Nobody needs to tell a business owner that customers want instant gratification. This is one of the most evident things about running a business. But that need to get what they want immediately is oftentimes at odds with the products they want to get. Take, for instance, car insurance (or any insurance really).
There are a lot of nuances to the kinds of coverage a person might need. What they pay, how they pay, and what they are paying for are all layered topics.
A customer cannot just click “add to cart” and get the best product for their situation. They need to be walked through the complex task of understanding what they are buying. But just because they need a walkthrough, that does not mean it has to be slow.
What you are facing here is a user experience challenge. Whether you are selling a complex product, a product that the customer is likely to need help with, or just want the customer to be able to ask questions about your business, you need a way for them to be able to do that as easily as possible.
The challenge here is how to address these needs. Fortunately, a solution has come to light in the last five years: Live chat software. But what does live chat software do? And how does it even work?
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What Live Chat Software Does for Your Business 🗯️
The ultimate goal of a live chat software is to deliver information to the customer about the products your business has to offer. But delivering information is not as easy as you might think. Imagine you had a webpage with all the information about your business, down to the last detail. Would that be helpful?
Probably not, as it would be too complex and nuanced for anyone to easily navigate it even if they did understand what they were looking at. Not to mention the fact that most people who want certain information are usually lacking other information that they do not even know about.
Live chat software allows you to engage those customers on a level that is far more effective than just an unintuitive list. Through asking questions and having information presented to them, a customer can get a far better understanding of what your products are like.
And not only that, but they can also discover things that they did not know about before.
How Live Chat Software Works
Live chat software is oftentimes embedded into the webpage of your business. When a customer visits the website, the software will automatically ask them if they need help with anything. This initial point of contact is done by an AI bot, and most of the questions and answers will be done by the same bot.
Some live chat software will give the user conversation options to click on, while others will be smart enough to read the user’s message and respond to them.
Another difference between chat software is whether it will include links, images, and videos, as well as how easily it connects the customer to an actual customer service representative. Regardless, these are the tools that will help your customers.
Which Live Chat Software is the Best? 🔝️
So, live chat software directs your customer through your website to find the information they need. It does this by combining Ais that can respond to their questions with customer service representatives that can address their concerns directly. But as we indicated, some services are better than others.
We are going to list the top 5 best live chat software for small businesses.
1. Zoho – Best Overall Live Chat Software for Small Business
The thing that Zoho understands that not every chat software does is the fact that there is a great deal of overlap between what chat services accomplish and what support tickets accomplish.
Basically, if a person needs help, then it helps to log that request to help grow your business’ knowledge base.
For this reason, one of the core features of Zoho is the structuring of its AI chat features as the components of a support ticket. During the time the user is chatting with an AI, the questions are still structured naturally while their answers are recorded. These answers are organized into “tickets”.
These tickets can then be used by your business to expand the knowledge of the AI, troubleshoot your own products, or alter how you convey your message on your site. Using a live chat software is mostly about getting your customers to your products. But it can also help you get your products to perfection.
Like many live chat services, Zoho is billed per agent. The higher billing options give you access to tons of administrative and tracking features. These benefit a large business in particular, such as multiple protocols for different departments, tiered roles for levels of skill and specialities, and much more.
In short, what makes Zoho the best is the fact that it not only allows you to create an automated, highly curated experience for your customers, but has data management and analysis tools to improve your business at large as well.
The imperfections of Zoho are most noticeable for smaller businesses. Due to all of these advanced management features, smaller businesses will find the cost of the software out of proportion to the amount of features they actually use. This is a calculation you should consider when choosing a software.
That means many companies will find Zoho cost inefficient. But being cost inefficient is different than simply being too expensive. Let’s expand on what that means.
Basically, the cost of Zoho is not that much more than the cost of another live chat software. But due to the fact that its features are focused on organizing a large number of customer support agents, any business with less than 10 agents will find themselves paying for features they don’t use.
2. HubSpot – Best Free Live Chat Software
When you go to a website (or when customers come to your website), the website puts “cookies” on your computer.
These are little bits of code that help facilitate the exchange of information between the website and your computer. That means you get the information needed to load the website faster.
What does the website get? Well, that’s complicated, because it depends on the software used to make the website. The advantage that HubSpot brings as a live chat software is that it makes excellent use of the cookies that your website puts onto your customers’ computers to help streamline data entry.
HubSpot’s main feature is the ability to gather data like email addresses, clicks, and location. The amount of information you can get from these data points is actually far greater than you might think.
For instance, knowing their email address does not just let you send them emails. It also helps you know where on the internet they centre their activity. Knowing where they click to and from helps you understand how users are navigating to your site, while location is great information for marketing.
But that is not why HubSpot catches peoples’ eyes. People pay attention to this software because it is free—and, as they say on their site, it always will be. But just how free is it?
What HubSpot offers, beyond the useful cookies, is an automated chat AI for troubleshooting on your website. This AI can deliver pre-programmed responses and lead your customers through your website or through a helpful knowledge base that you provide. It will gather and store data the whole time.
So basically, it is completely free. But the service it provides is not totally comprehensive.
As with any free software, there are some shortcomings. To begin with, there are no features for customer service representatives. That might be baffling and worrying for many people. After all, are your customers really going to get all their help from an AI? Probably not all the help they need, no.
The purpose of the HubSpot software is much more geared towards connecting the user to a knowledge base and helping them navigate that. It is not as much focused on helping them with a high degree of specificity in the way that a human customer service representative can.
Of course, that means no administrative tools as well beyond those that relate to the AI and tracking services. And at the same time that the free price tag benefits small businesses, setting up HubSpot is going to take some effort if you want it to help enough to increase your revenue.
As one last side note, be warned that your attempts to use HubSpot to collect data on your users might be blocked by VPNs.
