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Article 6 min read

What is the difference between chat and messaging?

Chat and messaging are two popular methods to connect with your customers. Learn why different communication methods provide a better customer experience (CX).

By Jesse Martin, Staff Writer

Last updated January 26, 2024

In today’s marketplace, consumers appreciate fast and convenient support when faced with a problem or query—and deciding on the proper support method is crucial for business success.

Live chat and messaging are two customer experience (CX) heavyweights that can most reliably connect consumers with support teams. The question is: Which is right for your business? In this article, we’ll detail the difference between chat and messaging and give you the information you need to deliver excellent customer experiences time after time.

Chat vs. messaging

The main differences between chat and messaging are the conversation medium and duration.

  • Traditional live chat takes place on a company’s website or app and requires real-time engagement from both parties.
  • Messaging occurs on a company’s website, app, or social media, and conversations can start and stop when most convenient.

Live chat and messaging are two of the most popular methods businesses use to interact with consumers and deliver outstanding CX through conversational commerce.

Although both channels differ, it’s important to note that live chat and messaging belong under the same conversational customer service umbrella. Both are useful, but messaging has picked up the baton of live chat to deliver evolved capabilities and experiences for the modern consumer.

  • Traditional live chat offers real-time, one-on-one assistance between customers and a support agent on a company’s website or app. This method emphasizes “in-the-moment” support, as customers can’t save or continue conversations later.
  • Messaging can offer real-time or continuous assistance on a company’s website, app, or social media. Contrary to a live chat session, customers can start and stop messaging conversations without losing context or history.

Now, let’s dive deeper and examine live chat vs. messaging in greater detail.

Traditional live chat vs. messaging
Live chatMessaging
OverviewReal-time, session-based support conversation between a customer and a support agentA continuous support conversation between a customer and one or more support agents
Conversation levelSimilar to a phone call, requires in-the-moment involvementConversations can start and stop when it’s most convenient—all while preserving context
FeaturesIncludes basic chat features like notifications and customer routingIncludes advanced chat features like read receipts and group messaging

What is live chat?

Traditional live chat is instantaneous, direct support between support agents and customers browsing a company’s website or app.

Live chat support has often been framed as the successor to the customer service phone call, emerging as a staple for individuals who need immediate assistance without having to “press 1 for customer service.” It’s now commonplace to see a chat bubble in the corner of a website, whether online shopping, banking, or simply browsing the web.

Like a phone call, live chat requires most of a consumer’s attention and has a defined beginning and end. Customers can have their problem taken care of in the moment or get routed to someone who can—but “in the moment” is the key phrase. Once the session is over, it cannot be reclaimed or restarted.

When to use live chat

Businesses should use live chat when customers need immediate assistance in real time.

For the consumer, chat conversations result in fast and effective service, which keeps them engaged in the specific page or action they are completing on the website. This communication method is particularly advantageous on high-converting pages, like checkout pages.

According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2023, 64 percent of website visitors spend more money when their issues get resolved on the page they are on. Additionally, if a visitor engages with a live chat agent, they’re 2.8 times more likely to purchase a product.

Zendesk information graphic

For businesses, live chat is typically less cost-effective than messaging due to the additional staffing requirements. Since conversations happen in the moment, agents can only reliably focus on one customer at a time. However, businesses can lend agents a helping hand and reduce ticket volume from live conversations through chatbots.

Example: Rideshare Goliath Uber uses Zendesk live chat features to connect customers to drivers and support in real time—a partnership that drove a 95 percent customer satisfaction score (CSAT) with a 30,000 weekly chat volume.

Ashley Bradford, Global Chat Support Manager at Uber, says, “UberEATS is also an interesting use case for chat because we’re connecting three parties—’eaters’ with restaurants, and then couriers handling the delivery. We use live chat primarily with eaters to ensure their experience is seamless.”

Watch a quick chat and messaging demo

See the Zendesk chat and messaging solution in action.

What is messaging?

Messaging is a continuous support conversation that improves live chat’s capabilities.

