An In-Depth Look at Web-Based Chat Apps and What They Can Do For You

There are two main messaging platforms. The largest platforms are the main messaging chat apps such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger. But there is another category of messaging which enables people to have an online chat experience without downloading an application on their mobile devices.

In this article we will examine web-based chat tools and what they can offer you or your business.

Web-Based Chat Apps Explained

Webchat is text based chat between people or chatbots delivered over the web. People can communicate with each other or bots over web chat online. Unlike the main chat applications, such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Twitter and other social platforms, a chat on the web does not have to be installed as an application on a smartphone to use.

Webchats allow chat agents to engage efficiently with customers

The main chat applications, such as Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, and Google Chat do have web versions, however this is not what webchat typically means. Also webchat is typically between a company and its customers, not between people chatting for personal reasons. It specifically addresses the need for businesses to be able to communicate with their customers, in particular those customers who are on their website. Even when we refer to the main chat applications in this article, we are typically talking about the business use case for these applications where customers use Whatsapp or Twitter for example to communicate with companies.

What is Web Based Chat?

Webchat is usually one of two types of chat. It can be the type of customer chat that anyone can use anonymously, often on a one off basis, for specific questions or support issues. Examples of this are pre-sales questions on a website or for a customer support inquiry where an AI program can easily provide answers helpful to the client.

Web based chat solutions are suited to this use case because the chat window is instantly available and can be used immediately by anyone who needs it. It is extremely easy for a user of a site to send a message to a company through webchat. It is also an anonymous channel from the customer’s point of view which is important to safeguard privacy. Of course the company answering the chat would rather collect the customer’s details if possible and may ask the customer to share these details with them.

Chatting on Web Platform Use Cases

Facebook has released a web based version of Messenger that can be used for web chat on websites. This version of web chat allows websites to capture the contact details of the prospects if the prospect is logged into Facebook and allows the website to see their details.

Another common use case for web chat is the case when a company needs to know that all customers (not just a subset) will be able to use the chat or there are security or privacy issues in using a third party controlled platform. The business that is offering the chat service does not want to build and maintain interfaces to different chat platforms and therefore opts for an enterprise bot solution. Messaging channel integration is key to a webchat’s performances.

There is a problem in maintaining different interfaces to different chat platforms and that is that different chat platforms have different user interfaces which are important when non-text based messages are concerned. This means that messages that are not purely text based need to be customized for each platform. This is particularly important with regards to chatbots.

Chatbots have transformed the customer service industry

Chatbots are becoming increasingly ubiquitous for customer service inquiries. Customers can instantly get help on their questions about products or services from chat conversations with AI.

Web chat is suited to offering chatbot services because chatbots often use graphical widgets in providing support. Webchat support for standardized graphical widgets and the ability to be able to customize the webchat behaviour and interface using code such as javascript, are advantages to using webchat over other chat applications which are less flexible. Having to make each chat channel conform to the same set of graphical interactions requires a lot of work.

One alternative to using web chat is using sms (because it works for every mobile phone user) however the sms user experience is not good and lacks chat features and therefore is often not viewed as a good channel for communication. The RCS platform which has replaced SMS is certainly a viable alternative to consider.

Even for a simple web chat application, there may be a requirement for people to log in or provide details before they have a chat session with a human, and these sorts of interactions are better done with some sort of graphical component. This can be easily done on webchat.

Advantages of Using Online Chat for a Website

Customizable Branding and Integration Capabilities

Being able to modify the interface is particularly important for brand control in your live chat strategy. Being able to add custom branding to the look and feel of a web chat is important in keeping control of the company image. Using a mainstream instant messenger app means that your brand will lack any branding integration and be undifferentiated from all the others from a look and feel point of view.

Privacy and Security

Another advantage of web chat for those concerned with security, is that messages will not be exposed to any third party system. Communicating with customers over the main chat channels and social networks means that third party companies will have access to customer messages. This can be a particular concern for companies that have a strict privacy policy in place such as is in the healthcare, banking and governments industries.

