Live chat software for the best customer conversations

Reach your customers instantly via web, mobile, and social on live chat and messaging

A guide to the best live chat software

Businesses should be wherever their customers are, especially when those customers need help. And in the past year, customers have flocked to messaging and live chat apps to request service.

Nearly a third of customers messaged a company for the first time in 2020—74 percent of whom say they plan to continue. And that growth is spread across a variety of channels. From 2020 to 2021, support ticket volume jumped:

  • 101 percent on WhatsApp
  • 58 percent on Facebook Messenger and Twitter direct messages
  • 34 percent over SMS/text

(Source: Zendesk Customer Experience Trends 2021)

In their time of need, customers expect convenience, speed, and personalization from support teams. Live chat software and messaging provide all three. But this isn’t just a win for customers.

The asynchronous nature of messaging eases the pressure on service agents because customers can handle other things (like walking the dog or shopping) while they wait on an agent’s response. This enables service teams to scale up and continue to provide great service—without a ballooning headcount.

Why add live chat to your website?

Adding live chat to your website allows you to meet your customers where they’re most comfortable having a conversation. And more comfortable customers tend to buy more and remain loyal. But adding live chat is about more than just customer preferences.

Provided that your live chat software is deployed within a flexible, quickly deployed, and centralized workspace, live chat website tools are:

  • Scalable: One-to-many interactions enables agents to serve multiple customers concurrently.
  • Fast: Automated workflows and self-service options enable customers to solve simple issues (i.e. checking a status or balance, tracking or changing an order, etc.)
  • Personal: Chatting with support agents feels much more like the back and forth customers have with their family and friends.

On top of all that, adding live chat to your website is quick and easy to implement.

Still, to get the most from your live chat software, it’s not just a matter of plugging it in and you’re off the races. It also needs to work with the people, processes, and tools your agents already use.

Mobile live chat while on the go

Use mobile live chat on iPhone and Android and keep the customer support going with the ability to immediately respond to customer queries. Mobile live chat also allows you to proactively start a chat — think prompting customers to complete a purchase. In fact, customers approached with a chat are three times more likely to make a purchase. Mobile live chat software allows you to track your customers and engage them at just the right moment. Think of it like the friendly and well-informed salesperson that appears in a store exactly when you need them.

So before we get into how to choose the right live chat software, we’ll review the basics—what live chat is, its benefits, and its most essential features. Then, we’ll discuss 13 of the top live chat software tools on the market today and how to choose the best one for your business.

What is live chat software?

Live chat software is the technology that powers instant messaging platforms through which an organization’s customer service agents communicate with prospects and customers. The platforms allow agents to carry on real-time and asynchronous conversations through a brand’s website, over social media channels (i.e. Facebook Messenger), via text message, or in a company’s mobile app.

More broadly speaking, live chat software is often integrated with chatbots, automation platforms, CRMs, analytics, messaging apps, knowledge bases, help desk software, and more through APIs and native or third-party integrations. These integrations allow live chat apps to:

  • Save service agents time and reduce operating costs by deploying chatbots to handle repetitive customer requests, allowing more complicated requests to be handled by live agents.
  • Enable companies to provide faster, more personalized services by pulling in relevant data from CRMs and analytics software to trigger workflows and for use by chatbots and live agents.
  • Build rapport between company and customers by conducting conversations in the messaging channels customers are most comfortable with (like WhatsApp, Instagram Direct, etc.).

Put simply, live chat software lets you deliver rich conversational experiences that are connected across your web, mobile, and/or social apps. It's easy to automate and fast to scale for every customer's needs. Also, mobile live chat apps on Android and iPhone keep support going when your agents are on the move.

What are the common features of live chat software?

There are a few high-level features you’ll typically find with most modern live chat apps.

Just keep in mind that capabilities may be more advanced on some solutions compared to others. Still, you’ll need to know the essential, common features of live chat. So here are the six features to look for and evaluate.

Chatbots

The dirty little secret of live chat website software is that it isn't always “live.” Chatbots are computer programs that can carry out a chat with a customer on your website without a live agent. Chatbots are a natural complement to live chat website apps because they can handle simple and repetitive requests on their own and pass off more complicated requests to live agents which helps teams to scale and serve more customers more efficiently.

