Why we've removed our support chat widget

Published 2019-06-25 by Jochen Lillich

In the first half of June, we did an experiment and removed the web chat widget from the freistilbox website and user dashboard, to see what happened.

The truth is that for a whole week, nothing happened at all. Then, a single customer asked why it was gone. A week later, another customer. Looks as if our customers aren’t missing web chat much. Well, neither do we.

Before I get into the reasons why we did this experiment, let me first outline why we added chat as a support channel in the first place, a few years ago. The weak answer to this question is that having a website chat had become fashionable; we noticed chat bubbles popping up all over the web. The much stronger response is that collaboration with our customers is central to our web hosting business model. There’s a good choice of managed hosting providers for Drupal and WordPress. But only a few provide the quality of customer support I envisioned. The hosting company I worked for until 2009 was widely known for its lack of customer care. For my own business, I wanted to achieve the opposite. That’s why at freistil IT, tech support means much more than resolving common hosting issues. Day and night, we do everything in our power for our customers to get the most value for their hosting expenses. We strive to be the “Ops” to our customers’ “Dev” and to build an effective DevOps collaboration through all stages of a web application’s life cycle. For us, “support” means “access to maximum expertise”. When you contact us with an issue or a question, you won’t be talking to a “customer success agent” but to one of the very engineers who run our managed hosting platform 24/7. Web chat seemed to be the ideal channel on which to build this collaboration.

So, what changed? How did we end up disabling chat support? It wasn’t a rash decision. Over the last two years, we’ve become more and more dissatisfied with the usability of the chat widget and the level of support quality it allowed us to provide. In the end, the main reason for its removal is not that we don’t value collaboration anymore but that it didn’t support collaboration enough. Most of the existing website chat integrations are not designed with hardcore technical support in mind. They’re great for quick interactions like product inquiries, billing questions, and so on. But when it comes to “Why is our website down?!”, these solutions don’t offer what it takes for us to deliver a satisfying service. While it certainly feels great to get a quick first response, having to wait for the next text bubble to appear while the support engineer is investigating the issue is a less enjoyable experience. You need a fast solution and will quickly start wondering if it really should take that long to check things. Did the support person get distracted by other tasks, maybe another customer? Or did the chat connection break down? Meanwhile, the engineer might be wondering if it’s going to be helpful if they post a bunch of log lines into a chat bubble that will wrap them about a dozen times. Maybe a screenshot would be more readable, but then the customer will lose the ability to copy and paste.

Tech support is supposed to resolve issues, not make them feel even worse for both sides. That’s why over time, our team developed the practice of answering the simple questions right in chat but forwarding the more challenging issues to our ticket system right away. Finally, we realised that we could resolve the easy stuff equally well via our ticket system, only without the pressure of a customer sitting idle waiting for our answer.

Of course, chat as a communication channel does also have its strengths, especially in terms of human interaction. We enjoy being in direct contact with our users, having a conversation, exchanging the occasional emoji. Offering a chat option also drove home the point that we don’t intend to hide behind ticket numbers and that our customers can get hold of us when they need us the most. That’s why we’re looking for more sophisticated alternatives to a (too) simple chat widget. It’s not as if there are no chat solutions already well-established in IT organisations. We’ll probably do a few more experiments in this area. Rest assured that we’ll let you know as soon as we’ve found another effective way to collaborate with our customers! Until then, choose one of the support options on the freistilbox dashboard whenever you need us.

What do you think? Will you miss the chat widget? Do you have a recommendation for a better tool? Let us know on Twitter!