Live Chat for Small Business: How Can It Help?

Live Chat Software ExamplesWith live chat software, you can reach out to a potential customer while she’s visiting your website, via a little window that allows two-way instant messaging. Live chat could turn an undecided site visitor into a lead by popping up to answer the right question at the right time.

You’ve seen these “can we help?” boxes on big business sites like airlines and phone companies, but free and cheap versions make them affordable to small business, too.  Here are some key points to decide if live chat might work for your business:

Do-It-Yourself 

For big companies, live chat is another kind of call center, with operators typing instead of talking. But you can run the software with your own employees as operators. An operator can usually handle three to four live chats at one time, and can hand over a chat to another employee for backup, without the customer knowing it. Many live chat systems can be run from anywhere using mobile phones. And live chat doesn’t have to be 24/7; when no one’s available to chat, you can schedule live chat to vanish from your site, replaced by a form or a message about other means of contact.

Cost

Vendors typically offer free trials and some offer an ongoing free version: With Olark, you get one operator/20 chats a month, at ClickDesk, one operator/30 chats. Beyond the freebies, chats are unlimited and you typically pay a monthly fee based on numbers of operators, plus more features.  As of this writing, Olark’s full-featured, annual contract runs from $15/month for one operator to $219/month for 15 operators. Zopim offers $11.20 to $20 per operator per month on annual plans. LivePerson’s main package prices at $176.80 a month for 100 interactions on your site, either a chat or a click on a chat banner. Kayako sells as a one-time download, starting at $1,500 for five agents.

Set Up

These systems are generally hosted in “the cloud”, in other words, on the vendor’s site. Your subscription gets you access to a dashboard that allows you to manage and track your chat system. You make the chat box appear on your site by adding a simple bit of code or a plug-in if you’re running WordPress or the like.

Features

Chat-box customization is a nice to have, instead of a generic ugly box; see SnapEngage’s design gallery for some ideas. You’ll also want a customizable, automated greeting to start the chat. If you have a telegenic staff, you can add a live video chat capability.  Some systems can recognize a good customer based on repeat visits or time on site and deliver a personalized greeting. If you have a bigger operation, you might look for chat routing features, such as LiveChat’s, that assign roles to staff members based on their expertise and automatically send questions to them.

Integration with Your Other Systems and Social Media

You will surely want your live chat system to talk to your sales or customer relationship management software so check the lists of partners on vendor sites. Many of them integrate with Salesforce, SugarCRM, Zendesk and other popular CRM and helpdesk applications.  LiveChat and other packages offer users the chance to register in the chat box via Facebook, then conduct the chat on that platform. And for your operators, many of these systems can be set up to run through the popular instant messaging services that they already use.

Metrics and Tracking

Live chat dashboards generate reports on chat volume and trends and some (such as Olark) integrate with Google Analytics so you can relate chat behavior to the rest of your site metrics. You can also view chat transcripts and see results of customer rating surveys to assess how your chat team performs.

The Bottom Line

With easy set-up, free trials and month-to-month plans available, you can test live chat software to see if  it drives enough incremental business to justify the relatively low cost, especially if you’re doing online sales, appointments, or products and services that are customized or take ongoing support. The challenge for a small organization is staffing—if your folks can’t commit to a regular on-call schedule, then it may be, as the chat boxes say, “due to inactivity, this session is over.”

 Image: Chat Boxes from ClickDesk, Olark and Zopim

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