This guide explains how live chat apps work and their customer service benefits for small business, and provides tips on how to choose a live chat app for your business.
- Live chat apps offer a text-based method of online communication between your customers and your employees.
- Customers increasingly prefer live web chat to other channels of customer support, especially for relatively straightforward issues.
- Look for customizable, mobile-friendly chat apps that provide data-driven insights and analytics reporting.
- This article is for small business owners considering using a live chat app to improve their customer service.
It is important for your customer service team to be accessible, which means having multiple channels available through which customers can contact you. Live web chat is one such channel that is growing in popularity, ranging from chatbots to live customer service.
"Live chat apps work by providing real-time support to website visitors," said Candace Helton, operations director at Ringspo. "It's the tiny bubble or chat window that appears usually at the bottom right corner of the customer's screen, and they can type in a question or concern they might have. Then, a person from the customer support team types solutions back to the visitor in order to solve the problem."
Helton said that constant availability is what makes live chat apps stand out from other support channels. "It's there every time, so customers can get support in real time. Other channels, such as phone and email, aren't as convenient on the customers' side because they have to wait longer for an answer."
How live chat apps work
To make live chat work for your website, you need to install a live chat tool on your website, according to Josefin Bjorklund, co-founder of Topp Casino Bonus.
"Every chat solution has two views: visitor's view and operator's view," Bjorklund said. "Once you know which chat product you are interested in purchasing, you can check out the step-by-step instructions on installing the tool and where to place the widget on the product's website."
Once you install it, your customer and audience can view the live chat widget on your website, and your customer service team has access to the agent dashboard.
"Your operator or agent can view the conversation based on priority," Bjorklund said. "Some chat tools have options to automatically assign chat conversations to agents based on priority and assignment conditions."
This can help you address customer issues in order of urgency to ensure your customer satisfaction rate remains high.
Tip: You can set your live chat app to operate 24/7, and your live chat representatives can use an agent dashboard to respond to customer service inquiries in order of urgency.
Top 4 things to look for in a live chat app
With so many live chat options, it can be difficult to determine which one is best for your business. Here are four things you should look for in a live chat app:
- Smartphone compatibility. A mobile-friendly chat app is imperative. Smartphones are so widespread now that you're likely to have many mobile-first users. Additionally, mobile responsiveness is a key element of SEO.
- Analytics. "Good live chat apps will be able to provide you with the analytics you need, such as chat history, behavior indicators, and a background analyzer," Helton said. "This should help your team better identify customer problems and offer the right solutions without having to recap everything all over again."
- Easy customization. Bjorklund said a live chat app should be an extension of your brand and design guidelines, so an excellent live chat app will be one that offers complete customization options for your chat window, including the font, colors, style, chat banners, and languages.
- Automation. "Customers should look for a live chat vendor that positions automation as the front line of support and engagement," said Ruth Zive, head of marketing at Ada. "Automation tools and conversational AI can radically diminish cost and wait time, and deliver a much better, more personalized customer experience. A seamless handoff from chatbot to live agent, with full conversational text, is critical."
Key takeaway: Live chat apps should be mobile-friendly and customizable, and should offer automation tools and data-driven reports.
Benefits of a live chat app
Live chat apps offer several important benefits for small businesses.
Ashish Goswami, digital marketing manager at 21Twelve Interactive, said that many customers prefer the live chat option over emailing or calling customer support for their queries because live chat offers quick resolution.
"Today's consumers demand instant gratification and want quick answers to their questions," added Jeff Epstein, vice president of strategy and marketing at Comm100. "They don't want to wait on the phone, and they have lots of other things to do in their day. Live chat lets them ask questions and multitask, without wait."
On the business side, Epstein said, live chat allows you to engage one-on-one with inquiring visitors and deliver instant, personalized service, much like a sales clerk in a retail store.
"Similar to instant messaging apps, live chat conversations are friendlier," Goswami said. "It breaks down the wall between businesses and customers."
If you go with a service that keeps track of customers your team has spoken to before or gives you the ability to look up customer information and purchase history, the conversation will go much quicker. The customer will feel like they're talking to someone who knows them and came to the chat prepared.
Bjorklund said that a significant benefit of using a live chat app is the potential to increase sales.
"Live chat apps allow you to hold your buyers, help them overcome grievances, and reach a buying decision," she said. "It's like having a salesperson on standby, live on your website. Live chat apps don't just help you improve sales but also enable you to increase sales value. While talking with the buyer using live chat and understanding their need, you can recommend similar products and services by upselling and cross-selling to increase the average order value."
Did you know? Live chat apps can improve your ability to upsell or cross-sell to customers, along with improving customer satisfaction by allowing your team to resolve issues quickly.
5 best live chat apps for a small business
Helton said this is the best live chat app Ringspo has used. It's compatible with Android, iOS, and web browsers, and it integrates with Google Analytics, Shopify, and BigCommerce. Smartsupp also combines live chat, email and Facebook Messenger into one platform.
Smartsupp has many of the must-haves we noted above, like statistics, visitor overview, customizations to match your brand, and mobile compatibility. It offers a free plan, as well as paid plans for $10 per month and $19 per agent, per month.
"This tool offers a 14-day free trial, and pricing starts from $15 to $39," Goswami said, based on his experience. "This is one of the leading omnichannel live chat and helpdesk tools. LiveAgent offers a suite of software, including email ticketing, live chat, time tracking, call center and more."
Essentially, LiveAgent is an all-in-one option for live chat and customer support requirements. The list of features on the LiveAgent website is 129 items long, so we can't list them all, but you won't be missing out on anything with this service.
Bjorklund recommended LiveChat because it is one of the more stable and feature-rich live chat apps available right now.
"It handles various chats and receives a notification whenever a customer wants to chat," she said. "The best thing about this app is you can always go to the integrations store to add more to your chat box whenever customers leave you feedback."
LiveChat's other features include file sharing, chat transfer, chat ratings, customization and a ticket form. There are four plan options, ranging from $16 per month for a small office or home-based business to a custom quote for Fortune 500 companies.
Olark offers customization, automation, chat reports, searchable transcripts, custom forms, real-time engagement and team management. It allows you to configure the chat box to match your branding and the rest of your website. You can also set up common replies and limit the number of chats your agents can be on at one time.
Olark offers a free trial, so you can test out the service before committing, and then it's just $19 per month, regardless of your plan size. There are discounts for annual subscriptions and a la carte PowerUp options, which are extra features that you can add as needed, like chat translation, an unbranded chat box, and the ability to share screens with your customer.
"The HelpCrunch dashboard is organized as a shared inbox," said Anastasya Prach, outreach specialist at Snov.io. "All chats and emails end up in one queue and can be effectively managed with the help of assignment rules, tags, canned responses and automated email follow-ups. All the basic information about customers is collected in real time. It is accessible in the same chat window and provides all the necessary insight for fast and effective assistance."
HelpCrunch's other features include a 100% customizable live chat widget, email marketing services, and a built-in knowledgebase so customers can quickly find answers in a chat without contacting customer support.
HelpCrunch starts at $12 per month, but it also offers custom pricing plans for larger businesses or those with unique needs. These plans are flexible to accommodate most needs.