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Key features and tools to help you choose the best customer service chat app

Though customer service chat has been around for a while, many companies still feel like they're not tapping into its full potential. According to NICE’s 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report, 93% of companies use chat for customer service, but 54% believe the technology is not yet up to par.*

NICE’s report also goes into some detail explaining why companies feel this way, and suggests ways to improve live customer support chat. One important suggestion presented in NICE’s report is making interactions smarter, allowing the chat to handle more complex tasks. Another key area for improvement is establishing smooth transitions from AI chatbots to human representatives.

This article explores the benefits of customer service chat and highlights the key features that make it an excellent tool for your company. In addition, you'll discover some of the best software options currently available and gain valuable tips on selecting the perfect solution for your specific business needs.

What is customer service chat?

Customer service chat allows people to connect with a business in real time through messaging on a website or app. Also referred to as live chat, it provides a convenient alternative to phone or email support by giving customers a direct line of online communication with companies.

Customer support chat platforms can also be supplemented with automated responses and bots to simultaneously answer common questions and gather useful details about users’ needs. This information can then be used to route customers to the appropriate team for effective, efficient assistance.

Benefits of a customer service chat platform

  • Convenient support: Customer service chat is available for assistance 24/7. When supplemented with automated chatbots, it can address common questions around the clock, minimizing wait times for customers.

  • Customer support at scale: With a built-in chatbot in your messenger, you can address high-volume questions, freeing up support representatives to manage more complex cases requiring their unique expertise.

  • Contextual insights into requests: A customer service chat platform captures details about a customer’s previous interactions, questions they’ve asked, and products they’re currently using to provide teams with a comprehensive profile to help them understand customer needs and give personalized support.

  • Productivity boost for support teams: With a shared inbox, in-context insights, and automation, support teams can handle more inquiries in less time, increasing overall productivity.

  • Higher customer engagement and satisfaction: Real-time assistance through chat improves the overall responsiveness of your company. Resolving requests promptly through a chat channel builds positive relationships with customers and cultivates long-term loyalty to your brand.

Read more: 8 key benefits of live chat for customer service.

What makes the best live chat app?

With countless customer service chat apps available in the market, it's crucial to select one that offers the essential features that maximize the benefits we've discussed. Let's explore the key capabilities to consider when choosing the best live chat app for your business.

AI and automation capabilities

While traditional chat apps have been around for some time, the introduction of OpenAI's ChatGPT has revolutionized the game. The impact on customer service is undeniable, making an AI embedded within your support chat experience a must-have.

With automation and AI, the best live chat app can manage a variety of tasks, from answering common questions to providing personalized recommendations. It can also understand customer inquiries, analyze data, and swiftly deliver accurate responses.

Customers no longer have to wait for a human agent to become available; AI is always ready to assist.

A customer service chat with AI should be able to:

  • Engage in natural two-way conversations about support issues, going beyond the simple question/response capabilities of traditional chatbots.

  • Provide continuity across multiple exchanges, allowing follow-up queries so your customers get all their questions answered seamlessly.

  • Draw from trusted knowledge bases you provide, including help articles and FAQs to avoid ambiguous or inaccurate responses that frustrate customers.

  • Get up and running with minimal planning and onboarding, enabling teams to spend their time problem-solving for customers rather than configuring complex AI systems.

  • Escalate unresolved inquiries or unclear situations to human support seamlessly, allowing qualified experts to take over whenever the circumstances call for it.

Omnichannel experience

Customers today demand the flexibility to engage your business via whichever communication methods are most convenient to them. In other words, they want an omnichannel approach to customer service.

It's not just about embedding a chat into your website or app, though. From social media to messengers like WhatsApp, email, and SMS, your customer service chat platform should have multifaceted integration capabilities.

With omnichannel integration, the conversation history travels with the customer across channels. This means that, regardless of where users choose to chat, your team has access to the complete context of their interactions.

