As messaging apps continue to fight for our attention, there is a real opportunity arising to connect with your online audience and potential clients where and when it counts most. Online messaging apps can open up new opportunities for your business, your network, and your customers.
For the past few months, I have been looking for better ways to connect with my audience outside of my email newsletter. I wanted to engage more effectively with both visitors to my website and leads I was nurturing in a way that was timely and efficient.
The journey kicked off and I started looking into online chat services. I learned a lot! Some things I learned from a bot but for the most part, it was a journey of trial and error. I want to share my thoughts, experiences, and recommendations to help you make an informed decision if you’re thinking of looking for better ways to engage with your audience or just become more accessible to visitors to your website.
Like many things in life, the way we communicate has evolved over time. The transition to an always-on mobile world has seen an ever-increasing fight for our attention from every channel possible – email, SMS, instant chat, popup ads and those little robotic, human imitating mutant things we now call Bots.
This fight for our attention has led to increasingly shorter interactions. Consumers now expect to be able to speak with businesses at their convenience and in most instances, outside of standard business hours. It has become an expectation to be accessible 24/7. Combined with this, we now prefer short-form messages delivered via direct message apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and iMessage.
Live Chat used to be a ‘nice to have' feature on your website. Now, it's a must-have essential in your digital marketing tool kit. It is also proven to contribute to an increase in sales and customer loyalty. Adoption is growing fast as your online customers prefer to chat with someone in real-time and online, rather than call your company or business for support.
Live Chat allows you to;
- generate new leads
- provide real-time support to your clients
- provide just in time engagement and interaction
- engage with your audience in their time
- make you and your business more accessible
- provide a better customer experience.
I personally believe we are still in the very early stages of meaningful online chat capability and understanding how we can leverage it to do business better. For some, joining the dots from this type of instant communication to doing business online can be rather overwhelming, and that’s fine.
Over the past six months, I have been trialing various online chat applications and services to find one that suits my needs and I have come out at the other end recently and I thought I would share what I have learned, along with my recommendations.
So, let’s get into it!
My checklist of requirements
Before I began my journey, I decided on a few requirements I needed to have my chat service satisfy. These could be different for you.
- Nice to use mobile app for Android and iOS
- Easy implementation
- Customisable chat bubble
- Manual online/offline mode
- Able to be used by visitors without them logging in to another service (social platform)
- Alerts and notifications on mobile
- 2-Factor Authentication (2FA) on the Dashboard
- Availability scheduling
- Free for life plan
- Affiliate program (desirable)
What I tested
While almost all of the services I tried provided fundamentally the same functionality and ticked almost all of my above checkboxes, there were some differences that stood out. Differences you only get to see after using and testing the applications over a period of time and alongside other chat services.
Here are the services I tested and my personal rating.
I like LiveChat. It has been around for some time and I used to use it many years ago. It integrates well with many third-party applications and has an engaging support community. The user interface is simple and they have a 14-day free trial plan.
- Easy to use
- Nice user interface
- Chat window themes
- No free plan
- More expensive than alternatives
- Less intuitive automated greetings
Intercom is nice to use and a little fun. Its chat interface is beautiful and looks great on pretty much any website. Intercom is a popular solution for many businesses and does a good job of supporting multiple agents.
- Intuitive visitor segmentation capability
- Friendly and helpful support team
- Varied pricing models
- Expensive when compared to alternatives
- Cumbersome mobile experience
- Noisy (busy) user interface
Tawk.to is not as pretty in its overall design as other chat services, but I love it! Its free plan comes with absolutely everything you need to get started and nothing you don’t. Real-time monitoring, easy to use mobile apps and plenty of integrations make this a winner of an online chat service.
- Offline messages by email
- Customisable chat bubble and window
- Full-featured free plan
- None (from personal experience)
Facebook Messenger Chat
If you’re a fan of Facebook Messenger you will love Facebook Messenger Chat. It is reliable, secure and automatically loads recent chat history. I liked using Facebook Messenger Chat however, not being much of a fan of Facebook Messenger, I soon moved on to explore other options.
- Automated responses
- Familiar user interface
- Triggered smart responses
- Users must be logged in to Facebook
- An agent must use the Facebook Messenger app
- Setup requires creating a Facebook App ID
Formilla is a neat set of communication tools. It has a clean, easy to navigate user interface, smart message responses, and an Affiliate program. However, if you want to customise the widget look and feel you will need to upgrade to a paid plan.
- Nice user chat interface
- Customisable themes
- Free plan
- No agent mobile access on free plan
- Minimal customisation on free plan
WP Live Chat Support
If you spend a lot of time logged in to your WordPress website admin, you will like WP Live Chat Support. A WordPress plugin, it extends the functionality of your dashboard and allows you to chat while logged in to your website admin. I initially liked this feature, however, if you don’t spend much time logged in to your websites backend, it is not that beneficial.
- Accessible from your WordPress admin
- Templated responses
- Free to use in browser
- Need to pay for mobile app
- WordPress admin window conflicts
- Requires updating to the latest version in WordPress
Pure Chat is quick and easy to set up and you will be up and going in no time. The free plan is very limited in functionality and offers the minimum needed to get up and running. Both iOS and Android apps are very functional and user-friendly.
- Affiliate Program
- Easy to navigate user interface
- Unlimited agents on free plan
- Bare-bones agent experience
- Limited functionality on the free plan
- Unintuitive user interface
What I use
After trialing all the above, I ended up going with Drift here on my personal website. Drift not only offers a fantastic chat service, but they also offer a complete live chat and video marketing solution for free, supported by 2FA access.
- Intuitive and feature-rich user interface
- Customisable chat themes
- Calendar integration for scheduling meetings
- Drift Video not available on Android
- Not able to request email address when initiating a chat
- Navigating all the features can be a bit overwhelming
Getting started with a chat service
Chat services are a great way to connect with visitors to your website, grow your audience and nurture a prospect over the line.
There are many options over and above what I have covered off here. Which one you end up going with, in my opinion, will essentially come down to how much you want to spend and where most of your referrals originate from. If you’re a heavy Facebook user and your audience is predominantly on Facebook, I would suggest going with Facebook Messenger chat.
If you are simply looking to get started and see where it takes you, head on over to Tawk.to and create an account and add the widget to your website today.
In most cases, you probably won’t need to swap and change chat services. If your audience grows and you need a little more from the interaction, then consider spending some money for a more premium service. But, always try before you buy. Ask questions of the support team if you need help.
Finally, some tips to remember once you get going.
- Make sure your solution puts people first
- Be personable in your responses and communications
- Follow up all offline leads and messages
- Be accessible and use the mobile app provided
- Don't be afraid to use a customer satisfaction survey as a follow-up
Hope this helps! If you have any questions be sure to let me know. Hit me up or start a chat!
Update (7 Nov, 2019)
Since writing this post I have stopped using Drift and now use Tawk.to on both this website (justin.net.au) and The Web Monsters (thewebmonsters.com.au). This change is primarly due to the need to manage both chat services from the one app and Drift does not provide the capability to request a visitors name when begining an offline chat.