By Matt McWilliam

Live chat software enables website owners and administrators to create a live chat connection between the operator and the website visitor. Live chat functionality is found on many websites small and large. This feature alone is great for converting website visitors into leads and customers. One of the biggest draw backs of many online retailers is the lack of customer support while you are browsing the site. Live chat software solves this problem and a few other problems by establishing an instant connection with the customer support department.

Installation Choices. The software needs to be installed, setup and tested on your website in order for it to work properly. The software can range from JavaScript to PHP, jQuery, AJAX and ASP. There are two main options for installing live chat software on your website.

1.) Install your own solution powered by JavaScript, PHP, jQuery, AJAX or ASP.

2.) Install a third party solution from a service provider – hosted solution.

The first method of installing the software includes creating a custom script on your own or purchasing a live chat script from a developer. If you decide to create your own live chat software, I recommend hiring a developer who has created such a solution previously. I also recommend setting up a detailed, comprehensive agreement outlining the requirements and specific functionality of the live chat software to be developed. Otherwise, purchasing live chat software from a developer as an out of the box solution may be your best bet. You should follow the instructions provided by the developer for installing and testing the software. This may include using FTP and your web hosting control panel to make modifications to databases, files and uploading your edited web page files.

The second method of installing the software includes integrating with a third party or hosted solution. Third party live chat software is often times not owned by the website owner. The software is sold as Software As A Service (SAAS). In this method, typically the provider will provide you copy and paste code in which you will need to place in specific areas of your website. Typically third party providers will offer a period of free technical support as the software installation is commonly do-it-yourself install, setup and testing.

Testing Your Installation. Once you have your preferred method of live chat software chosen and installed, you are on your way to testing it. You can test the system by visiting your website in two different web browser windows. If you are logged in to your live chat dashboard, your website should appropriately display a “Live Chat Online” graphic. If you are not properly logged in as an operator, a message displaying “Live Chat Currently Offline” should be displayed. The latter option should allow website visitors to leave a message with their name, phone number, email address and/or a brief message. Each of these messages should be displayed as visible text near the top of the web page or as a graphic located somewhere in plain view and above the fold on the web page.

Placement. Placement of the Online/Offline graphics and text is important. Placement above the fold is the best route because it allows your website visitor to quickly see the graphic and choose to contact customer support. Alternatively, you can create an automatic JavaScript or jQuery powered message the appears on the screen in the form of a sliding bar at the top or bottom of the page or a user experience friendly message that pops up on the screen. However, be warned that many visitors do not like being bothered with popup messages and may quickly close the popup message before reading it. They may even be annoyed to the point of leaving your website. It may also reduce credibility of your website. After all, how trust worthy is a website that needs to bother its visitors with popup messages?

Live Chat Operator Etiquette. If you are employing live chat operators, educating them on the proper etiquette is very important. Some software will come with pre-made or “canned” messages. This could include opening and closing dialogue. However, the ability to sell and close visitors who are using the live chat session will ultimately lead to more conversions and sales. Making sure your live chat operators are well educated on your products, services and how to effectively use the website as a tool to help find what the customer is looking for is helpful.

Implementing live chat software on your website will increase conversions by putting your visitors in direct contact with your sales and support department. Visitors will have the option of instantly asking a questions from the privacy and convenience of their web browser. They don’t have to make a phone call, wait in a queue or even utter a word. They type their question and wait for a polite response. Implementing these points will certainly increase the conversion ratio of your website.

Columbus Website Design offers web design in Columbus, web development and SEO services in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus Website Design also provides Cleveland web design, web development and SEO for businesses and non-profits in Cleveland, Ohio.

Copyright 2011 Matt McWilliam for Columbus Website Design. All rights reserved.