Proactive chat (or smart triggers)

Proactive chat allows your agents or salespeople to initiate a chat in real-time with a website visitor. You can also set up triggers that proactively initiate a chat with a customer, which can help encourage and facilitate sales throughout the checkout process.

Smart triggers are predetermined rules that determine what should happen if certain circumstances occur. For example, you could set a smart trigger that causes your website’s live chat window to pop up with a canned message if a website visitor spends a certain amount of time on a certain page.

Canned responses

Canned responses are prewritten sections of text designed to be used in a predetermined situation. Since support agents often face similar situations, they can create canned responses to automatically do things like:

  • Greet a returning customer by name
  • Offer a discount
  • Transfer a chat to another agent
  • Answer a common question

Queue management

When all your agents are occupied, queue management allows you to choose how you communicate with and prioritize waiting customers. Queue management capabilities often include:

  • Manual or automatic chat routing
  • Chatbot messaging with waiting customers
  • Setting queue limits to control the size of an agent’s waiting line

Performance Metrics and KPIs

Live chats can generate a treasure trove of data and business intelligence. But you’ll only be able to make sense of it if you can extract insights from how your customers engage with your company. The most essential metrics and KPIs to look for include:

  • First response time (FRT)
  • Average resolution time (ART)
  • Chat to conversion rate
  • First contact resolution rate (FCR)
  • Customer satisfaction score (CSAT)
  • Average wait time
  • Missed chats

Advanced Features

As mentioned, the features above are what you can expect to find in most live chat software. But the following are what you can expect from more sophisticated tools:

  • Chatbot builders: provide low or no-code tools that allow admins to customize conversation flows for automating web and mobile messaging interactions with your customers, giving them the opportunity to, for example, self-serve their support issues before connecting with agents.
  • Rich message types: enable agents and bots to send emojis, GIFs, forms, and carousels to facilitate self-service, collect customer information, communicate more clearly, and express your brand personality.
  • Quick replies: provides immediate answers to incoming questions using machine learning to reply with relevant information so customers can get answers without waiting. Answers can be delivered via email, ticket form, live chat, messaging, Slack, API and/or SDK.
  • Contextual self-service: a live-chat-embedded help center that suggests relevant articles with the live chat website plugin or widget and mobile SDK.

What are the benefits of using a live chat app?

Provide more context-relevant service at scale

When successfully integrated with chatbots and CRMs, live chat software is unique in that it allows you to engage with prospects and customers in a contextually relevant way at scale.

For example, imagine a customer who’s filled their shopping cart and nearly completed their purchase on your website. Before completing the order, they pause on the checkout page. With a trigger-based chatbot, you could prompt the customer—after a predetermined time—with a message asking if the customer needs any assistance. This allows you to engage with a customer who has shown clear purchase intent.

Plus, because you can set up the chatbot-to-live-chat handover so only customers who request assistance are put in touch with a live agent, you can provide context-relevant service while streamlining staffing costs.

Support prospects and customers at their convenience

Live chat website technology has improved the ability of service agents to support customers at the customer’s convenience. With the right live chat solution, businesses can provide options for customers to:

  • Find their own answers (self-serve) with relevant knowledge base content, delivered by a chatbot
  • Request to be transferred to a live agent
  • Leave a message for customer service
  • Continue conversations from where they left off

Also, companies can offer support to customers 24/7 because chatbots and self-serve options are always available. The result of all this? Higher CSAT scores and a support team that can scale to serve more customers, more effectively than ever before.

Increase customer and agent value

According to Forrester, customers who chat with a company convert three times more often than those who don’t. Customers who chat with a company tend to buy on average 10-15% more that other customers.

These stats are a direct reflection of how live chat can increase the lifetime value of your customers. But it’s not just your customers—live chat can make your agents more valuable too. When properly implemented within live chat:

  • Chatbots and self-service options filter out easy questions
  • Automation handles repetitive logistics (i.e. tagging and routing tickets)
  • Chat analytics deliver relevant insights

By filtering out the simple questions, live agents can focus on providing the personalized services that engender the kind of brand loyalty that results in larger purchases and greater sales volume.

