New UX Tool Category: Live Chat Support

What if you could just talk to your users? It seems simple enough. In a non-Internet business, the idea of not talking to users seems ridiculous. But you only need to watch an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares to know that somehow, some way, bad business owners will avoid interacting with customers. And even when they interact, business owners don’t get the message. It’s like they have selective hearing or some type of mental health issue. Internet business owners and startups often avoid talking to users and blame the technology. It’s easy to ignore users when they are just blips on the screen or statistics in your server log.

UX designers – like our good friend Chef Ramsay- make a living at talking to users and seeing things from both perspectives – User and Business owner.  As a UX’er, or User Centered Design practitioner, it’s a key part of any project to get and maintain a focus on the user.  That’s what this whole 4-hour work week / Lean startup business is all about.  Don’t build stuff the user doesn’t want.  How do you find out what they want? You ask them. You observe them. You empathize with them.  You CHAT with them.

"I know people, my friend"

If you don’t want to chat with users, then I can’t help you. Stop reading now.  If you do want to talk to users and you’re passionate about Kaizen (continuous improvement), then keep reading. Talking and listening to users means you are bringing them into your design process. It’s called user centered design, and it’s what we study here at BUX.

What if you could just talk to your users? It’s not that easy for the online business owner, right? On the one hand, your customers are distanced, possibly from another culture, timezone, language. You have no idea about their mood or intentions.  On the one hand they have detailed logs and reporting tools. Arguably they have the most powerful communications tools known to man.  But, what are they doing with them? A couple of snapshots and some rudimentary sales copywriting with a strong call to action to start an e-mail chain or get on a newsletter.  I suppose this was the best the internet could offer.  E-mail and phone and contact forms are how it’s done today.

It seems there was no easy way to add the chat channel to your business communications. Social Media really began to change this. The technical and psychological barriers to close, high-speed interaction with customers just got lower.

Enter Live Chat Support

Live chat support are those little tags or buttons in the bottom of the browser window that allow the visitor to chat with a customer service person. We have seen this on large corporate sites for a while – Hosting companies and Airlines. Like other things in business over the last decade, costs come down and the tools become more commonly used.  Surprisingly, these tools have been around for several years and the costs are not very high.  You would think more sites and business owners would use them.

I personally like the live chat feature for tech support – on my web hosting for example – because it seems to be more direct and I can multitask. I don’t have to deal with a phone tree or unclear verbal communication. And, I’m not just talking about accents. As a visitor, I prefer text chat support contacts. As a business owner, I can assume that conversions and other metrics will improve with live chat support.

Live chat support tools

  • Olark – My dudes down at Inspectlet use this tool and it’s the one I noticed the most around the web.
  • SnapEngage – My friend down at uses this one and it seems pretty common.
  • Woopra – Has this type of functionality and was really what got me thinking about this type of interaction
  • – I picked this one at random. They seem to have a decent service. I immediately scratched because they do not offer a Free Plan.
  • Butterflive – This one has a horrible name but a decent free plan. WTF is a “flive” or a “Butterf”. It’s like they Butterfinger’ed the naming of the company
  • Zopim – See? Nice standard web app name. A very good video introduction. And a decent free plan.

There are a bunch more of these tools here: Live Chat Support Software Comparison | Comparison tables – SocialCompare

What I want

The purpose of this evaluation, other than to share with you my thoughts on this new tool in the UX toolbox, is to pick two tools to evaluate more deeply. I plan to install both on client websites and share the results. Since I’ve not used a tool like this before, and I only have a rough idea of how I will use them, I am going to evaluate the tools on these four criteria.

  • Free plan – Beggars can’t be choosers, but that never stopped me before.
  • Chat with Google – I want to be logged in to my Google account and have the user chat requests handled there.
  • Widget disappears when I’m not available – I saw this mentioned as a feature. I want users to be happy when I’m there and not miss me when I’m gone.
  • Great name – I want a tool with a kick ass name. <shoulder shrug>.



