Running a business online, you now have access to more support and sales channels than ever. From phone to email, social media like Twitter and Facebook and even Whatsapp, there is no shortage of ways in which you can communicate with your users and customers. But one new channel, in particular, is becoming increasingly popular: live chat.
Customers are very impatient these days: a study by Hubspot points out that 90% rate an immediate response as important or very important when they have a customer service question. Immediate being defined as 10 minutes or less.
That’s why some companies are even superseding the email option altogether. WP Engine, a major hosting company now starts all support queries via live chat. It seems to work well for them: they haven’t switched back to email since enabling their live chat almost 2 years ago. So are you ready to start? Let’s see how below.
Table of Contents
How Live Chat Works
At its core, live chat is a simple window that pops up on your website to display text. Users can type in it, and you can see and reply from your own backend. Your agent can also see a list of users on the website and approach them with a question, like in a real store.
It’s also worth noting that these days, live chat installation is relatively painless. You will mostly have to copy a few lines of codes and integrate it into your website. For a better overview of these tools and how they work, I created a video with some real-life examples here:
Pros and Cons of Live Chat
As mentioned above, chat support software is becoming increasingly popular, especially with younger, more tech-savvy generations.
The PROS for users and companies include:
- Better customer service: it’s easier for your staff to “know all the answers.” They can answer multiple users at once, transfer to another team member or refer to the documentation for tricky questions. The customer won’t even notice it.
- Real-time and instant feedback: Unlike email support, the answers are fast, so users can quickly find what they are after.
- Improved user experience: A simple text box means no need to deal with cumbersome phone menus or extra contact forms. The answers are also clear, without any miscommunication due to strong accents or poor call quality.
- Great data-analyzing capacity: With live chats, it’s easier to log answers for review than with phone support. This is useful for analytics and to monitor the quality of your agents’ responses.
- Pro-active communication: One significant advantage is the ability to proactively contact your website users. This means live chats can also be a powerful tool for sales and upsells.
- Not for everyone: The less computer-savvy users might dislike chat support and might rather talk with a real person. They could also not know how to use it, which is why live chats are a great addition to phone and email support.
- Not always great on mobile: Mobile users’ experience might suffer sometimes, as it’s a bit tedious to write on a small smartphone display.
- Requires real-time attention: While you can close the live chat and get email questions instead, live chat support does need someone’s full attention to be efficient. Ideally, you should also have regular live chat hours, so users can come back if it is their preferred method of communication.
Live Chat Software: Our List of Favourites
Here you go, this is our long list of paid (and free!) tools.
LiveChat – One of the biggest
The company with Polish roots is one of the largest live chat solutions out there. Their history dates back to 2002 and today, 24,000 customers use their product. No small feat.
And indeed they make it easy to like their product. It’s extremely feature-rich and offers a slick interface that makes interacting with the product a breeze. Next to their polished chat console, there are apps for PC/Mac as well as iOS and Android. And as there will always be requests that a live chat can’t solve, they deliver an integrated help desk solution as well.
Prices are per month, billed annually
It’s worth noting that LiveChat charges per seat and not per agent. Multiple agents can share one seat, which is interesting if your staff is working in shifts.
What I liked: Their numerous integrations that let you connect the chat with your newsletter tool (ex. GetResponse, Mailchimp) or CRM (ex. Salesforce). They make it easy to set everything up. Also, they are experimenting with a chatbot (BotEngine), which I find exciting. And, of course, the general look and feel of LiveChat is a big positive.
Where they should improve: Prices are a bit higher than most of their competitors. Also, I didn’t find a really good way to set it up on a multilingual website.
Recommendable for: everyone who has the necessary budget, needs a reliable live chat and wants to take advantage of their plentiful features (help desk, apps etc.).
Olark: Easy to Use and Fun
The company, funded by Y Combinator, counts 12,000 customers and has been around since 2009. Interestingly, their team is distributed worldwide, meaning that there is (almost) always someone happy to answer any support requests you may have.
