Providing great customer support is something every business must achieve. While communicating with customers by phone, email or social media has its benefits, it doesn’t always provide the quick response that customers deserve. This is where live chat software can help. We’ve developed this buyer’s guide that details the software’s common features and benefits, and the necessary steps on how to purchase it.

Sales reps from B2B companies that use live chat to engage with prospects gain an average of 20% increase in conversions.

Source: American Marketing Association

79% of companies say live chat has a positive effect on their sales, marketing and customer service.

Source: Kayako

The chatbot market is expected to reach $1.25 billion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 24.3% by 2025.

Source: Grandview Research

Live Chat Software Buyer's Guide

What is Live Chat Software?

Live chat software helps users engage with their prospects or customers in real time via the business’s website. When a visitor accesses the website, there’s typically a small chat window displayed either on the side or in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. The visitor can click on the window and type in a question or feedback. Sometimes, an automated message may pop up asking the visitor key questions based on the nature of the visit (e.g., What products/services are you looking for?). There are many different live chat software vendors in the market, such as Intercom, Olark, Zendesk, Freshchat and Zoho SalesIQ.

Who Uses Live Chat Software?

Like customer relationship management (CRM) software, live chat solutions are intended for any business that provides a product or service to its customers. Some software vendors specifically target their products to small businesses or large enterprises, while others offer industry-specific solutions (e.g., HelpOnClick’s target market is the software industry). The main use case for live chat software is customer service. Customer service agents can respond instantaneously to order issues or other questions from consumers. However, other users benefit from live chat software, including:

Marketing image

Marketing

The marketing team can utilize live chat software’s lead generation features to help create targeted campaigns. Chat messages that include a discount or other marketing offers can be shown to specific site visitors. Marketers can also use live chat software to measure website traffic.

Sales

Sales reps can engage with visitors through live chat. For instance, if a visitor lands on a pricing page, a message can pop up mentioning that the visitor can be connected to a sales rep if they have questions about prices. Live chat software also sends qualified leads to the sales team for prospecting.

Sales
IT teams

IT teams

Some companies may implement live chat solutions as an alternative to phone and email support for help desk tickets. The software is also intended for other companies with employees that rely on in-house IT support.

Common Live Chat Software Featues

Live chat software typically offers the following features:

Chatbox forms

Chatbox forms

Also known as pre-chat or offline forms, this feature allows businesses to collect data from site visitors before engaging in a chat or when the agent is offline. The form may ask for the visitor’s name and contact information as well as demographics, such as buying preference or company size. Users can customize their own forms or use a standard template.

Screen sharing/co-browsin

Screen sharing/co-browsing

Co-browsing (collaborative browsing) is a feature that allows the agent to access the customer’s web browser with the customer’s permission. This feature is used in troubleshooting cases (e.g., customer has an issue with the software). Screen sharing lets the agent see the customer’s entire screen, so, it can also be used if an agent wants to demo a solution.

Chat transcripts

Chat transcripts

Most live chat software offers the ability to save conversations for future reference. The chat transcript not only includes the entire conversation but also has the customer’s name, contact info and other relevant details. Agents can email the chat transcript to a customer at their request.

Chatbots

Chatbots

A chatbot uses artificial intelligence (AI) functionality to translate a customer’s question and chat with them in real time. It can be useful if the agent is busy talking to other customers or outside of normal business hours. Chatbots work as a virtual assistant, qualifying leads, providing answers to simple questions, scheduling meetings or routing the chat to a live agent.

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File sending

File sending

This feature enables agents and customers to send documents, pictures and other files to each other during the chat.

Mobile capability

Mobile capability

Live chat software vendors provide the ability for agents to communicate with their customers via mobile devices. Agents can download an app that will include most of the software’s features. With it, they can accept or reject chats, transfer chats, save chat histories, receive push notifications and send files to customers.

Reporting and analytics

Reporting and analytics

With this feature, users can create dashboards and reports on various metrics, such as chat volume, agent productivity and lead conversions. Most solutions include prebuilt reporting templates or customizable templates.

Integration to other applications

Integration to other applications

Live chat software integrates to many different solutions, such as marketing automation, help desk, CRM and project management. By integrating with other applications, the software can pull data from the application, such as a customer name, email or IP address, to help agents provide a personalized customer experience. Live chat software can also integrate to social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.

