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How to Choose the Best Live Chat Software Solution

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

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Adding chat software to your website creates a new communication channel for you to assist customers. Many chat software companies offer this technology to both small and large businesses, and have multiple plans to choose from, each with more sophisticated features and reporting capabilities than the last.  

If your website visitors are primarily potential customers searching for information about your products, consider chat software with co-browsing tools so your employees can guide your customers directly to the products they're looking for. If your customers come to your site for complex technical assistance, chat software that allows them to grant your agents remote desktop access can make it easier and faster to fix problems. Or, if they use your website to consult your business on sensitive matters, such as health, legal or financial issues, look for software that has robust security protocols and allows your customer to switch from text chat to audio or video chat.  

Whether you need a basic or advanced solution, we want to help you choose the best live chat software for your business. Read more below about what to consider when making your purchasing decision, along with pricing information and tips, plus our advice for additional features you should look for as you evaluate chat software.

Live chat software enables businesses to have chatbots on their website. This means companies can provide chat support and help website visitors find the information they're seeking. For example, if a visitor enters the website for an online clothing retailer, the online chat software can pop up with a message asking if the visitor needs help. The customer can respond to either an automated chatbot or an employee managing the live chat conversations and ask questions or make comments. The chatbot or representative is then able to respond in real time to the requests of the customer.

Companies across the globe utilize this technology to better serve customers in a timely manner. Live chat solutions are often automated, allowing businesses to serve customer needs without constantly monitoring the chat feature during the workday. This can save your employees time while also appeasing website visitors.

Live chat software is important because businesses want to cater to customer needs quickly. It can take hours for customer support reps or social media managers to get back to customers through email or social media messages, but live chat solutions provide support in just minutes and in a more conversational way. Reducing your response time to customer concerns or questions can increase your conversion rate. Customers looking to purchase your products may look elsewhere if their email isn't replied to promptly, while other customers may quickly make purchases on your website if they receive a reply from a chatbot within minutes of asking a question.

Businesses invest in live chat solutions and chat support to boost customer satisfaction. Businesses, especially smaller organizations, thrive on creating positive customer experiences. Using a live chat solution can help improve the online experience for your customers by adding a feature that responds in real time. 

Live chat software makes it easy for businesses of all sizes to provide fast, high-quality customer service. Although some customers still prefer to call a company when they need customer service, live online chat is becoming more popular. Companies with a target audience of millennials (and those who are younger) will find that these customers prefer live chat solutions to calling customer service.

Customers who use live chat are also happier with their experience than customers who call, email or connect with company representatives on social media. A 2015 report by Zendesk relayed that 92% of live chat customers were satisfied with the service they received compared to 88% of customers who called, 85% of customers who emailed and 84 percent of customers who contacted the company via Facebook. These numbers hold up well today, although more website visitors today expect companies to offer live chat solutions. While there were some estimates three to five years ago that overhyped the impending growth of the live chat software industry, it's still a growing industry that offers useful solutions to small businesses. 

In addition to facilitating online communication with your customers, many chat solutions give you valuable insight into your website visitors and their behavior, which can help you market your products and services more effectively or better tailor your business's offerings to your customer base. Most chat software includes the following features:

  • Real-time visitor monitoring. You can see which pages your website visitors access and how long they spend on them. This information can be used with other features, such as routing directs chat requests to agents in departments corresponding to the page the visitor is on when they initiate chat, like sales or tech support.
  • Visitor tracking. Chat software shows where your website visitors are coming from, and which search engines and terms they used to find you. You can also see whether visitors are new to your site or returning guests. This information gives you a better understanding of who your customers are and what they're looking for on your website.

Depending on the industry your business is in and how you intend to use chat software, these are other features to look for:

  • Strong security protocols. If your business is related to healthcare, look for chat software that has HIPAA-compliant security. If your agents accept credit card information, you need financial-grade security to keep your business compliant with PCI data security standards.
  • Mobile app. Are businesses able to monitor the chat program through a mobile app? This might be beneficial if a business ever wants to monitor the live chat feed away from the office. Some companies offer better mobile apps than others. If a mobile app matters to you, ask sales reps to explain the app in detail during your purchasing process.
  • Integrations with the other business programs you use. Many chat solutions allow you to connect the software to Google Analytics, as well as your e-commerce platform, email marketing service and CRM. 

Depending on the size of your business, you may opt for something like a live chat plugin, which doesn't require a monthly subscription and might be an ideal option for smaller businesses. If you're looking for a cheap alternative to a live chat software solution to appease your website's visitors, a chat plugin might be the way to go.

Although some chat software companies require you to call or fill out an online form to receive a price quote, most post their pricing on their websites and charge a monthly subscription fee based on how many people will use the program. On average, a single license on a basic plan costs $20 to $40 per month. High tiers are much more expensive – we saw costs up to $150 per user, per month. A few companies offer a basic free plan, but most don't.  