An omnichannel chat also enables collaborative support, allowing teams to assist multiple customers simultaneously despite being spread across channels. A unified inbox empowers representatives by providing the full context for every engagement, irrespective of the original point of contact.

Integration with help desk software

The best customer service chat app goes beyond simple conversation management. Instead of treating each chat as a separate entity, it should connect directly to your help desk, ensuring that all users' interactions are properly documented and tracked. Each chat becomes a ticket, creating a structured approach to resolving customer issues.

Customer support tickets contain essential details, including chat history, users’ information, and any relevant attachments. This comprehensive “dossier” empowers representatives to understand the full context of the customer's journey and provide more effective solutions.

Further, integrating live chat with help desk software opens the door for collaboration and ticket escalation. Support teams can easily assign tickets to the appropriate team members, providing swift resolutions and avoiding bottlenecks.

Proactive support solutions

Today's top customer service chat software does much more than simply connect users to representatives – it also proactively walks users through common tasks. Surpassing the preexisting model of reactive assistance, these tools actively guide customers through vital processes from the very beginning of their engagement.

By triggering auto-messages in a chat platform at strategic points – like during software setups, where help is often needed – customers will have everything they need to smoothly navigate your product or service on their own timeline.

This proactive support approach means fewer customers get stuck, frustrated, or confused while seeking out answers. Instead, they spend more time doing core work while feeling personally guided every step of the way.

Reporting and analytics

Harnessing data is key to continuous improvement, and the best customer support chat apps integrate seamlessly with service platforms to provide actionable reporting. These reports and analytics empower you to make informed decisions, adjust resources effectively, and enhance the overall customer experience.

Here are some examples of what you can monitor using chat apps’ reporting capabilities:

  • Metrics for AI chatbot interactions: Keep tabs on important metrics such as answer rate, deflection rate, and resolution rate of conversations involving your AI chatbot.

  • Customer chat topics: Gain insights into the topics your customers frequently inquire about. This can help assess your team's performance in handling different types of requests and identify any recurring issues that may benefit from extra attention and strategizing.

  • Support team workload: Understand your team's workload, support ticket volumes, and the busiest periods for new conversations.

  • Conversation ratings: Track all customer ratings related to conversations. Using these ratings, you can celebrate high-performing team members and discretely identify individuals who may benefit from additional coaching or support.

  • Support team performance over time: Evaluate how effectively your support team conducts conversations and attains issue resolutions over time.

  • SLA target achievements: Gain insight into whether your team is meeting or falling short of the Service Level Agreement (SLA) targets.

  • Performance of help content: Assess how well your help content is performing within your customer service chat app, allowing you to improve the self-service support experience.


10 examples of customer service chat platforms

Having outlined some of the essential elements that define top-tier customer service chat platforms, let's explore a few of the most noteworthy solutions currently available on the market.

1. Intercom Messenger

Intercom Messenger is the ultimate chat tool for businesses of all sizes. It's part of our comprehensive customer service platform, set up to effortlessly support your online business journey.

Intercom’s customer service chat brings together an array of tools, such as an AI chatbot, AI-enhanced help desk, knowledge base, and proactive support features – all of which are seamlessly integrated by design.

With Intercom Messenger, you can:

  • Start resolving customer issues directly in chats, and capture every type of request through messenger-based ticketing.

  • Let customers self-serve within live chats, reducing the workload for your support team by allowing independent resolution of the most common, straightforward issues.

  • Guide new users through a seamless onboarding experience with checklists, assigning tasks and goals directly in the chat.

  • Reach customers wherever they are through integrations like email, SMS, and WhatsApp, creating a true omnichannel service.

  • Customize the in-app experience with navigation options and message styles that are specifically tailored to your brand and design.

Pricing:

  • Essential: $39 per seat/month

  • Advanced: $99 per seat/month

  • Expert: $139 per seat/month

Learn more about Intercom, the most complete AI-powered support platform.

