ready to chat
Chat widgets come in all shapes and sizes PHOTO: Alper Çuğun

Messaging comes in different shapes and sizes.

We all know this in an abstract way, but a recent experience showed me just how much it is the case.

In Search of a Chat App

I run a tight ship — and a small one at that.

I was readying a new product launch on my site a few weeks ago and wanted to add a chat widget to the sales page. The idea was that people on the sales page who had unanswered questions could ask them in the chat window. Easy peasy, right?

When I looked online for a chat widget, I found so many that I got lost in all the noise. Back to the drawing board. What did I really need from this widget?

For me, it boiled down to the following set of features:

  • A potential customer should be able to send a chat message to me any page where I put the widget
  • That same potential customer should be able to add his email — but only if he wants to. As a business based in Israel with customers in the US, this was a requirement. The seven to 10-hour time difference made email a must have so I could answer his questions later and, of course, capture the person as a lead 
  • I wanted to receive the chat messages on my mobile phone in an app. SMS or receiving messages on WhatsApp or Hangouts would be fine, too
  • Integration with Zapier, so I can get it connected to my CMS, CRM, marketing automation, etc.

And that’s for a one-man show.

A Chat Widget With More Than Meets the Eye

In the end I selected a potential service that fit the requirements above, and by how it looked and interacted with people coming to the website: a sleek, unbranded app that didn't force people to enter details when they asked questions.

But the tool turned out to be something more than a chat widget. It automatically collects web viewers, tags them based on on-site behavior and sends emails to them — both manual and automated. 

It was awesome, with one minor complication: many of these chat widgets charge you per agent using it or by the number of conversations. This one charged by the number of users it collected. 

And it collected: over 3,000 users in its database in a span of a week. It ended up being too expensive for my purposes. 

Does a 'Simple' Chat Widget Exist?

In the search for the perfect chat widget, I saw a wide variety of solutions. It was hard to even establish a common meaning of what a chat widget really is.

There are essentially four different chat widget types out there:

  1. Standalone
  2. Helpdesk
  3. CRM
  4. Marketing automation

These chat services support a slew of capabilities these days: Chatbot enablement, visual rules engine, triggers and integrations are probably the most popular ones now. 

The simple and obvious chat widget is much more than just that today, which begs the question ... how do you implement it?

A Few Things to Know When Implementing Chat Widgets

If your plan includes enabling a customer to chat from your own branded self-service application which already includes a bazillion other features, you might need to develop one from scratch. While none of the features of a basic website chat widget seem hard to implement, there are several things that you need to remember.

First, doing this at scale is hard. There are just too many edge cases, too many devices, too many issues to deal and contend with — especially when you add the mobile requirement for both users and agents.

On top of that, in an enterprise scenario, you probably want to enable voice or even video interactions. Maybe enable screen sharing. All possible with today’s web technologies, but they complicate the implementation as well as the backend infrastructure you’ll need in place.

Then there’s technology and market dynamics: As time goes by, users expect more and different capabilities, and the technology itself changes. This march to sophistication means continued investment not only in your own business and interactions with your customers but also with the underlying technology that enable support and pre-sale activities to take place.

If you are looking to build your own chat, instead of starting from ground zero, you can get a head start with chat APIs. Cloud communication API platform vendors can take care of that infrastructure for you. You should look for options including robust IP messaging, mobile push notifications, queuing, voice calling, video calling, screen sharing co-browsing as well as a sprinkle of chatbot artificial intelligence (AI).

All of this can be molded right into existing contact centers, CRM and ERP systems, business processes and mobile apps. In such cases, communication API vendors can close that gap, providing the communication infrastructure for the contact center.

If your needs can fit an existing chat vendor, by all means, use it. If you can’t find a good fit, consider building your own.

The End of My Quest

What did I end up doing for my website? Haggle on price, as well as embed the widget only on specific pages, so it wouldn't collect all of my site’s traffic. 

You can see the result here (and say hi if you want). If this type of interaction was at the heart of my business, I probably would have developed my own custom-made solution, tailored exactly to my needs.