I see live chat on almost every site I go to these days, using software like Drift or Intercom.

The big selling point is being able to communicate with your customers in real time, and increase conversions. There’s no doubt that there is some benefit to live chat, but it is long term and sustainable for your team?

I like live chat as a customer, I just don’t like it as the business owner. With a decent amount of traffic to your site and a small team to handle support, it’s very difficult to make it work.

Based on my experience, here’s why live chat may not work for you.

It Makes Your Visitors Lazy

When we visit a website, we all want to get the information we came for as quickly as possible.

We’ll browse a site, read the headlines, and focus in on what interests us most. If there’s a live chat, we can just type in our question instead of searching the site, which saves time.

This seems like a good thing, to get our visitors the information they need quickly. The problem is that it makes our visitors lazy, because the instant they see the live chat they stop reading our site copy.

I’ve had live chat on my pricing page, and had people ask in the chat simple questions about pricing. The answers were right there on the page in front of them, but they stopped reading as soon as they saw the live chat.

I answered their question, but what happens with their next question? I’ve trained them to stop looking for answers on their own, and instead just type it into a live chat.

This creates a burden on me, and trains my customer to need hand-holding before they even purchase.

It’s Difficult to Support with a Small Team

I have a small team, so I want to limit the number of chats.

One way to do this is to only use chat for pre-sales by limiting it to the main pages like features and pricing. This works for a few days, then your customers will figure out it’s there, and start using it for support.

As soon as that happens, you’re on the chat all day. If you have a full support ticket queue, and you’re stuck on live chat, you are always putting the live chat customer first. The customer that should be first is the oldest support ticket.

With a small team, live chat makes the support load unsustainable.

Larger companies, like web hosts, can afford to have full time staff dedicated to chat. That’s great for them, but it doesn’t work for me.

You Waste Time with Tire-Kickers

A tire-kicker is someone who goes to a car dealership, and inspects a car to death, including kicking the tires. In the end, they just waste the salesman’s time, because they never intended to purchase.

A live chat attracts these type of visitors, and you have no choice but to engage them. It is a waste of your time because they never intended to purchase, they are just looking around. They only used the live chat because it was easier than reading your site themselves.

People who are really interested in your product or service will read the information on your site, and fill out a contact form. If you’re a great salesman, maybe you can convert some of the tire-kickers into customers. I tend to think you will not land your target customer this way.

Your target customer will be motivated when they come to your site, and they will take action to show that. They will sign up for your email list, or send you an email. You don’t need live chat to convert them, because they are already convinced.

If your customers are not motivated enough by your site copy to contact you, then you should spend time working on improving it. Don’t use live chat as a band-aid for poor marketing copy.

Things I Like

Live chat is not all bad, I like it as a customer.

One really cool feature of some of the live chats is that they allow you to enter your email during off hours. This allows you to use live chat as an email capture, and doesn’t take up all of your time.

Capturing emails like this intrigues me, so I actually built a faux live chat feature into Holler Box.

This feature is not actually a live chat, it just simulates it so you can capture a visitor’s question and have them email you. This eliminates the problems I described above, because you don’t have to waste time manning the live chat. You can capture visitor emails and follow up with them later, or add an auto-response.

Live chat software like Intercom is really expensive, with Holler Box you can have faux live chat free.

Published by Scott

1 Comment

  1. I agree with you about the difficulties of being live all the time especially for a small team. But you picked the wrong examples – Intercom and Drift specifically don’t push the live angle but instead position their tools as messaging apps – ie async. You message the site, they message back when they can. The tools deliberately don’t have the message saying whether they’re live or offline by default and they try to set a paradigm of messaging like WhatsApp or text or fb messenger so that you don’t set the expectation you’ll be live all the time.

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