We have a live chat support feature on our website for sales and technical support. We get quite a few chat reqests and people seem to love the feature. I have found that live chat allows you to build a more personal relationship with your clients. We can now also communicate with people instantly, which allows us to answer questions quickly. While live chat support is not a must, it is definately a big plus.
I don't think I will go as far as saying that live chat replaces a phone, but I think that many people opt to go with the convenience of an online solution instead of picking up a phone and waiting for an operator.
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We used to run a live chat system, however, nobody ever used it for three months. Everybody seems to prefer a ticket system due to organization and the clients feel that it is much easier for them to look back in case they have similar problems.
In my case, I've found live support requests to be so rare that I stoped offering them. The only place that I've seen that had a decent use for a live chat feature would be a company like value-web where their sales staff will pop up a window to prospective customers looking at their site automatically - rather than waiting for the customer to click on the support link.
Asside form a sales tool, I've found that most customers like the idea of opening tickets better as it gives them the impression that someone is seriously taking the time to research and respond to their issue (well, providing of course that the answers they receive are what they are looking for).
We actually did a poll for one of our hosting sites with about 200 customers to see if the live chat was a feature they did or did not find helpful - the majority response was that it played no role in their choosing to host with us, wasnt something they would use beyond a quick questions (and such questions were quicker for them to find the answer to in our KB system) - which is why we discontinued the live chat feature.
One hosting provider that has a live chat feature that comes to mind (well, I don't want to mention their name) - but the site is run by only two individuals who spend less than an hour a week actually "logged into" thier live chat system. Since those individuals and I worked at the same day job (about 4 years ago) - a few of the people that worked with us choose to host with us over them for the sole reason that their live help feature was never manned - they felt that it was better not to have a live chat feature than to have one that isn't properly staffed and simply asks people to leave a message...
Hope my input is useful....
smartin [at] nocturnalhosting.com
To continue on the overall note, I think that a live chat session would come as a less value to end customers. Knowing that an issue often needs time to resolve, and people expect fast replies using chats, it can eventually keep support professionals unfocused and rushed and customers annoyed.
I would not advise any company to offer live chat for technical support issues.
It's fine when you have ~50 customers, but when you're talking 3, 4, and 5 figures, then it's an impossible model to sustain, and will actually make the company look worse (imagine 50 people, all with a small issue. 50 x 5 minutes = too long a wait for customer #50).
We use a live help feature on our site, it shows the potential customers that there is someone there live on the other end in case they ever needed help, at least in my opinion. While i do agree that tech support should for the most part be handed in a ticket system, i dont agree that you shouldnt provide live support all together. Some people dont want to call and talk to someone, they would just rather get a quick answer via your website.
As for initiating a conversation when a customer visits our site, we are debating whether or not to start doing that.
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