Top 13 live chat software & apps for 2021

  1. Zendesk
  2. Ada for Chat
  3. Certainly
  4. Digital Genius
  5. Ultimate.Ai
  6. Cognigy
  7. Zowie for Chat

  1. Facebook Messenger
  2. WhatsApp
  3. LINE
  4. Instagram Direct
  5. Telegram
  6. Sprout Social

1. Zendesk

Zendesk live chat

Formerly known as Zendesk Chat, Zendesk live chat enables your team to engage with customers in live chats with full conversation histories available at all times. Accessible through the Zendesk Suite, messaging helps you create and deliver rich conversations across your web, mobile, or social apps. It's easy to automate and fast to scale for every customer's needs.

Zendesk includes built-in integrations with the most popular social messaging channels, website and in-app live chat, and powerful tools to build chatbots, automation, and case management workflows — all built on a unified, open, and flexible platform you can customize to your heart’s content.

Zendesk live chat software agent and end user views

In Zendesk, conversations are ongoing and connected across all these channels (and more!) so customers never have to repeat themselves and agents always have the context they need to provide faster and more personalized service.

Zendesk also provides strong value to your business as well.

Flow Builder is a drag-and-drop tool for designing custom conversation flows that can address your customers’ specific needs. Answer Bot — Zendesk’s AI chatbot — can help customers self-serve by providing direct links to help center articles or hand off the conversation to an agent along with all the context and information the customer has already shared.

These built-in automation tools allow you to provide rich, interactive, and personal conversations with absolutely no coding skills required.

Finally, Sunshine Conversations, Zendesk’s customizable messaging platform, allows you to connect all your business systems to the conversation, from payment processors to third-party bots and AI. You can also unlock advanced capabilities like outbound notifications for proactive customer engagement and group messaging to connect the right people, whether that’s buyers and sellers in a marketplace, or restaurants, customers, and drivers in a food delivery app. However, these advanced capabilities don’t come built into Zendesk live chat; you’ll need to purchase Sunshine Conversations at an additional cost to access these features.

Zendesk’s features include (but aren’t limited to):

Learn more about Zendesk

2. Ada for Chat

Ada for Chat

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Ada’s AI-powered chatbot, the premier chatbot partner for Zendesk, is an automated chatbot powered by AI and Natural Language Processing. Its intuitive chatbot builders make it easy to build and manage automated workflows, including handoffs to live agents.

Ada doesn't publicize their pricing information, but you can request a demo from the company for more details. They can build you a custom quote that depends on your business’s needs.

Features

  • Chat routing
  • Chatbots
  • Canned responses
  • Automation
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Branding customization

Learn more about Zendesk for Ada

3. Certainly

Certainly

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Formerly known as BotXO.ai, Certainly is an AI-powered conversational assistant for e-commerce and customer service. It integrates with your live chat software to assist across chat, email, phone, and messaging.

Certainly can take website visitors to contextually relevant products, deliver dynamic support to customers, assist buyers at the point of sale, process returns, and more. And when the situation calls for it, Certainly hands support conversations over to service agents so they can handle more complex issues without leaving their chat software.

Features

  • Support for over 14 languages
  • Multiple APIs and Webhooks
  • Integrations with Zendesk Chat, Support, Sunshine, etc.
  • Ticket management

Learn more about Zendesk for Certainly

4. Digital Genius

Digital Genius Live Chat

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DigitalGenius is a customer service automation platform that aims to automate your customer support logistics. The platform uses AI to understand conversations so it can automate repetitive processes and your customer service agents can focus on delighting your customers. Among other things, DigitalGenius automatically fills tags, suggests macros, and automates answers to frequently asked questions.

It can even resolve repetitive customer issues including order status inquiries, cancellations, refund requests, and more. Plus it’s available in over 15 languages. And you can integrate Digital Genius with Zendesk’s suite of chat tools with Zendesk’s free app for Digital Genius.

