Do you Have Time for a Chat?

We’ve been running an experiment on for the past two months:  We’ve had live chat available throughout the site.  Each page has a nice big image on it when we’re available:

We changed our schedules around to make sure we could get at least 16 hours a day of coverage.  We ran a set of tests to make sure we knew how to work with it effectively and put out our shingle, ready for a nice chat.

Since we started, we've had thousands of folks go through the Gibraltar Software site, mostly in the last five weeks since we launched Beta 4, the final (public) beta of Gibraltar.  We've had a good number of downloads of the beta, and it's in use every day from around the world (A big shout out to our friends in Vietnam, Lithuania, and Russia: My, it really is a global information age!).  So, how many live chat sessions do you think we've done (excluding tests)?

None.  Not one.

On the advice of a fellow entrepreneur we even started proactively reaching out:  If someone went through more than five pages of the site over three minutes of time, we'd initiate a chat from our end which would pop up a relatively innocuous invitation to the user in the lower right hand of the screen:


Each time we did it, the user clicked close within seconds, ending the chat.  As a friend of mine used to say:  Message received, reading you loud and clear.  People don't want to be invited to chat.

Hello?  Is This Thing On?

This experiment has left us really wondering:  Is there any point to offering live chat on your web site?

  • Perhaps just having it gives people a warm & fuzzy feeling that rubs off on your site, even though they'd never use it.  Like the Office Comments box or getting a survey after having your car fixed.
  • Perhaps our audience is technical enough that they want to do their own research without interacting with people (however we have gotten a few emails...).
  • Perhaps we're not cool enough and we're doing it wrong. Certainly possible.  Wouldn't be the first time.  Won't be the last.

Independently of whether or not it's an effective and necessary component of building solid customer relationships, we have learned a lot about what a good chat solution looks like.  One thing we'd kill for is a real client.   Not one of these web browser client wannabe's.  I'd rather it worked more like what we use for instant messaging (Windows Live Messenger, BTW) where I can pay it no mind until there's someone to chat, and it manages presence detection automatically.

Another negative side effect of being logged into the chat system all the time is that we know whenever anyone is on the web site, and what pages they're clicking through.  It makes it almost feel like a game:  who's referring traffic to us right now, where are those folks going:  I find myself rooting for the players to make the right next move.  All of this is a distraction from doing our actual work: Making our product better, creating tutorials, answering questions we get from users.  Having to keep a browser window up and visible to make sure we don't miss a chat (haven't missed one yet...) is not helping.

So what's your experience, on either side of the glass: Do you use live chat to interact with folks behind a web site?  Do you like interacting with customers and visitors via live chat?  Is it better than email?  We'd love to hear about your experience - fire away in the comments!

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