Next to their 14-days free trial there is even a free plan for up to 20 chats per month. Enough to dip your toes in the water.
Notable features include chat automation features (which they call targeted chat) that let you send automatic messages to visitors who are visiting specific pages. Imagine you receive a lot of chat requests from countries where you don’t even ship to: Olark lets you simply hide the chat for certain geographies.
Forever Free: $0
Billed monthly: $17
Billed yearly: $15
Billed bi-yearly: $12
All premium plans include the same range of features. Forever Free is limited to basic functionality and 20 chats per month.
What I liked: definitely their automation features. Also their range of seasonal themes is a nice addon that adds freshness to your website.
Where they should improve: They do most things right, however, there are some slight improvements that we’d like to see: there are no native apps for iOS or Android (neither is there a software for PC or Mac). Also there are better providers when it comes to a multilingual setup.
Recommendable for: businesses that want to make use of chat automations at a very reasonable price.
A few Important live chat terms:
Chat console: this is your control center. You will answer chat requests, monitor your live website users and more. Usually this will be provided via a desktop or web client. Some chat support tools also let you go through an already existing instant messaging service like Slack.
Proactive chats: the ability to monitor live users on your website and contact them before they touch the live chat window. This can be a great help, but can also frustrate some users who feel bothered by your messages.
Canned messages (shortcuts): these are pre-written answers to regular questions that you can just bring up with a shortcut or in a few clicks. They can save you time, but can also make users doubt they are talking to a real person, so better use them sparingly.
Triggers (chat automations): sometimes have different names depending on the live chat provider, (greetings, targeted chat) but they are essentially the same tool for analyzing user behavior and sending an automated message. For example, you could start a proactive chat conversation with users who spend an unusually high amount of time on your checkout page to help them with the payment.
Chat protocols: a record of the live chats. Great for monitoring the quality of the answers and finding patterns in the frequently asked questions.
SnapEngage – Team Work
The US company is one of the most established live chat providers. They started out in 2008 and count 10,000 customers now. While most competitors only have their software available in English, SnapEngage supports five more of them (including Spanish, Portuguese, German and French).
Also, they seem to be targeting customers with deeper pockets. The cheapest plan starts at $60 per month as they are very focused on live chat teams. It does include four chat agents already. Most other live chat companies would charge you a similar amount once you get to four agents. They do offer quite a few advanced features, among them cobrowsing, which is a way for the visitors to share their screen with you.
Enterprise: on request
Paid monthly. Discounts available for annual payments.
What I liked: their pretty unique cobrowsing feature and other advanced features such as “hours of operation”.
Where they should improve: in the chat console there is no live view of your visitors, which I find odd for a software that targets the enterprise market. The user interfaces look a bit long in the tooth and could use a refresh. Even though their interface supports many languages, it’s a bit complicated to set it up on a multilingual website.
Recommendable for: larger companies that have a whole team of live chat agents.
Userlike – Made in Germany
More than 1,000 customers rely on Userlike, a Germany-based live chat support solution. Their servers are also in Germany, which makes them a particularly attractive solution for customers in the European Union. What’s great is that they sport a free plan with unlimited chats. The rest of their pricing structure looks affordable too for teams with at least 3 operators. Recently they even launched a chatbot, which they call Chat Butler.
Prices per month, paid yearly.
What I liked: the free plan is pretty decent to start with. If you are a startup you can even use it 12 months for free. It’s pretty good when it comes to internationalization as you can create different chat widgets in different languages (they support seven of them). Agents can request screenshots from their visitors, which is quite handy.
Where they should improve: the behavior of the chat widget can be a bit odd after updating it as it’s quite slow to show the changes. I also would like to see better trigger-based chat automations.
Recommendable for: EU-based companies that need a solid and affordable live chat software that respects strict privacy laws.
Pure Chat – Unlimited Everything
Pure Chat is another free live chat software. And the promises the Arizona-based company makes are pretty bold: unlimited chats with unlimited operators! Mobile apps are available for both iOS and Android. This way you will never miss a visitor’s message. 10,000 customers apparently already use their product.