2. Olark

Olark is a versatile customer service chat tool designed for companies looking to enhance their sales and support through live chat. The software not only provides essential chat functionalities but also offers automation capabilities and chatbots.

In addition to its core features, Olark enables businesses to gather valuable context through pre-chat surveys and gain in-depth insights through advanced analytics that help identify strengths and potential areas for improvement.

It's worth noting, however, that Olark lacks advanced AI capabilities. While you can utilize predefined responses, Olark's limited investment in AI may pose challenges for businesses aiming to scale their operations.

Pricing:

  • Starting at $29/month per seat

3. Chaport

Chaport is a customer service chat platform that allows users to effortlessly integrate a live chat widget onto a website and connect with customers through various channels. With the added advantages of automation and chatbot functionalities, Chaport streamlines sales and support processes.

One standout feature of Chaport is its ability to facilitate faster issue resolution by enabling customers to send images that visually illustrate their concerns. This visual aid helps support specialists understand issues more quickly and comprehensively, empowering them to deliver swift solutions.

Just like Olark, though, Chaport falls short in terms of its advanced AI capabilities – thus limiting its ability to engage in more natural conversations with customers.

Pricing:

  • Free: Basic features, two operators included

  • Pro: $29/month, four operators included

  • Unlimited: $99/month, unlimited operators

4. Acquire

Acquire excels in delivering an exceptional omnichannel experience for customers. The solution seamlessly integrates with various social media platforms, enabling teams to effectively communicate across channels and meet customers where they are.

A notable feature that sets Acquire apart from many of its competitors in the field is its screen-sharing options, a functionality that’s available on both desktop and mobile devices. With the "Co-Browsing" feature, support and sales teams can participate in enhanced conversations by visually guiding customers through complex processes or troubleshooting steps.

While Acquire puts a strong emphasis on its live chat functionality for human conversations, the software’s approach to chatbot options remains vague – the pricing page indicates, without any specific date, that the functionality is “coming soon.”

Pricing:

  • Self-service: $25/month per agent

  • Integrated solution: $45/month per agent

5. Chatlio

Chatlio is a customer service chat tool designed specifically for Slack-based communication. It offers a seamless chat solution for teams already utilizing Slack, allowing them to directly engage with customers from within the platform.

Chatlio boasts a user-friendly interface that is straightforward and highly intuitive, characteristics that simplify and accelerate adoption and utilization by customer service teams. Additionally, the platform provides automated status updates on the website widget based on team availability, making for efficient, transparent customer interactions.

When considering Chatlio, it’s important to remember that the platform is primarily tailored for companies using Slack. Those looking for a customer service software with more expansive functionalities may find this feature limiting. It may not offer an ideal long-term fit if extensive reporting or more robust features are top priorities for your business.

Pricing:

  • Starter: $29/month, two operators included

  • Basic: $49/month, unlimited operators

  • Pro: $99/month, unlimited operators

  • Business: $199/month, unlimited operators

6. Tawk.to

Tawk.to offers a range of essential features that facilitate effective communication between customers and support reps. With automated messaging, customizable widgets, and seamless integrations, the software solution provides a solid, reliable foundation for engaging with customers.

The platform also offers detailed reporting: users can track engagement and analyze sentiment to better understand which chat interactions resulted in positive experiences, and which left customers feeling frustrated or unheard.

One potential drawback is the fact that some Tawk.to users have reported inconsistent notification delivery. If you're not constantly monitoring the platform, you may risk missing out on valuable customer conversations.

While the customer service chat tool certainly has its strengths, this inconsistency is something that should be considered and taken seriously. Timely customer support, after all, is what these platforms should be promoting and advancing.

Pricing:

  • Free

7. ProProfs Live Chat

ProProfs Live Chat platform empowers businesses to proactively engage with their target audience. With instant conversations, companies can connect with visitors, convert them into leads, and gain valuable insights into their pain points, ultimately guiding them toward effective solutions.