This is related to the on-prem, public cloud, private cloud and hybrid deployment debate. If the application is installed on some sort of cloud, some third party has access to the data.

Many of the mainstream web based chat application providers will try to monetize the data. This can be a concern from a competitive advantage point of view as it is difficult to know what information about your activities is being provided to competitors even in aggregated form. Even worse, are your competitors being given access to your customers as your customers will be categorized as being in need of the type of service you provide which will make it straightforward for competitors to target them.

Ease of Use

In this digital age, it has become increasingly common to find people who prefer texting and online messaging over direct phone calls. The thought of getting cold called by sales reps or being left on hold by customer service leaves a sour taste in many peoples mouths. A web-based chat service replaces many duties traditionally handled by phone calls and allows customers to engage with the platform on their own terms.

Advanced Features

One important point with regards to webchat is that in most cases it is only the customer who is chatting using a web chat client. The person who they are talking to, normally a company representative, is using some sort of dedicated software to speak to the customer. Typically the person speaking to the customer is a customer support agent.

The agent will use software, such as Zendesk or Live Agent, to respond to many different customer inquiries, often simultaneously. They need a dedicated client that is optimized for this task. They need to see the conversations that are allocated to them and respond to them efficiently.

This is also the case with chatbots where it is often the case where more complex queries get escalated to human agents who are using dedicated software. This process is called human in the loop. In many cases, the chatbots are either trained explicitly or implicitly by the human agents.

Again this reinforces the pattern that users who use the chat frequently, such as human agents, will require a dedicated (normally desktop) app, while those who use the chat infrequently will use webchat.

How can Botpress help your business?

Botpress offers web based chat solutions for websites designed for ease of use, quick integration and speed of execution. Discover more about our web chat capabilities here!

We have discussed some of the advantages of web chat in this list, however it does have some disadvantages.

Disadvantages of Using Web Based Chat

Lack of Push Notifications

A common concern is that it doesn’t naturally support push notifications that are available to mobile devices. Like a website, the user needs to be logged in to receive messages from the chat widget. This means that users need to receive notifications, including new messages, by sms or email. Receiving notifications in this way is far from an ideal user experience for many reasons, including that it clutters the inbox.

Limited Accessibility

Other disadvantages are that web chat is a link that needs to be opened (rather than an app on the phone) and that requires a little bit of extra mental effort and time to interact with it.

Of course, these two issues will be addressed in time as the difference between web apps and installed apps narrows and web chat functionality improves.

It is already possible to have the browser (web apps) send notifications to users and the performance of web apps is always improving. At the moment the solutions are not perfect, but as they improve, web based chat will become the preferred channel for a wider set of use cases. As communication speeds and related web technology improves, it is likely that the performance and usefulness of webchat (and web apps) will grow rapidly.

Final Thoughts on Web Based Chat Apps

As chatbots become more sophisticated, the trend to use webchat will become even more pronounced. Introducing sophisticated behaviour directly into a mainstream chat app (outside of using a webview) is hard if not impossible. In the future it will likely be the case that webchat becomes a blend of graphical and text based input that responds to text or voice interactions. In this way the line between apps (or a web app) with a conversational dimension, and chat and voice devices with graphical UIs will blurr. Either way, there will need to be significant ability on the part of the developer to customize the channel.

An interesting related point to note right now is that webchat is usually far more responsive than a web app because sending and receiving messages is less vulnerable to performance issues than graphical interfaces. People are accustomed to waiting for messages to be sent or received however they are less happy when a graphical interface appears to hang.

Ultimately webchat addresses many of the issues faced when deciding which channel to use to communicate with a customer. Webchat beats using mainstream chat apps in terms of security, ability to customize the behavior and interface, ease of maintenance and ease of access for the end user.

As usual, the main consideration at least for end customers is convenience. Currently web based chat applications deliver convenience for customer service type use cases and mainstream apps deliver convenience for ongoing, day to day chat requirements.

It will be interesting to see how this space evolves in the future.

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