it down in this small space.
When you think of live chat, it’s easy to think only of the big players in the market – Kayako, Velaro etc. Yes, these tools are designed to help with conversion but they’re also a luxury to a certain extent.
Live chat gives a site a certain level of credibility and trust, but that’s not necessarily directly linked to improving conversion or user experience.
Disruptive is a term that’s overused, but I do think it applies to the tools above. In each case you can see how what the tools do is designed to add significant value to implementing live chat, beyond just appearing more receptive and friendly.
Found a live chat tool that does something cool we just HAVE to know about? Please let us know in the comments below!