Additional fees for setup and installation are rare, though some companies charge for training and customer support. Besides providing different service tiers, some offer additional services for an extra cost. For example, some charge extra for audio and visual chat capabilities, email or ticket customer support, or a chatbot. In addition to chat software, one of the companies we evaluated offers the option of managed chat service, meaning it supplies the chat agents. This type of service is much more expensive, costing $400 per month.

Even though pricing is straightforward for most chat solutions, it's still important to shop around to make sure you're getting a good value. You need to know how many employees will use the software so you can get an accurate quote, and you need to determine which features are must-haves and which ones would be nice to have if the price is right.  

Once you've narrowed your options to your top two or three picks, take each application for a test drive. Every company we looked at offers a free trial, usually 14 days, though some are 30 days. Often, companies provide their highest-tier service for these trials, allowing you to try out advanced features and see which ones you'd actually use, something that can be helpful as you determine which software at which tier is the best fit for your business.  

Most chat software companies don't require you to sign a lengthy contract, instead of providing their services on a month-to-month basis. However, if you're willing to pay in advance annually, you can usually get a price break. Discounts of 10-15% are common, though the best discounts are equal to two months of subscription fees. If you're confident that you'll be happy with the chat software, this can be a good deal.  

If your business is a nonprofit, ask the company if special pricing is available. You also want to call the company for a quote if you need a large number of licenses, as a sales rep will be able to tell you if the company offers volume-based discounts or runs any promotions that may help you get better rates or additional services.

Having customers on hold for long periods or having them talk with an agent who cannot answer their questions is a recipe for business disaster. Such scenarios produce customers who never buy from your company again.

Chat software allows customers to use familiar text messaging and gives them prompt, well-informed help. Not only can your agents answer customer questions in a more modern, timely and personal way, they interface with several customers simultaneously. This is a more productive business model than one-on-one phone calls or emails. It also provides your business with a variety of tools to mine and analyze the derived data.

Enterprise chat services give you the tools you need to build your business, which includes fostering loyalty that turns visitors into lifelong customers.

We used the following criteria in our live chat software review to rank these benefits and services.

In our enterprise chat comparisons, we looked for software that integrated with the applications your business already uses. Customer relationship management (CRM) tools were at the top of our list with integration to social media sites not far behind.

We also checked whether you could route your chats to the appropriate expert or department, and if you could administer your live chat application remotely. We looked at whether the enterprise chat software contained a customizable application interface (API) that could allow your IT department to connect to less popular or internally built applications.

And with the rising popularity of tablets and smartphones, we noted whether mobile platforms are enabled for such devices.

The best enterprise chat software lets you see the websites your customers come from, the browsers they use, their geographical locations, their past purchases, their chat histories and other tracking metrics.

Hiring operators that speak languages other than English can also be important, so we also recommend noting if the chat software contains real-time language translation. If your enterprise operates in other countries, our comparisons tell you if the enterprise chat software can be wholly implemented in a different language. And while audio chat is not a time-saver, if you need it occasionally, we also let you know if it's available.

Larger enterprises are always concerned with the security of their information. Make special note of considerations like secure connections and the ability to block IP addresses that are spamming or being inappropriate with operators. You can also research to find out which companies have support departments that are available 24 hours a day.

One of the most significant metrics an e-commerce site needs is a chat-to-sales conversion report, which allows you to see if a chat was instrumental in helping a customer complete a shopping cart transaction.

Other useful reports include general customer satisfaction with the chat experience, how individual operators are rated, how many chat opportunities are missed and the needs of the staffing department based on previous chat history.

To provide a fair comparison, evaluate the basic package from each software solutions. These packages include basic live chat services that are best for small and medium businesses. Finding a solid customer service option is an important consideration that can be easily overlooked.

The tools that you have access to as an agent or account administrator make a big difference in how you interact with your customers, influence them and how you are able to use the data collected by the software to improve your overall business, including your customer service.

Look for a solid, customizable platform. Features to look for include customizable chat windows and buttons, which allow you to choose the look and feel of the chat window that appears on your website. Check into offline messaging options. Many applications let customers fill out a form and submit an email when your operators are not online, assuming you aren't using chatbots. And with the rising popularity of tablets and smartphones, consider whether or not the live chat is mobile-enabled.

One standout feature we found in the administrator toolset is IP address blocking. This feature allows you to block IP addresses from chat when someone is trolling your site and using chat to harass your agents. This prevents your employees from joining an unnecessary chat session on numerous occasions.

Another great feature is agent monitoring, which allows you to see how your agents are handling conversations without peering over their shoulders. This information is valuable for training and creating precise strategies.

Another important consideration when evaluating live chat support solutions is the services available to the customer. When you chat with customers, you need to be able to do more than just instant message back and forth. Many chat service providers allow you to share documents with customers. The best software offers co-web browsing, a feature that allows an operator to take a customer directly to a web page rather than send a link.

One other unique tool the best live chat services have provides translation services so your communications are not limited by language barriers. Some providers don't offer this, and that's worth noting if you do business (or expect to) with customers who speak different languages.