You only pay if you want PRO features like real-time visitor analytics and automatic chat alerts. The upgrade will also remove the Pure Chat branding and lets you use the tool on unlimited websites. Basically, they throw it all in.
Pure Chat Screenshots
Pure Chat Pricing
Prices per month, billed yearly.
What I liked: their real-time visitor analytics are top notch and exactly the way I wish to have them. The rule-based alerts are also great – this way you’ll know when there’s a high-value customer on the site. Of course, the fact that their free plan includes unlimited operators isn’t bad either, is it?
Where they should improve: I am not a fan of their user interface. It is pretty unsexy and could do with a redesign. For example, you can upload a profile pic for your chat agents. If it’s not the right size it will be squeezed together (see screenshot). Also the design options for the chat bar aren’t exactly fantastic. In terms of automatic triggers they provide the minimum but nothing worth writing home about.
Recommendable for: companies that have a high number of chat agents. If real-time analytics is essential for you, you should upgrade to the PRO plan.
Tidio Chat: Lots of Potential
Just like LiveChat, Tidio also has Polish roots (seems like Poland is quite a hub for live chat software). They are relatively young but have nevertheless put together a really attractive bundle. Their free plan already includes up to three agents and unlimited chats. However, if you want to benefit from their most sophisticated addon, Automations that is, you will have to fork out $15 per month (per 5,000 unique visitors).
At first I was pretty impressed by the visual automation workflow they offer. It looks similar to some of the more advanced newsletter tools we’ve looked at. However, I found that there are some important limitations: it is, quite surprisingly, not possible to switch off an automation. You can only delete it. Also I would wish to see more automation options such as being able to hide the chat window when certain conditions apply.
Forever Free: $0 (for 3 users)
Communicator: $15 per month (includes live visitors list, opening hours etc.)
Automation: $15 per month (adds automation for up to 5,000 visitors)
What I liked: they have mobile apps for iOS and Android. Their multilingual chat setup is really the best we’ve seen so far. Also, as mentioned, their workflow-based automations are (mostly) pretty great.
Where they should improve: they have plenty of great features, however, they sometimes are a bit rough around the edges. One thing I didn’t like very much was the fact that you can’t stop accepting new chats while you are already engaged in a chat. Not great when you’re about to leave work.
Recommendable for: any small business that wants a powerful free plan and/or needs to support multiple languages.
> Free trial: tidiochat.com
Smartsupp – Analyse Your Visitor’s Every Movement
Smartsupp is unique in many ways. For once, they bring live chat analytics to another level. The Czech live chat software records your visitor’s actions on your site so you know exactly where things can be optimized. The other unique trait is their offer of a free shot of homemade Slivovica when signing up for the PRO plan. That’s a Czech schnapps in case you are wondering. I wonder how many of the 7,000+ users have actually tested that stuff.
Alcoholic beverages aside, they also have a free plan that boasts unlimited chats and unlimited agents. To benefit from their visitor recordings feature you got to have at least a subscription to the STANDARD plan.
Interestingly, their user interface looks very much inspired by Zendesk Chat. Plenty of details and features were simply copied over, which is a bit sad, really (unless they have some special licensing deal going on).
STANDARD: $8 per agent
PRO: $19 per agent
Prices per month, billed yearly.
What I liked: obviously the recordings feature is a great benefit – the question is whether you actually need it. The live analytics are superb and exactly the way they should be in my opinion. If that’s important to you, Smartsupp is one to consider.
Where they should improve: I wasn’t that fond of the designs for the chat bars. The customization is very limited.
Recommendable for: data-driven companies that are looking for a feature-rich live chat software.
LiveAgent: Chat to Your Customers Face to Face
In case you haven’t noticed yet, Eastern Europe really rocks the live chat game! LiveAgent is yet another example: their head office is located in Slovakia. Having launched in 2007, they’ve put together a pretty sizable team serving over 21,000 businesses according to their website.