Messaging is an evolution of live chat for the modern consumer. This CX method brings more features and capabilities to the table, such as rich communication services (RCS) messaging, typing indicators, read receipts, and group chat messaging with multiple support members.

Arguably, the biggest advantage of this method is the timing of the conversation. Consumers can get distracted easily—other open tabs, incoming phone calls, and general household mayhem can derail a live chat conversation. Messaging, on the other hand, allows them to find a resolution when they’re ready.

Messaging typically comes in two forms:

  1. Social: Messaging hosted on third-party apps like WhatsApp, Instagram business direct messages, Google Business Messages, and other communication apps.
  2. Embedded: Messaging on a company’s website or mobile properties.
2 mains types of messaging

When to use messaging

Businesses should use messaging when they want to take their CX to a level beyond live chat and provide secure, convenient, and personalized customer support.

This type of customer communication has several benefits, including:

  • Agent efficiency: With messaging services, conversations don’t need to happen in real time. This means agents can handle multiple interactions simultaneously, increasing their efficiency and the number of customers they can help.
  • Cost efficiency: Since agents become more efficient with messaging, fewer of them are needed than with live channels—resulting in decreased labor costs without sacrificing the customer experience.
  • Personalized support: Messaging conversation history doesn’t get lost, resulting in a more personalized experience for the consumer. Even if the ticket gets handed off to different agents, they can always get the full context.
  • Customer convenience: Messaging conversations can happen in places where your customers already spend their time. WhatsApp, for example, has roughly 2.7 billion monthly active users—tapping into this resource for customer support gives consumers a convenient connection to your brand.
  • Boosted engagement: Businesses interacting with their customers via messaging can add a whole new dimension of engagement. You can implement embedded payments, location maps, custom bots, gifs, and more to create a more immersive experience for the consumer.
  • Deflected tickets: While chatbots are available on select live chat services, they are integral to messaging. AI provides a 24/7 solution for consumers and can solve simple issues before reaching support agents.
  • Boosted sales: With messaging services, organizations can interact with customers and generate leads through WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, and more—a process called social selling.

Example: Hotel chain Four Seasons uses conversational messaging capabilities from Zendesk to create luxury experiences for their guests. According to Marco Trecroce, CIO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, this partnership has resulted in substantially higher guest satisfaction scores.

“Our whole strategy is to leverage messaging and do more with it.” says Trecocre, “Before, you’d call a hotel, and they’d transfer you to the concierge or the spa… now with messaging, we make those interactions more seamless so you don’t have to work hard as a guest to connect to these various departments.”

Chat or messaging for your operations

Live chat and messaging can take your overall customer experience to another level, but deciding on which channel depends on customers’ needs and the level of support your business wants to provide.

To further illustrate the differences between these communication methods, let’s look at Spartan Race—an obstacle race and endurance brand with live chat and messaging experience.

Spartan Race first started using Zendesk live chat in 2013. For years, this proved to be a successful and effective way to communicate with their customers. Even today, it utilizes live chat on its Shopify store—a decision that sparked a 27 percent increase in retail sales.

In 2020, it transitioned primarily to Zendesk messaging to help its support team scale with less staff.

Aja Varney, Director of Global Customer Engagement at Spartan Race, said, “We simply didn’t have enough staff to sit on a live chat during support hours, and we couldn’t support the volume that was coming in. Messaging made a huge difference by providing asynchronous communication that’s always available. Now it’s possible to meet the customer wherever they are across our channels.”

When deciding between chat and messaging, learn from Spartan Race.

If you want convenient, one-on-one conversations between your agents and customers, give live chat a try. If you want an elevated level of CX with benefits like boosted engagement, agent and cost efficiency, customer convenience, and more, messaging is the method for you.

Use chat or messaging to improve your CX

Modern businesses require modern CX solutions to flourish in today’s marketplace. Exceptional customer support is key, and learning the difference between chat and messaging is crucial to upgrading and empowering your support teams.

Zendesk offers comprehensive live chat and messaging services to help you develop rich conversational experiences across your website, apps, and social channels. Try us out for free today to revolutionize your customer support.

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