With the right tools, you can see the websites your customers come from. Many customer relationship management (CRM) applications can take the data you gather from your live chat and use it to synchronize sales and marketing with customer service. You can see the browsers they use, their geographical locations, their past purchases and chat histories, and much more. This data is invaluable to your marketing department and helps you build more targeted and effective campaigns.

Integrations help you get the most out of your chat service by making it fit with the rest of your workflow. The best live chat software options integrate with Google Analytics. Google Analytics takes your live chat data and helps you use it for your marketing and keyword tracking campaigns. Another popular integration for helpdesk includes Salesforce, this integration allows you to track leads and integrate chat data with your sales data.

Some services provide Salesforce integration for free, while others at least keep the price to a minimum.

The last area we carefully evaluated in our research was help and support options available to you with each software. While you are providing help and support for your customer base, it is important that you have the support you need to ensure the software is working how you need it to.

Each software application on our lineup offers live chat and phone support – the best companies provide this support 24/7, so you know you can reach something whenever there are issues.

As a customer, there is nothing more frustrating than bad support. Providing inconsistent or poor support is one of the quickest ways to lose customers. Live chat software is the fastest way to connect with your customer base and those visiting your site.

In our research and evaluations, LiveHelpNow, Zopim and Live Chat stood out from the competition for their impressive administrator toolkits and customer chat options.

Other notable companies on our lineup Velaro for its comprehensive help center, which is complete with downloadable PDFs and a regularly updated blog. Another noteworthy software is WhosOn, which stands out for its monitoring and training capabilities.

The best live chat software enables your company and your customer to text in real time by computer, smartphone and tablet. Your staff can answer questions, suggest appropriate purchases and build stronger brand loyalty. Your company can also retrieve statistical data that benefits your corporate marketing strategies. Few endeavors provide both a vastly improved customer experience and a business data goldmine. Live chat software does both.

Additional reporting by Bennett Conlin.

Here's a list of the live chat services available to businesses.

Acquire - Acquire is a live chat software program with a user-friendly interface. The company also includes live analytics for your business to get a better idea of how the software functions. https://acquire.io

Boldchat - BoldChat offers innovative, powerful and exceptionally secure enterprise chat software that can be easily customized. https://www.boldchat.com

Casengo - Casengo live chat software is specifically designed for small businesses and is a good choice for customer service. https://www.casengo.com/

Chaport Live Chat - Chaport live chat features standard features of live chat software as well as a sleek modern design. https://www.chaport.com/

Livechat - LiveChat's robust chat and help desk software solution offers corporate-level chat capabilities, customer monitoring and business-building data analytics. It also provides easy integration to other applications like CRM and e-commerce software. https://www.livechatinc.com/

ClickAndChat - ClickAndChat offers easy implementation and integration in a clean and simple live chat interface designed to better serve website visitors. http://www.clickandchat.com

Comm100 - Comm100's impressive reliability and wealth of customizable features offer you and your customers exceptional live chat services. https://www.comm100.com/livechat/

LiveHelpNow - LiveHelpNow gives your business the tools and options you need. As fully customizable live chat support software, it takes your business to the next level. https://www.livehelpnow.net/

Live Guide – Netop's Live Guide is easy to implement and focuses on making the enterprise chat as efficient and simple as possible. https://liveguidechat.com

LivePerson - LivePerson offers convenient, personalized live chat while building a database of valuable business and marketing information. https://www.liveperson.com/

Moxie - Moxie offers unique, timer-based software that helps operators respond more efficiently when chatting with multiple customers. https://www.gomoxie.com/live-chat  

SnapEngage - SnapEngage offers robust functionality at an affordable price by leveraging the expertise of integrated applications. https://snapengage.com/

Provide Support - Provide Support is a website chat and monitoring solution for online support enabling proactive chat invitation, push pages, call transfer, canned answers, chat session logs, encrypted chats, visitor's geolocation, referrer, 100+ languages spell check and more. https://www.providesupport.com/

LiveAgent - A live chat software application that offers several ticketing options, a unique featured compared to competing live chat solutions. https://www.ladesk.com/

Velaro - Velaro offers easy-to-implement chat software packed with features designed to grow stronger enterprise-level businesses. https://velaro.com  

WebsiteAlive - Website Alive offers customers convenient and personalized live chat while providing companies with vital business information. https://websitealive.com/

WhosOn - WhosOn was designed by Parker Software to help you chat with your customers and track valuable statistics. https://whoson.com/

Zoho Desk - Zoho desk is a web-based helpdesk software application with a variety of features like customization and integration with Google Analytics. The company offers three pricing plans: free, professional and enterprise. It's extremely easy to compare the different plans and decide which option is best for you by using Zoho's website. Zoho Desk is one of the few companies offering a free plan. https://www.zoho.com/desk/

Zopim - Zopim is a top live chat software program that delivers its application with a modern look and feel. See what makes this intuitive service a joy for its customers. https://www.zopim.com/

Lori Fairbanks

I write about financial systems and services for small businesses (such as accounting software, credit card processing and point-of-sale systems) for Business.com and Business News Daily.