I've been casting about to find a way to communicate instantly with potential customers. After a spat with CyberSource, a payment gateway company that seems to view customers as a necessary evil rather than people they want to talk to, I realised that being able to get hold of someone to discuss the service you want to use in real time is better than sitting around twiddling your thumbs while you wait for someone to reply to the email you sent several days before.
Customer service ethics
I always answer my emails promptly because I don't like being kept waiting myself. And I give advice and support to people whether they are already paying me (take note, CyberSource!) or not, the idea being that when they see how speedy and reliable my service is, they'll choose me as their designer. People like to be reassured that they are being taken seriously and that they are valued by their service providers, and this can't happen when emails are either ignored or answered several days after being sent.
Live chat V emails
The beauty of live chat is that you're being seen to NOW instead of waiting for the company rep to get back to you. I've always found it more efficient when I'm trying to get something done on iPage, e.g. setting up an applications program (blog, online shop, etc.) that needs to have the database amended to let me set it up because I don't have to wait for someone to get back to me. I can have it done while I wait, and receive confirmation that it's been done.
Choosing a live chat service
I went hunting for opensource providers yesterday and came across a few. The best ones (free and easy to use) are Volusion and Comm100. I'll talk about Volusion in a separate post. Suffice it to say they are friendly and helpful, but you have to download the software onto your own PC, and if you have a 64 bit operating system like I do, it won't work. I appreciate the effort their operator went to in order to figure this out. I went with Comm100 because they host it on their secure servers so all you have to do is add a bit of code to your website.
You set up an account and provide the relevant details. Then you have the option to use custom images instead of the ones they provide for you. As a designer, I was pleased to be able to use my own images to give clients a seamless experience when contacting me. You have to host the images and enter the links into the custom form in order to use them. After choosing all your options for buttons and images, you copy and paste the code into a spot on your website.
Once you've done all that, you go to the monitoring page (you might have to refresh your dashboard page to bring up the link) and choose the online option, then wait for people to chat to you.
I'm very excited about my new feature, and hope to see it being put to good use.