Why messaging platforms haven’t (and won’t) displace live chat

Messaging platforms were supposed to spell the death of live chat software. Lauded for their wide popularity in our personal lives, it seemed only a matter of time before messaging platforms would host all our business conversations, too.

Messaging platforms were set to become the new ‘big thing’ in business. They’d become the primary communication channel for customers contacting companies.

So much so, apparently, that their main technology rival (live chat) would be shunted out of favour.

Yet, even after several years, live chat software remains one of the most preferred channels for customer service. In fact, the global live chat software market is expected to grow to $987million by 2023.

So, what happened?

Here, we explore why messaging platforms are yet to displace live chat software — and why they’re unlikely to ever do so.

Messaging platforms vs live chat: what’s the difference?

Both messaging and live chat involve a chat interface. They both embrace a more casual, web-based conversational experience. They share many qualities, in fact.

So, first things first, it’s important to understand the difference between messaging platforms and live chat software.

The crux of their difference lies behind the ‘live’ label. With live chat, conversations happen right away, in real-time.

With messaging, this real-time response isn’t a guarantee. Conversations are not always held in real-time. Instead, it’s as much at the agent’s convenience as the customer’s. There could be gaps of minutes, hours, even a day or so, between messages.

In other words, live chat software favours immediacy and responsiveness. Messaging platforms, meanwhile, favour flexibility and a relaxed approach to customer service.

The rise of messaging: the threat to chat

Messaging platforms and live chat software share a common history — one rooted in the chatrooms of old.

Live chat channels, however, have seen success in the business sphere since the early noughties. They rapidly grew in business use from their creation.

Messaging, meanwhile, rose in a more personal setting. From SMS to social media, messaging grew as a way to keep in touch with friends and family.

Urgent communication would still take place via phone calls. But the informal nature of messaging allowed people to keep chatting around their busy lives.

With so many people using messaging platforms every day, it’s understandable that businesses saw an opportunity. Popular messaging apps released business-ready platforms. (For example, the WhatsApp business app, or Facebook Messenger for business.)

And with that, came the prediction. Messaging platforms would kill traditional business live chat solutions.

The reality: live chat software still reigns

Despite the widespread use of messaging platforms, their introduction to business has done little to disrupt live chat popularity. Indeed, live chat software generates one of the highest customer satisfaction rates at 73%.

One of the main reasons that messaging platforms have failed to displace live chat (and always will) lies in their key difference. That is, the in-the-moment service.

Customers that connect via chat do so because they want to solve the problem now. They want an answer to their question now. They don’t want their issue weighing over them while they wait for a reply.

79% of consumers favour live chat support because it allows for almost instant responses. 44% of online consumers say that having a live person to answer questions is very important.

Live chat comes with the tools needed to help the customer now. You have the canned responses, to send lengthy information in a click. You have the CRM data needed to know the customer you’re talking to. And, you can share files, see their computer screen and even swap channels momentarily. And with chat routing, you’ll get customers with queries that fit your expertise.

The immediacy of chat is valuable. And it’s something that’s not guaranteed from messaging platforms.

But messaging platforms CAN do that — and more!

At its height, the assertion that messaging platforms would displace chat revolved around the weaknesses of live chat software.

The idea was that messaging was better because it answered these weaknesses. They can, after all, also provide real-time chat, provided an agent is available to talk to.

But for every weakness that messaging platforms claimed to solve for, live chat software has evolved to answer also.

Weakness: Live chat wait times cause frustration

One argument went that live chat channels resulted in customer frustration when wait times were too long. In other words, agents weren’t living up to the live promise.

Messaging platforms would fix this by setting a different expectation entirely. Frustration wouldn’t ensue, because customers wouldn’t expect immediate help.

The problem is, with messaging platforms, customers must still wait. And often for longer than a poorly managed chat channel.

Live chat software has features now to help agents keep on top of their chat queues. For example, the introduction of chatbots to relieve the strain of a busy chat queue.

Chatbots can respond to chat requests, answer any FAQs, and pass on the tricky queries to the team. So, the team have fewer chats to deal with, and customers are less likely to experience wait times.

Weakness: loss of past conversations or context

The other major argument for messaging platforms is that they retain the conversation thread. In other words, with messaging, you can accidentally close the conversation, and simply re-open it. Your past conversations remain visible in a new support session.

With live chat software, on the other hand, closing the chat means losing that conversation, and needing to reconnect. This was frustrating for chatting customers, as agents struggled to retain conversation context.

But with CRM integration and chat history, an agent will have all the context they need when a customer reconnects. So, they can pick up where they left off, just like a messaging platform.

Plus, chat transcripts allow both parties to keep a copy of a conversation, so no information gets lost after a chat has ended.

The frustrations of messaging platforms

Moreover, there are the frustrations that come with messaging platforms for business use.

For a start, messaging apps are often pervasive. Many — like Facebook Messenger, for instance — link to social media profiles. Others (such as WhatsApp) require phone numbers.

This means that to get in touch with you, your customers must share data that they’d sooner keep private.

Other messaging platforms require an app download, taking up customer time and space on their phones. It’s much easier to simply connect to live chat.

Plus, messaging platforms mean customers relinquish control of when businesses can talk to them. With live chat, a customer chooses when they want to talk to a customer service rep.

But with messaging, businesses force themselves into customer pockets — they can message at any time. This can quickly feel like spam, and people have email for that.

And, after all the hassle, messaging means longer wait times. Again, customers may as well have emailed you.

Keeping the divide between personal and business

Messaging platforms are, and likely will remain, extremely popular for social interactions and use in our personal lives. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to displace live chat software.

Customers don’t get in touch with businesses for a relaxed chat. They’re getting in touch to solve a problem.

And that calls for a real-time, attentive response — one best assured by live chat software.

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