Whether done manually or automatically, ProProfs Live Chat can efficiently route visitors to the appropriate department or team to ensure a seamless communication experience. Additionally, the platform provides detailed reports on incoming chats and individual representatives’ productivity, allowing users to track performance and optimize support processes.

While ProProfs offers a range of compelling, practical features, its chatbot functionality draws exclusively from canned responses. This means that it lacks AI capabilities – a limitation that will prevent the chatbot from engaging in the kinds of natural, conversational dialogues that give customers a more complete, satisfying chat experience.

Pricing:

  • Single operator: Free

  • Team: $19.99/month per operator

8. Giosg

Giosg is a user-friendly live chat platform that empowers teams to handle an unlimited number of chats in real time, delivering personalized service and sales support that caters to customers' needs.

One of Giosg's standout features is its modern user interface (UI) and AI capabilities. With Giosg's AI Chatbot, it’s possible to create personalized customer journeys, automate support processes, and engage in tailored interactions.

However, Giosg lacks a native help desk feature for streamlining conversation chats. To handle ticket management and other related functions, users need to integrate the tool with a third-party solution such as a CRM system.

Pricing:

  • Contact Giosg for pricing.

How to choose the best customer service chat platform?

1. Focus on your company’s needs

The first step to choosing a customer service chat platform is understanding your company's unique needs and overarching goals. A startup is going to require a much different suite of features than a larger, more established enterprise that’s already capable of handling significant volumes of queries.

Consider things like team size, the average number of customer interactions on a daily or weekly basis, and the types of integrations you’re seeking in your search.

2. Prioritize an all-in-one platform

Look for an integrated platform rather than separate tools. For example, a unified solution should offer AI chatbot capabilities, automated workflows, proactive support features, and a help desk platform – all integrated within the chat tool. Having everything in one place streamlines your customer service operations.

3. Ease of implementation

When it comes to implementing a customer service chat tool, time is of the essence. Look for an intuitive, quick setup that doesn’t require you to dedicate a vast amount of resources to the adoption and implementation process.

Complex installations stall your launch; simple configurations, on the other hand, get you helping customers faster. Consider onboarding steps, customization scope, and ongoing ease of maintenance.

4. Platform customizability

Maintaining a cohesive visual experience helps support customer recognition and trust. Make sure the live chat platform allows customization to your brand identity and visual guidelines. Flexible customization helps the customer support chat function complement – rather than disrupt – established branding.

5. Pricing

Consider the pricing plans offered by live chat applications and choose one that’s flexible, competitive, and, of course, within your budget. The pricing should be based on your specific requirements and allow you to adjust plans as needed.

6. Security and data privacy

Protecting data is paramount to building trust with your customers, which in turn serves as the foundation for strong, lasting relationships. To secure this trust, ensure that the live chat software you choose prioritizes security and data privacy. The vendor should have a thorough understanding of compliance obligations and robust security measures in place.

Read more: How AI chatbots are handling your deepest data concerns.

Experience Intercom's customer service chat solution

Intercom's customer service messenger is the ideal solution for companies interested in providing a faster, more enhanced level of support. With features like AI, automation, omnichannel messaging, and proactive guidance tools, we offer a comprehensive way to surface more value from conversations.

Intercom Messenger’s unique versatility allows customers to self-serve while getting the human expertise they need, freeing up agents to focus on more complex queries. While juggling consistent, quality support across many different channels can feel challenging, our platform is ideally suited to streamline your support process.

Experience Intercom for yourself: Start a free trial today or request a demo to get an AI-powered customer service tool with every plan.

*NICE, 2022 Digital-First Customer Experience Report. NICE commissioned a survey of 1,320 respondents, with 1,000 consumers and 320 senior decision makers from Customer Care, Customer Experience, Contact Center IT, and stakeholders between the Director level and C-suite in Strategy departments. All of the business respondents work in companies with more than 1,000 customer service agents.