Features

  • Support for over 15 languages
  • AI-driven automation
  • Integrations with Zendesk Chat, Support, Sunshine, etc.
  • Enhanced reporting and analytics

Learn more about Zendesk for Digital Genius

5. Ultimate.Ai

Ultimate.Ai live chat software

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It’s far too easy (and common) for businesses to end up stuck between a chatbot solution that’s quick to deploy but not flexible enough to customize to their needs. Ultimate.AI threads this needle perfectly by providing a no-code automation platform that can automate a significant portion of your support requests.

In fact, with Ultimate.AI’s one-click integration with Zendesk, users have automated up to 70 percent of their support requests across Zendesk Chat, Messaging and Support. Plus, with support for multiple languages and every channel, businesses can deploy Ultimate.AI in all markets.

Features

  • Response suggestion for agents
  • Actionable service analytics
  • Support for all languages
  • Public API
  • Chat routing
  • Integrations with Zendesk Chat, Support, Sunshine, etc.
  • Enhanced reporting and analytics


Learn more about Zendesk for Ultimate.Ai

6. Cognigy

Cognigy live chat software

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Built for customer service reps in all industries and verticals, Cognigy.AI is an enterprise-grade
conversational AI platform that helps you build advanced chat and voice bots to enhance your customers’ service experience.

Yet despite its powerfully sophisticated features, Cognigy.AI features a low-code, visual interface designed to make it easy to build bots that help your service operation scale while providing excellent service. Cognigy.AI supports conversations on any channel including web, phone, SMS and mobile apps and has a ready-to-use connector to Zendesk’s Sunshine Conversations.

Features

  • Backend system integrations (i.e. CRM, ERP, RPA, etc.)
  • Support for 20+ languages
  • Low-code, graphical conversation editor
  • KPI dashboards

7. Zowie for Chat

Zowie is another AI-powered chatbot that helps you automate a significant portion of your customer service volume. It does this by analyzing historical chat data which Zowie’s experts then use to consult with you to design the ideal automation strategy.

Zowie is compatible with 56 languages and supports chatbots on your website chat, mobile chat, social media, and messenger apps. Zowie doesn’t publicize pricing information so you need to reach out to them through their website for their most current pricing.

Features

  • Chat routing
  • Chatbots
  • Canned responses
  • Automation
  • Reporting and analytics
  • Branding customization

Learn more about Zendesk for Zowie

8. Facebook Messenger

Facebook Messenger

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Along with WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger dominates the global landscape of messaging apps. In 2020, it was (and still is) the messaging app of choice in 57 countries, including the United States. And since it's embedded within Facebook, Messenger is a powerful way for e-commerce and retail brands to field pre-purchase questions when prospects respond to ads.

Using a tool like Sunshine Conversations, retailers can easily provide support in the massively popular Messenger. And service agents can add a little flair (when appropriate) with GIFs, images, emojis, videos, and more.

Features

  • Native integrations
  • Booking
  • Payments
  • Image/audio/video file support
  • API

Learn more about using Facebook Messenger with Zendesk

9. WhatsApp

WhatsApp Messenger

WhatsApp is a strong option if your customers live in or come from Southeast Asia, Europe, Latin America, or the Middle East, where it’s a favorite among messaging apps. In fact, WhatsApp is currently the leading messaging app in 112 countries including India, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

By connecting WhatsApp with Zendesk via Sunshine Conversations, you can keep your customers informed, and ease the burn on your agents, by connecting automation tools and sending proactive messages.

Features

  • Group chat
  • Booking and payments
  • Voice and video calls
  • Document sharing
  • API

Learn more about using WhatsApp with Zendesk

10. LINE

LINE Messenger

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When you supplement your live chat software by connecting it with LINE, you gain access to 167 million monthly active users, mainly in Japan, Thailand, and Taiwan, where LINE is the messaging app of choice.

LINE users—including businesses—can share fun animated stickers, like a Baby Yoda or Goku from Dragon Ball Z, to show off their brand personality in a fun way. Plus, LINE’s integration with the Zendesk Suite makes it easy to connect and expand your business’s messaging capabilities.

Features

  • Animated stickers
  • Voice and video calls
  • LINE Games
  • LINE Creators Market
  • Chat-based medical consultation
  • Payments

Learn more about using LINE with Zendesk

11. Instagram Direct

Instagram Direct

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There are at least two reasons for e-commerce companies and retailers to fold Instagram Direct into their messaging strategy. For one, over 78 percent of customers say that personally relevant content—which Instagram’s curated feed has in spades—increases their purchase intent.

