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The Evolution of Online Customer Service: Where We Are Now?

Tamar Weinberg

Plus, The Tools You Need to Get Up to Speed

While online customer service doesn’t seem particularly glorified, it is very much something that has undergone a significant revolution in the last decade.

From the old school way of ticketing systems to the newest customer service technology, in-app customer messaging, we can certainly see that customer service is responding to our real-time needs and doing more that facilitates quicker (but not invasive) communication.

Let’s dig through the different functions of customer service and what tools have served them (well) throughout the years.  

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Online Ticketing

A step up from one-way email, online ticketing is a centralized area where customer service representatives can access complaints, feedback, and general questions from customers and respond as soon as it’s received (if desired).

For most using an online ticketing system, answers are not expected in a real time fashion. Typical response times are as soon as 1-2 hours after receipt, but many companies, in using an online ticketing tool to avoid “real time” communications, communicate a 24-48 hour response time.  

The common business applications for online ticketing are:  

  • This small business tool is Salesforce’s own customer tool, letting you for as low as $25 per user per month to communicate with customers via web interface and email.  
  • Zendesk: Zendesk is one of the more popular customer service tools. Prices start at a low $5 per agent per month for a minimalist setup to as much as $99 per agent per month for much more robust service offering.  
  • Groove: Groove is touted as simple help desk software, without the other fuss of other more extravagant features. It has a free product allowing up to 2 users sharing one mailbox to manage tickets, support canned replies, and to access customer history, but its “Plus” offering is $15 per agent per month. Groove has one of the best support blogs in the small business world, and they chart their startup journey here.  
  • Freshdesk: Another player in the customer service space for online tickets is Freshdesk, which also has a great $0 a month plan for up to three agents and $15 per agent per month thereafter. The initial plan has email and phone support, and its highest plan offers more features for $70 per agent per month.  
  • Kayako isn’t a tool that is referenced often, but it is used with one of the companies I work with that serves millions of customers, and I have to say, it’s a pretty robust platform. You get a pretty detailed ticking platform, the ability to reference past tickets, different departments, and the like, much like the other tools here. You can download Kayako to host locally on your own servers or do cloud-based online service which would be $24 per agent per month for its lowest plan.   

Live Chat

In my opinion, Live Chat is the “extreme opposite” of online tickets. On one hand, you have a communications medium that is not real time at all… and on the other, you have a communications medium that is instant.

On one hand, you have a tool that you can log into at your leisure (unless it’s your job, of course), and on the other, you have a tool that you have to basically “live” on. Bathroom breaks? Forget about it.

In theory, Live Chat is a cool tool, but I’m a multitasker, and I feel that Live Chat doesn’t let me actually multitask, especially if I’m serving a heavy client load. (On the other hand, communicating with a large group of people on Facebook or Twitter, the other “real time” communications medium, would still afford me the ability to get up and make a sandwich if I got hungry. Live Chat has someone waiting for you at that very exact moment. They’re expecting a reply, and if they don’t hear from you, they will get angry. On Twitter, if you don’t reply immediately, that’s expected.)

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Here are four Live Chat tools though if this is something you wish to offer your customers.  

  • Olark: Olark is a tool that lives on the bottom right of your website that allows you to have real-time conversations with people visiting your site. Costs start at $16 per agent per month (if you prepay two years in advance). They also have a free forever plan for 1 agent with up to 20 chats per month.  
  • Zopim is a live chat that integrates with Zendesk. Costs start at $11.20 per agent per month and is advertised as “great for lean teams.” They do have a free plan for one agent as well for one concurrent chat and a 14-day chat history. Its highest plan is $44 per agent per month.  
  • Happyfox Chat launched earlier this year to much anticipation. One of the things I learned from Happyfox is that communications are truly real-time, unlike other software tools that have a one to two-minute delay! It has a free plan with pretty great features and for up to ten agents, which clearly positions Happyfox Chat as the frontrunner of this category, but it also has four other plans that bring you up to $100 per agent per month.  
  • Kayako is being mentioned here as it also offers a live chat tool. I have seen it in action and love it -- it’s easy to transfer agents, access their tickets, and access the logs after the fact. Live Chat starts at $24 per agent per month as a standalone chat tool (not available with ticketing), but you can get both ticketing and chat for $39 per agent per month.  

In-App Messaging

This is the customer service feature that most of you have probably never heard of before--and that’s fine. It’s relatively new and has taken a pretty strong foothold in the customer service and marketing space within the last 12 months.

The idea behind in-app messaging is that users are less expected to receive immediate responses, and I think this has a lot to do with the example I gave in the previous section when it comes to bathroom breaks and hunger pangs while you’re on the job.  

While real-time mechanics demand that you be “always on,” or at least sitting at your computer, in-app messaging isn’t as restrictive by any stretch, enabling you to respond if you’d like whenever and wherever you can.  

  • Intercom: Right now, Intercom is the only player known in the market really doing anything in the way of in-app messaging. They let you message people on your site for updates, send messages based on segments (for example, addressing users who haven’t logged on in 3 weeks or users visiting from South Africa), and they do a pretty good job at it. I have to say, Intercom sold me--until I had to pay for it. Intercom is severely cost-prohibitive for companies who serve a large client base. It’s almost as if Intercom wanted to shoot themselves in the foot. I recently worked for a startup that was paying close to $400/month for Intercom and they had a really inactive (but large) user base. Their tool is great, but it doesn’t make financial sense for anyone at all. And since they haven’t had competition (until now), everyone used them.  
  • Nudgespot: Recently launched (but still in beta) app Nudgespot appears to be a pretty solid contender in the in-app messaging market. Nudgespot is an in-app messaging platform that lets you initiate and manage conversations based on customer/visitor behavior, trigger or broadcast messages to user segments, track message performance, and initiate multiple conversations with them and with team members to solve problems. What I love about Nudgespot is its basic functionality (still pretty great) is free, but more sophisticated features like email integration cost either $49 per month or $199 per month, which sure beats what I just shared in the preceding section.  

As we can see, customer support can be served by tickets, live chat, and in-app messaging tools, not to mention, email and social media. Today’s newest technology seems to do it all, with in-app messaging working to usurp tickets and live chat. And no surprises there: the offerings are pretty superior.

Related Article: Why Efficient Customer Service is Better Than Friendly

I can’t wait to see how in-app customer service and marketing tools mature and integrate with customer user bases, giving both customers and customer experience agents the best of the best in terms of fantastic support. In all honesty, I’m excited to see where the newcomer Nudgespot is going to take us.

Image Credit: NanoStockk / Getty Images
Tamar Weinberg Member
Poor quality writing - blogger Tamar Weinberg is a professional hustler and author of bestselling book The New Community Rules: Marketing on the Social Web. She blogs about social media, technology, customer experience, and business at Read more about Tamar at