3. Olark – Best Representative Tools
Automating everything will save you a lot of money, but it will not make you a lot of money. In some businesses, being able to talk to a customer is critical in order to close out a deal.
And not only that, but being able to communicate with them in a comprehensive way is the only way to keep them around.
Olark knows this. But more than that, Olark knows what kind of technologies are needed to support this.
For instance, one of the most unique things Olark offers for clients is the ability to send files over the chat window between the representatives and the customers. This can make a huge difference in what a customer can get out of using the live chat service, as it can make diagnosing a problem far easier.
Imagine you are running a tech support company. If a customer has a tech problem, then they are probably not very tech savvy. Being able to send images will not just make solving their problem easier but identifying the problem as well. Many automotive mechanic services have started doing this too.
Olark also grants you the ability to track a customer’s movement through your site, giving you an idea of where people are running into problems and looking for answers the most. And for people running multiple businesses, you can even extend Olark to other websites at no additional cost.
While the base package you get for Olark is reasonably priced, it has a few features we did not mention at all because they are simply too expensive. These include things like (admittedly good) privacy and analytical tools. But looking at the price of Olark, it already costs around $30 per service agent.
These additional tools start at $30 per month, per tool. Some are as expensive as $100 per month. It is absurd, at that point you might as well get those tools elsewhere. You can certainly find privacy tools elsewhere for cheaper. Like we said, the base tools it gives you are priced just fine.
The additional and advanced tools are priced too high.
4. Tidio – Best Integrations
Organizing the infrastructure of a chat service is easily the most costly part of running a chat service.
You might think paying representatives is costly, and it is certainly true that the business you lose from lacking a chat service is costly. But the infrastructure, such as server space, for a chat service is worse.
The reason why is that the technology is scarce and hard to make, as are the experts who operate it. This means most services either provide you your own server space or charge you extra to rent some.
But what if you could use the server space of an already existing company?
That is what Tidio offers you. Rather than giving you a chat service that is all their own, Tidio has you integrate your chat service with businesses like Meta, owners of Facebook Messenger and Instagram.
By doing this, your live chat software is operated through their servers rather than your own. This means that the interface will be far more familiar to your users, and even have the capabilities of those chat services (such as file sharing). You can even customize which features are ported over from those integrated services. For instance, you probably don’t want to carry over their money lending features.
Naturally, it has features beyond what are ported over from its integrations as well. For instance, you can use a variety of chat widgets and AI chatbot features to start solving your customers’ problems fast. Multiple devices can be supported, and the use of Meta data means you can know a lot about them.
The central advantage of all of this is the fact that Tidio’s services will be incredibly familiar to the user, while also incredibly informative to you. Your customer service agents will have an easier time navigating the software for much the same reason.
The biggest advantage of Tidio is also its biggest drawback. Connecting to existing chat services makes Tidio cheap and intuitive, but it also makes it limited. You will not be seeing any of the advanced data gathering or administrative tools that other live chat software has in a Tidio package.
There is also the issue of privacy and security. The services that Tidio integrates with are usually the most popular around, which means they are also the most vulnerable to cyber-attacks. They tend to have good security, but the problem is that their popularity means they are popular targets.
In short, you get what you pay for with Tidio. Plenty of small and large businesses alike can benefit from how easy it is to set up, but they can also suffer from the shortcomings and vulnerabilities it creates.
5. Zendesk – Best Customizability
Some chat software is going to be built for small businesses and some for huge corporations. Some will focus on automated responses while some is better for customer service agents.
But what if your business is just starting to take shape? What if you know it is going to get bigger, but is starting small?
Adaptability is one of the cardinal virtues of business, and Zendesk enables you to do exactly that. Rather than specializing in one particular form of customer service, Zendesk prioritizes giving you options. Want canned messages and strict automation? Or maybe the ability to talk directly to customers and send files? There is even an infrastructure for a hierarchy of specialized agents.
This is a lot of tools, meaning that you have to have a pretty good idea of what you want in order to get the most out of them. But at the same time, Zendesk also has their own system of both AI bots and representatives to help guide you through the setup process.
Related to that, they also provide a knowledgebase of what is important to focus on for different businesses and industries. Too many live chat software services treat all businesses as essentially the same. But the tools of one industry rarely carry over to another, even when it comes to chat bots.
This makes Zendesk a good resource for understanding what information to use and how to use it, even if you do not use their tools to do all of that.
There are also far more plans available for Zendesk tools than most other services. While another service will usually have two or three plans, Zendesk has five. This includes three plans for businesses of any size, and then two more plans for businesses that want more rigidly structured systems.
All in all, Zendesk offers a ton of different features, as well as guidance on how to use them.
While Zendesk offers a variety of different plans that are each full of varied features for all kinds of businesses, every single one of them is more expensive than average. Granted, they all have more tools than the average live chat software plan, but they are more commensurately more expensive.
This means you will run into the same problem we mentioned way back in our recommendation of Zoho: Are you paying for features that you are not using? This is part of the advantage of Zendesk having so many different plans, but there is no “cheap and feature-light” plan.
What you should take from this is that Zendesk is a live chat software that is best used for growing businesses. It has lots of things that help small businesses, but not necessarily at their price point.
The essence of a live chat service is how it helps your customers. But as we have said multiple times already, not every industry needs to help their customers in the same way. A tech support hotline or an automotive workshop is going to need person-to-person chats more than an insurance agency.
How large or small your business is will also have a huge impact on how you communicate with customers. People will not expect customer service agents from a mom-and-pop store.
What we are saying is that you should know how to communicate with customers before you get a chat software. A chat software will not teach you (or anyone you hire) how to do that. Only once you know the protocols of communicating within that business can you decide which software is best for you.