Also, in North America, Millennials and Gen Z show a strong preference for Instagram Direct. Considering that Millennials and Gen Z make up about 42 percent of the population in the United States, it’s clear that any retailer with customers in this demographic needs to be on Instagram.

Features

  • Group messaging
  • Group video chats
  • Selfie stickers, custom reactions, and message effects
  • Customizable chats
  • Messenger and WhatsApp integrations
  • Vanishing messages

Learn more about using Instagram Direct with Zendesk

12. Telegram

Telegram Messenger

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Telegram stands out as a unique option to consider because it provides end-to-end encryption. This helps citizens keep conversations private in countries where social media and messaging apps are banned. But it’s not just for citizens trying to get around oppressive governments.

Encryption is an increasingly hot topic in the world of messaging. So many users, from all walks of life, are making the switch to messaging apps with end-to-end encryption. And of course, the Telegram Channel Integration enables you to expand your customer service delivery through instant messaging between Telegram and Zendesk Support.

Features

  • End-to-end encryption
  • Secret chats
  • Telegram bots
  • Chat folders
  • Video editing
  • Animated stickers

Learn more about using Telegram with Zendesk

13. Sprout Social

Telegram Messenger

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While it’s not technically live chat software, if your customer service relies heavily on social media, Sprout Social is a great tool to integrate with your live chat. Sprout Social provides social media monitoring, sales, marketing, and support tools to connect the workflows of support agents and social media teams.

Sprout Social combines social media monitoring, engagement, sales, support, and marketing tools for a cohesive social media strategy. This prevents disconnected communication or workflows between social media teams and social support agents.

Features

  • Reporting and analytics
  • Social media monitoring
  • Sales, marketing, and support tool integrations

Learn more about Sprout Social's Zendesk integration

A summary of top 13 live chat software with mobile app integration

Live chat software

Built-in chatbot

Built-in analytics

Integrations/API

Zendesk Compatibility

Zendesk

Ada for Chat

Certainly

Digital Genius

Ultimate.Ai

Cognigy

Zowie for Chat

Facebook for Messenger

X

X

WhatsApp

X

X

LINE

X

X

Instagram Direct

X

X

Telegram

X

X

Sprout Social

X

How to choose the best live chat website software for your business

The best live chat website software for your business depends on… your business. Your business model, competitors, customers, governments, and a bunch of other things affect how much value you can get from live chat software.

Rather than trying to wrap your head around so many different factors, focus on these four considerations to guide your purchasing decision:

  1. Ability to unify systems, software, channels, and customer data

    One of the top reasons companies offer messaging is to provide more contextual, better-informed support, according to companies surveyed in Zendesk’s 2020 Trends Report. Yet, only 35 percent of those businesses are taking an omnichannel approach—one that connects channels, systems, and software to end siloed conversations.

    To get the most out of your live chat software, it must be capable of pulling in a single, unified profile of your customer, complete with conversation history and context from any channel. This allows customers to avoid repeating their address or request number while being bounced between different departments or waiting on hold.

    And it ensures everyone across your business—including chatbots—has the context they need to create a consistent, personalized experience.

  2. The agent experience

    Customer service teams need an intuitive live chat user interface for responding to conversations on the front-end. But having the tools to manage those conversations at scale on the back-end is important too. So the trick is to find the live chat providers that offer both an easy developer experience and a great agent experience.

    For instance, the Agent Workspace within Zendesk’s Support Suite equips support teams with the tracking, routing, and collaboration tools needed to close out an issue, live updates about incoming messages, and the ability to seamlessly channel-switch—in other words; an agent can follow-up on a live chat with an email, without ending the messaging conversation.

    As businesses introduce chatbots, automation, and multi-department messaging infrastructure, they need a way to centrally define rules of engagement and streamline handoffs between people, automation, and AI across the business. With the help of triggers, automations, and workflows that go beyond ticket-based routing, agents can streamline customer-facing interactions, saving support resources and decreasing time-to-resolution.