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Top Benefits of Live Chat Software

Using live chat software comes with numerous benefits, including:

Improved customer service

Improved customer service

Providing live chat to customers in addition to phone or email support can improve their experience with the business. Customers don’t want to be on hold for long, nor do they want to wait a business day before receiving an email reply. With live chat, customers can have their questions answered right away and engage in a real-time conversation with a customer service or sales rep. And with offline forms or chatbots, customers can still receive a response outside of normal business hours.

Differentiate from competition

Differentiate from competition

Live chat is gaining in popularity, but not every business offers this to their customers. Customers are looking for a quick way to get their questions answered, so a business that offers live chat can gain new customers over their competitors that are behind the curve.

Increased Sales

Increased Sales

When a prospect visits a site, they’re learning more about the product or service and will likely have questions. Sales reps can use live chat as an opportunity to engage with the prospect. If the prospect is interested in and plans to purchase the product/service, the rep can also take advantage of cross-selling other products during the live chat.

Increased long-term relationships with customers

Increased long-term relationships with customers

Live chat software gives customers an opportunity to provide a specific reason for visiting the site, and it can pull data from a CRM, to identify the visitor by name or company. This allows agents to identify a visitor’s pain points and provide them with a solution or a more individualized experience. Personalized conversations can make a visitor feel special, which can then increase trust in and loyalty to the company’s brand. In fact, 51% of consumers are likely to be loyal to a company if live chat is offered, according to Kayako.

Reduced labor expenses

Reduced labor expenses

Businesses need a full staff to handle customer service, but an agent can only handle a single phone call or email at once. With live chat software, agents can engage in simultaneous conversations with multiple customers. In turn, businesses may not need as many staff members to handle live chat conversations, which can lead to lower labor expenses. And since the chatbot feature manages customer service questions during nights and weekends, businesses won’t need to staff as many reps during those times.

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Ability to report and forecast trends within the data

Having reporting and forecasting features within a live chat software helps businesses provide better customer service. Managers can measure an agent’s performance, such as how quickly they respond to a customer. Marketers can gauge whether a visitor turns into a lead or if site traffic numbers need to improve. Finally, users can create reports themselves, so they won’t need to worry about asking IT staff to do it for them.

How to Choose a Live Chat Solution

There are many live chat software solutions available, all with different features, purposes and levels of customization. Before you purchase fleet management software, it’s important to research what’s out there to see what option is best for your business. We’ve outlined a few important steps below.

Man and woman electronically communicating
1

Knowing your company's needs

Before researching vendors, you must consider your needs and requirements. For example, are you looking for a dedicated live chat solution or do you prefer a CRM or marketing automation software with live chat functionality? Aside from customer service, which teams will benefit the most from using it (e.g., Sales, Marketing)?

You’ll also want to ensure that your IT staff and top executives are on board with implementing a live chat solution.

2

Creating a Shortlist

Once you’ve established your objectives for a live chat software, create a shortlist of vendors that best fit your needs. We recommend listing out the must-have features as well as the nice-to-have ones to help determine the type of solution you’re looking for.

In addition to features, you’ll need to consider the vendor’s implementation processes and customer support.

3

Contacting vendors

When you’ve created your shortlist of vendors, it’s time to reach out to them. Explain what your objectives are and what features you require in a solution. You’ll also want to request a demo of the software with real-data scenarios, if possible. Vendors offer virtual demonstrations, but it can also be useful to ask if a vendor is willing to meet with you at your office. Another way to test the software is to participate in a free trial, if there is one. Most vendors offer a 14-day or 30-day free trial.

And be sure to compare different price quotes you receive. We explain more on pricing in a separate section below.

4

Conducting due diligence

After you’ve selected your top two or three vendors, ask for references from their current or previous clients. While vendors tend to give you the clients with the most glowing recommendations or experiences, ask to speak to clients that are in the same industry or are the same size as your company. You’ll want to see not just the positives of the solution or vendor, but any issues the client has experienced as well.

Pricing

Men and coins

One of the most important factors in selecting live chat software is pricing. Here are a few questions you should consider regarding pricing.

  • Is there a clear plan to judge return on investment?
  • What features do we really need?
  • How many users will require access to the software?

As noted, many vendors offer a free trial. However, some vendors offer a free plan that includes a limited number of features or is intended for a limited number of agents. If you need robust features or the number of agents grows, you’ll need to upgrade to a paid plan.

Here are the pricing plans for live chat software.