  • Cost: grrr… Free for Non-Profit/ personal use.  I get the Non-Profit, but who needs live chat support for personal use?  Silly.
  • GChat: It appears that you use an Adobe Air app to do all of the interaction.  No Google Chat.
  • Widget disappears: There is a contact form that sends an email. Close but, no cigar.
  • Great name:  The name is cool, but I’m not sure how to say it.  I love butterflies, just as much as the next guy.  Papillon is a must see.



  • Cost: Yes, a good free plan.  They sort of hide it so you have to look for it.  Sneaky or savvy business?  I kinda think savvy business.
  • GChat:  It’s good with Skype and a Google IM… Is this the google chat like in my iGoogle sidebar?  Regardless – Skype is great, too.
  • Widget disappears: So, this is kinda a small feature. Probably not going to be on the tour or list of features.  BUT! I was able to find it because Chris, a helpful customers service guy, popped up and asked if I needed help.  Question asked and answered in minutes.  Fantastic. Good to see these folks using their own tool so well.
  • Great name:  SnapEngage is a slick name. Almost too slick. Sort of like the hidden free plan.  Hey Dudes, quit taking so many notes in those business webinars.



  • Cost: Free for Non-Commercial use.  Good for Non-Profits
  • GChat: Nah, I don’t think so.
  • Widget disappears: Nope. Yes, but not automatically. You can turn off the feature instantly in the settings panel.
  • Great name: Awesome name!  You just want to say it all the time.  WOOO Prahhh. wooPrahwooPrah


  • Cost: Free.  The limit is 1 agent and 2 concurrent chats.  No interaction limits like the others.
  • GChat: Yep.
  • Widget disappears: Can’t tell from the website.  THEIR chat tab says they are off line and displays as a contact form.
  • Great name: Zop-im.  I kinda like it, not as much fun to say as Woopra but still fun.  Actually, it seems to have many of the same features of Woopra.  These two might be interesting to compare more… next time.


  • Cost: Free, 1 agent, 20 conversations per month and 5 concurrent chats.
  • GChat: Yep.
  • Widget disappears: Yes, but NOT in the FREE plan.  This is disappointing.
  • Great name:  Great name. I love birds, there’s that.  And, I like the phrase “Shit gets real”… And, according to them, Live chat just got real.


I believe the Olark guys (and they are all guys) Live chat just got real.  And, because of that, your users just got more real.  These interactions will become common place in the near future, in my estimation. Why? Because it alleviates so many of the problems with websites and doing business on the web. It can happen in a more natural way.  Shop around and ask someone if you have a problem or need help.  Easy Peasy

Which will I test?  SnapEngage and Zopim.  Olark was close but the not hiding the button thing kinda stinks – understandable for their branding.  And, it does give me, as a poor webmaster, a way to not be a total free-loader.  Actually, I’ve changed my mind.  Good on ya olark for figuring out a good way to maintain a free plan.  SnapEngage and olark, it is!

Final (deep) thoughts by Newman

Good UX is good customer service – I’m not sure where I heard this, but it makes sense to me.  Who in your business is closer to the customer? It’s the people who answer the phone and reply to emails.  I agree that Customer Service is UX research in disguise.

Figuring out the customer context and getting as close to it as possible is key.

These tools represent a new method of customer-to-business communication. Is it a new way to do UX research and design?  For example, when designing a user survey don’t you take into account how it will be delivered?  Face-to-Face is different from Usabilla is different from a Printed PDF is different from a chat interface.  I think the chat interface has big potential for website UX.

What would you ask?  It’s a very tough part of UX. Designing an instrument that collects actionable data and leads to actionable insights is hard.  However, I think if you simply listen to the users, they will tell you.  Listen first.

And finally,

Young people are texting and chatting.  Perhaps they are saying the world is too fast for phones and emails.  Do we really expect people to slow down for our UX studies and give full attention?  Isn’t the whole point to get into their world?


One comment on “New UX Tool Category: Live Chat Support

  1. We are all big fans of SnapEngage. After testing several of the ones mentioned above and others, SnapEngage was the CLEAR winner. Great tool, especially if you are part of the Google/Android nation. Chats come in everywhere we are. This makes off-hours support super easy.

    Someone should nominate them for an award 😉

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