The list of features indeed looks impressive, among them, unique in this list: video chat. They also sport a fully integrated help desk solution where every chat request is being added as a ticket (actually the help desk is their core business). You have a bird’s eye view of how your customer support agents are doing and generally feel like LiveAgent is probably targeting the higher end of the customer spectrum (medium and large enterprises).
Ticket: $9 per agent
Ticket+Chat: $29 per agent
All-inclusive: $39 per agent
Prices per month
What I liked: The onboarding process is pretty good, you have a to-do list of various items to get started (see screenshot). Their pretty unique video chat capability also makes it into our list of pros. You can also set it up for voice calls only. The fact that you can set up a customer knowledge base and a help desk is great, too. Oh yeah, they also support a tonne of languages.
Where they should improve: I am really not a fan of their user interface. It looks quite dull and due to the high amount of features it’s easy to get lost. I also came across a couple of menus where I just had no idea what I was looking at (see the ‘gamification’ screenshot). Generally there should be better help resources.
Recommendable for: Medium or large enterprises that have lots of agents and need an integrated help desk solution. Also businesses that require video chat functionality.
Judging by their range of features, Chatra is really impressive and stands out in a lot of ways against their competitors. For example, they support multilingual website setups as well as complex chat triggers. And of course, there are also iOS and Android apps to chat when you are away from your desktop.
A free plan with unlimited chats and one operator makes it easy to get started but don’t include automations. Paid plans start at $15 per month per agent. This young Israeli company is definitely one to watch!
According to their website, there are already 12,000 companies relying on their product. Their free plan includes 1 chat with 30 chats per month. Formilla allows you to offer different live chat widgets, which is handy if you are serving different languages for example. There is also real-time visitor monitoring, automatic messaging as well as canned messages.
Formilla Edge is a feature you probably wouldn’t expect in a live chat software: it’s a lead generation tool that help you grow your newsletter list using pop-up messages and hello bars. All in all Formilla makes a polished impression and is pretty affordable at $11.99/monthly per agent. The only thing I was missing is a preview for the chat widget, making a bit harder to get the design right at the first try.
Helpcrunch puts great weight on chat automations by allowing you to create very granular segments to target your most valuable customers. But not only that, you can also automate email messages.
At first, the backend is almost a bit overwhelming due to the high number of options. One feature I particularly like is the ability to offer live chat in different languages. Paid plans start at $12 per month per agent, which is a really fair price. Also, there is a freemium option. The only I was missing is a real-time view of all the current visitors, which always gives me a good impression of how busy the website currently is. According to Helpcrunch’s own live chat, this feature is already on the roadmap.
The Israeli company started out in 2012. It was shortly after that I first got my hands on their software. Having looked at it again, I have to say that now much has changed. It was a solid, slightly complicated solution back then. Now it is still the same, yet the user interface looks really dated (I know, I’ve been moaning about user interfaces design quite a lot already but I find it extremely important). They have a decent way to organize departments and also have apps available for PC/Mac, iOS and Android.
Free is the magic word on tawk.to’s website. They compare themselves to the likes of Google and Facebook, which are, you guessed it: free. Where they make money is by providing live chat agents to their users. Interestingly this only costs $1 per hour if you contract them 24/7. Full-time ($2.20) and part-time ($3) agents are slightly more expensive.
They will be able to serve a maximum of 2 visitors concurrently. I can’t comment on the quality of this service but I wouldn’t expect that they are going to learn all the ins and outs of your business. But still, it’s definitely an interesting package they’ve put together here.
Texas-based WebsiteAlive sets the price point higher than the rest of the bunch: 1 operator sets you back $30 per month. The Plus plan at $50 per month also includes screen sharing capability.
The best things in life are free and so is MyLiveChat. Whether it belongs to the best free live chat services is a different story. They are certainly very generous, providing unlimited free chats for 1 agent with a 3-year chat history. Canned responses and proactive triggers are also part of the package. On the downside, I found their interface confusing due to the extremely high number of menu options. Also, design-wise there is room for improvement as they seem to like stock photos of support agents just a little bit too much for my taste.