Per user, per month/per agent, per month

Per user, per month/per agent, per month

This is the most common pricing strategy, which is based on the number of users that access the software each month. The price could either be one all-inclusive figure or offered in tiers (typically from two to five tiers) with specific features or services. For example, Freshchat has five pricing tiers that range from $15 per user, per month to $79 per user, per month.

Per user, per month/per agent, per month

Volume-based pricing

This strategy uses a similar approach as the per user, per month pricing except that it’s based off of website traffic. Vendors look at two factors to determine the pricing per month: the number of visitors that come to the site and the number of conversations agents engage in. It can be an attractive option for businesses with steady traffic, but if you have a month with an unusually high number of site visitors, you may have to pay an overage charge. One example of this strategy is Zoho SalesIQ’s Basic plan, which costs $17 per month for up to 50,000 visitors and 1,000 chat conversations.

Per user, per month/per agent, per month

Per lead

This approach to pricing is based on the number of leads the business generates over a month or year rather than a fixed fee. For example, if the business generates 10 leads in a month, they’ll only have to pay for those 10 leads. Prices can range from $18 per lead to $35 per lead. This may be a more attractive option for B2B companies that rely on lead generation as part of their sales and marketing activities.

Challenges of Live Chat software

While live chat software has many benefits, it also comes with challenges, including:

Getting buy-in from key players

Securing buy-in from top executives, IT, managers and employees is critical to purchasing software. But they may have resistance or concerns about live chat software. For instance, IT may worry about data security if a vendor hosts the solution. Top executives could also be wary of spending money on a solution if there’s no return on investment discussed. And finally, sales or customer service agents may be resistant to the software if they fear technical issues may crop up or they’re generally used to providing phone and email support.

Getting buy-in

Implementation issues

Cloud-based live chat software tends to have shorter implementation times than on-premise solutions. However, expensive issues can still come up that delay the go-live date, such as unclear business goals, data transfer issues or integration problems. It’s important to tell the vendor your budget, goals and requirements for using the software, as well as get a detailed timeline of the implementation process and what happens at each stage.

man at desk thinking

Businesses may not need a dedicated live chat software

Businesses that only need specific live chat features may not want to purchase a dedicated solution. CRM solutions and even marketing automation software offers live chat functionality, so businesses may prefer to use those rather than purchasing a separate solution.

man with checklist and giant pen

Customers may not be receptive to using live chat

While live chat software has its benefits in improving customer service, customers may not want to engage in it. They may be opposed to the possibility of technical glitches, intrusive chat windows, slow response times, ignored chats or canned responses. It’s also possible that some may simply prefer phone and/or email support.

man with checklist and giant pen
Drift
VENDOR NAME: Drift
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Chatbot that collects and qualifies leads, improved team collaboration, integration with marketing automation software.

BAD

Free plan only has basic features, paid plans can get expensive.

BOTTOM LINE

A live chat solution that enables sales teams to engage with their prospects in real time.

READ REVIEW
Intercom
VENDOR NAME: Intercom
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Team inbox that stores all customer communications in one place, easy-to-create custom bot, integration with over 100 applications.

BAD

Advanced pricing plans may be too expensive for smaller businesses, initial learning curve.

BOTTOM LINE

Cloud-based software that helps sales, marketing and support teams efficiently engage with their prospects and customers.

READ REVIEW
LiveEngage
VENDOR NAME: LivePerson
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Ability to manage multiple conversations from different channels simultaneously, AI features that recognize customer's intent and sentiment, guided Conversation Builder for nontechnical users.

BAD

It doesn't currently integrate with Instagram, interface is not always intuitive.

BOTTOM LINE

AI-powered conversational platform that lets agents efficiently communicate with customers.

READ REVIEW
Olark
VENDOR NAME: Olark
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Chat transcript for easy reference, real-time analytics on agent activity and other metrics, optional advanced PowerUp features.

BAD

A native mobile app is not currently offered.

BOTTOM LINE

Real-time communication tool that helps companies improve their customer service.

READ REVIEW
tawk.to
VENDOR NAME: tawk.to
READ REVIEW

GOOD

Customizable chat widgets, supports an unlimited number of agents, integrates with eCommerce software and other applications.

BAD

Slight delay in receiving chats, screen sharing feature is not currently offered.

BOTTOM LINE

Free live chat software that has robust features to help businesses communicate with their website visitors.

READ REVIEW