  3. Current fit and future scalability

    Initial time-to-value and continuous time-to-value are key for creating a seamless customer experience. This is why an open live chat platform that allows your business to both ramp up fast and change quickly is so valuable.

    The ideal live chat software is configurable enough to support your existing workflow, powerful enough to handle the most complex business, and flexible enough to scale at any pace.

    A partner that’s based on open APIs, like Zendesk’s Sunshine, doesn’t lock a business into using proprietary tech. It lets organizations leverage the technology investments they already made and surface data wherever they want—like their homegrown applications. And developers can use the tools they already know, empowering them to build fast.

  4. Use case

    What makes the best live chat software truly “the best” depends on how you plan to use it. As you evaluate your options, ensure your software fits your use case by considering the following questions:

    How many participants will you need in a single conversation?

    Modern customer relationships often include multiple parties inside and outside the business. For example, marketplace companies may need to connect buyers with sellers and support agents. Most live chat software offers one-to-one communication: the key is to find one that’s also successful at one-to-many.

    Do you plan to offer self-service?

    Businesses can integrate chatbots for self-service at scale, enabling customers to find answers on their own, in context, around the clock. Businesses should look for live chat apps that give them the ability to launch a bot across multiple channels and the flexibility to avoid being locked into a specific set of integrations or capabilities.

    How can you brand the messaging experience?

    With the help of SDKs for web and mobile, you can build in-app live chats on any device to drive engagement within the products and services your customers use every day—such as on the web, Android, or iOS—using rich content types like GIFs and location sharing.

Frequently asked questions

What is live chat for business?

Live chat enables your business to connect with customers in real-time. When a customer reaches your live chat app, they can connect with your team and get service at that moment. You can install live chat software to help customers on your website, mobile site, and apps.

Why does my business need a live chat app?

Not everyone wants to talk on the phone or wait days to receive an email back. In fact, many people have better customer service experiences when they can use live chat and get help right away. It’s much easier than navigating a phone menu or waiting for email correspondence.

Is customer service chat the same as live website chat?

Customer service chat includes both live chat and chatbots. Both can be effective for different types of situations. Your company could use an AI chat to respond to repetitive or simple issues and use live chat website software when communication needs a human element.

Is live chat a real person?

Typically, yes, live chat involves a real person on the other end. It’s a 1:1 communication channel with someone at the company. Businesses may use a chatbot before connecting customers with real agents, but if the service is advertised as a live chat, you should be able to speak with a human.

What companies should buy live web chat software?

Today, live chat is a must-have for any business that serves customers daily. From educating prospective customers about your products to helping current users troubleshoot problems, live chat is an indispensable part of modern customer service.

What are the latest live chat trends?

The latest live chat trend is the massive number of customers that have started to use it to interact with customer service. From 2020 to 2021, customers who used messaging to communicate with a business for the first time surged by about 20 to 35 percent depending on the age group. This trend certainly grew, along with e-commerce in general, due to COVID-19 but it reflects a long-standing move from traditional service channels like the phone to more modern channels like social media and website chat.

How to add live chat to your website?

How you add live chat to your website may depend on which live chat platform you’re using, but it should be a fairly simple setup regardless. With Zendesk, all you have to do is add your custom script into the source code of the pages where you want the chat widget to appear. Then, simply hit publish and your chat will be live.

Of course, you may also want to customize the chat window with your branding, set up canned responses, and more. If you’re interested in learning more about how to configure your custom chat with Zendesk, read our support documentation.

What type of integrations does Zendesk live chat offer?

Zendesk live chat and messaging includes pre-built integrations for over 90 apps so you can make appointments, manage employee schedules, and use a variety of AI bots directly with Zendesk. The larger Zendesk platform includes over 1,000 integrations in total plus API access for custom integrations.

Start with Zendesk live chat with a free trial

Because customers engaged in live chats are more likely to make a greater volume and value of purchases, we’ve made our focus to make it as easy as possible for customers and agents to engage with Zendesk live chat software. Zendesk makes your customers feel heard.

Dive in deeper

Adding live chat and messaging can take your customer service to the next level. Learn more about the endless possibilities with Zendesk.