This company used to be called Zopim but then got bought by the help desk giant ZenDesk. They have great live visitor tracking, excellent triggers and prices are relatively affordable (starting at $14 per agent). Their free plan is limited to one concurrent chat.
Livezilla (for self-installation)
This one’s a bit different: you have to install it on your own server. If you are wondering “why should I do that?” you probably aren’t the right target group. But there definitely are use cases where self-installation makes sense: financial institutions that have extremely high privacy standards and can’t have any data leave the organization. Also if you prefer to just pay once and not have monthly obligations, LiveZilla can be a good solution. Next to a pretty decent free software (max. 1 operator), there is also the PRO product that allows 2 and more agents, which starts at €149. LiveZilla is a Germany-based company, who gives you a 20% discount if you provide the invoice from a competitor. Their feature set looks very decent.
Intercom is not your typical live chat software. It’s a product that sits more in between email and live chat in terms of speed. Companies would often use it more as an easy to reach contact form than for instant replies. The website visitors usually need to enter their email addresses and then wait for an answer. Apart from that, you can also send email campaigns through Intercom. Pricing starts at $53 per month and increases as your interactions increase.
Their main selling point is the helpdesk solution. As you can imagine, it also includes live chat. They seem to have great personalization options as well as chat automation. And all of this is neatly integrated into the helpdesk application. A free plan makes it easy to start working with them.
Best Free Live Chat Software: Our table
|Provider||Number of users (approx.)||Apps||Free plan?||Overall impression|
|LiveChat||24,000||PC / Mac, iOS and Android||No||Cutting edge live chat tool that includes a help desk as well as a really polished backend.|
|Olark||12,000||No||Yes||Offers great chat automations and is super easy to use.|
|SnapEngage||10,000||iOS and Android: planned||No||Decent chat software for larger teams that offers cobrowsing. Should add a live view for your web visitors.|
|Userlike||1,000||No||Yes||Solid solution, which respects EU privacy laws. Features a great free plan with unlimited chats.|
|Tidio Chat||unknown||PC / Mac, iOS and Android||Yes||Excellent for multilingual websites. Really great chat automations too.|
|Pure Chat||10,000||iOS and Android||Yes||Offers very detailed live analytics and a free plan that includes unlimited chats.|
|Smartsupp||7,000||No||Yes||The only live chat software offering video recordings of your visitors. Efficient backend but scores a bit low on the front end designs.|
|LiveAgent||21,000||iOS and Android||No||Your top choice for video chat. Feels a bit complex due to the high number of available options.|
|HelpCrunch||unknown||iOS and Android||Yes||A multilingual live chat tool that has interesting marketing automation features.|
As you can see, the live chat world seems to be evolving fast, and in numerous directions. Some are experimenting with chatbots (LiveChat and Userlike), while others give free plans to place their own agents (Tawk.to). Some offer top of the line user experience (Live Chat, Olark), while others look like they were designed 10 years ago.
In any case, if you’re serious about live chat for your business, the good news is that there is no shortage of options. The paid plans are mostly affordable, and even some free plans offer decent services. Multilingual options seem to become available more regularly, and the triggers and automations can be a powerful tool for converting users on your pages.
And best of all, all the companies mentioned above have managed to make live chat a fairly intuitive tool. The training for your agents should be minimal in terms of technical skills, which means they will be able to concentrate on your main goal, whether it’s to offer awesome support, make sales, or help users navigate your website.
If you have any further questions, please let us know in the comments!
12 Feb 2019 – A few smaller updates.
26 Oct 2018 – Helpcrunch is now offering a free plan.
07 Sep 2018 – Helpcrunch added.
10 Jul 2018 – LiveAgent Price change reflected.
09 May 2018 – Formilla and MyLiveChat added.
12 Feb 2018 – Pricing change for LiveChat (news plans)