I’m curious what you think about live chat on websites? Is it a useful customer service tool to help you find the answers to your questions quickly or is it a bit creepy and an invasion of your privacy?

Live Chat is an online customer service tool

Live Chat is an online customer service tool that lets you ask questions to a real person while you're browsing websites

Let me be specific. I don’t mean scheduled live chat where a guest speaker or expert might be made available for customers, members or users to log in at a specific time and ask them questions. I love this kind of live chat because it creates a loyal group of people who appreciate the free access to a professional they might otherwise not get the chance to ever ask a question. I liken this type of live chat to social TV. TV programs like SBS’s #QandA have a live panel of guests discussing various topics and the public can tweet, post on facebook and send video questions for the guests to answer – as well as a live audience.
Of course not everyone’s question gets answered, but just having the opportunity to have your say in the public forum, is very powerful.

But the Live Chat that I’m talking about is different.
Live Person Chat is when a website has functionality that allows users and customer service staff to be able to engage in a live chat situation, similar to MSN Messenger or Skype Chat, while they’re on the website.
There are 2 ways that this Live Chat can be used.
1. Live Chat can be user initiated – this means that the functionality exists and a user can choose to open the live chat option and ask the website’s customer service team a question. This function might be used instead of sending an email via the feedback or contact us form or calling the customer service centre
2. Live Chat can be live all the time and actioned by the website’s customer service team – this means that whenever a customer is browsing the website content, they might, at any time, experience a pop-up window with a message from the website’s customer service team asking if they can help. The live chat might be random, initiated when the Customer Service team choose to engage (based on resource and ending another service) or it might be triggered by the user’s specific action.

For the 2nd live chat option to work with a businesses processes, the internal policy would probably dictate that contact with the online user would only be in the instance that they appear to not be able to find what they’re looking for or they’ve entered a certain amount of personal information into the website that tells the customer service team what they’re looking for.

I’m just not sure if I would like this. I’ve seen BankWest advertising this live chat function on their website.

You have to wait about 20 seconds but they eventually get there.

I’ve tried to browse the website and see if their customer service team contact me randomly or if it is only user initiated. I can’t find the Chat Now button that the television commercial shows, which was only on TV on the 5th March 2012 (4 weeks ago) so my tests have been inconclusive. Because I haven’t been contacted randomly I have to assume its based on user scenario rules, but it might be because I’m not meeting the criteria. But perhaps the Live Chat option wasn’t well received and has already been taken down?

Bankwest definitely have a lot of ways for their customer to make contact, its very easy to get in touch via social media, email, phone or other but I can’t see the live chat.

So finally I return to my initial question. Is the 2nd type of Live Chat, a surprise pop-up of a customer service team asking if they can give you any assistance, is this helpful or creepy?
Do you think its a useful service that will save you time when you need a question answered (rather than waiting days for an email response or sitting on hold on the phone), or is it an invasion of your privacy.

Please, tell me how you like to contact or be contacted by websites, brands and services that you use.