A customer-centric strategy touches all parts of your business, but you can improve your customer service almost instantly—and at very little cost—with live chat. Live chat is an increasingly preferred channel for handling service issues, and it produces one of the highest satisfaction rates of any channel. It's also a relatively affordable app to add to your existing technology stack.
I've used live chat apps in a business development role and have been testing these solutions over the last four years. I've seen a lot of innovation as companies look to provide their customers differentiating service.
But because there are so many choices for live chat apps, it's hard to know where to start. To help you navigate, we've done some of the heavy lifting. I researched and evaluated over 30 live chat apps for customer support and thoroughly tested the most promising. From there, I selected the seven best live chat apps—from free to full-featured, with some special ones in between.
Zapier is the leader in no-code automation—integrating with 5,000+ apps from partners like Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Build secure, automated systems for your business-critical workflows across your organization's technology stack. Learn more.
The best live chat software
LiveChat for overall functionality
tawk.to for a free, full-featured live chat app
Re:amaze for the best user experience
LiveHelpNow for tracking customer satisfaction
Zendesk Support for a full-featured service suite
HubSpot for free live chat integrated with a free CRM
LiveAgent for agent gamification
What makes the best live chat app?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
For consistency, I evaluated each live chat service using the same five criteria:
Affordability. Most of the apps on this list start at around $20/user/month and don't go higher than $100, except in the case of enterprise plans. Several are even free.
Ease of setup and use. Live chat is designed to be user-friendly even if tech isn't your thing. That said, some customer service chat software makes the user experience better than others. I made sure, during my testing, that each of these apps was easy enough to deploy and use without feeling like you were learning a new language.
Management features. Yes, live chat can improve your customer service, but it's still just a tool. To find success, you'll need to monitor, measure, and improve your team's chat performance. Some of the features that can help are staffing prediction, real-time activity reporting, chat monitoring, and automated chat routing. You'll find a combination of these and other management-related tools in the apps I selected.
Advanced support options. To help make your service staff more efficient, I looked for apps with advanced support features. For example, having a knowledge base a few clicks away can help agents help customers solve their problems quickly without having to engage a more experienced teammate. Even better is a publicly-shared knowledge base, where customers can help themselves from a search of articles. Other features include ticket management, multi-channel chatting (e.g., SMS, social, video), bots, chat transfer, and automated messages.
Integration capabilities. I made sure that all my selected live chat apps integrated natively or through Zapier with popular CRM, help desk, marketing, and eCommerce platforms.
Once I had my criteria for evaluating each app and had done my first round of research, I began testing. This involved installing the chat widget on my personal website and testing each of the features, from basic setup to advanced options like integrations and automated chat routing. After extensive testing and re-testing, these are the seven best live chat apps.
Best customer support live chat app for overall functionality
LiveChat (Web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android)
LiveChat has plenty of support-focused features that will satisfy the needs of most small teams. And, as your business grows, LiveChat has the functionality to support it, in the form of separate but integratable chatbot, help center, and knowledge base products.
The first thing you'll notice is the clean and modern feel of the chat console. The core functions—chats, traffic, tickets, reports, settings, and help, among others—are labeled icons listed vertically on the left side of the screen. To begin, I installed the chat widget on my site using LiveChat's WordPress plugin. It took just a few minutes. From there, clicking on the settings icon brings up everything you need to customize the widget and set up the other features.
Each setting includes a brief explanation of its purpose with intuitive, visual instructions for setup and activation. You'd be hard-pressed to get stuck setting up your chat, but if you do, each plan comes with 24x7x365 phone, email, and chat support, plus an extensive knowledge base. The times I've had to use their chat support, they were quick to respond and answer my questions.
Once you're up and running, you'll have all the major features you need: chat transfer, message sneak peek (see what a visitor is typing as they type), transcripts, and Messaging Mode. This feature lets you and your customers communicate by chat and email even when one or the other is not online. For example, a customer can send a chat even if it's after business hours, and it will be waiting for you in the chat queue. When you do respond, it will go to both the customer's chat widget and email.
For managers, intelligent chat routing distributes chats evenly to available agents, and the Supervision feature lets you train agents during live chats behind the scenes. To start Supervision, click on the agent conversation you want to interact with, select Supervise chat, then type a message. The agent you're chatting with will see your message in their chat, but it won't be visible to the customer.
One of the main menu items is Traffic, which shows a list of all visitors on your site. From here, you can proactively start a chat either with a pre-made greeting or by clicking on the pencil icon and typing a custom note. This list shows which customers are chatting, waiting for a reply, supervised, or just browsing. Click on any name or IP address in the queue, and you'll see detailed info such as location, visited pages, and the cumulative number of visits and chats.
The dashboard shows the most important real-time metrics for the day, such as ongoing chats, unassigned tickets, and logged-in agents. Clicking each will take you to the current, detailed view for each category. Reporting lets you track things such as greeting conversions, availability, ticket first-response time, and tracked sales from chats for eCommerce businesses.
You can connect LiveChat to thousands of other apps with LiveChat's Zapier integrations, which let you do things like automatically adding LiveChat contacts to HubSpot or tracking LiveChat conversations in Google Sheets.
LiveChat price: From $20/month for one user
Best free live chat for websites
tawk.to (Web, Windows, Mac, iOS, Android)
Unlimited users. Automated triggers. Chat whisper. Knowledge base. These are some of the features in tawk.to's free live chat software. Yes, free forever unless you want to add features such as video + voice + screen sharing ($29/month), hire a live agent to field your chats ($1/hour), or remove the branding ($19/month). Considering the features that come with the free version, tawk.to is a bargain—and likely to satisfy many small businesses.
Tawk.to's chat widget is completely customizable, allowing you to set when and where it's visible on your site and how notifications are delivered, with options for sound notification, message preview, and estimated wait time. There's also a consent form option and a scheduler to enable and disable the chat widget online automatically.
Messages queue in the chat inbox from newest to oldest, showing both closed and open messages. Each message shows the visitor's IP address, location, email, operating system, and when/if they last visited. From here, the agent can attach files, tag the chat, email a transcript, and convert the chat to a ticket.
One newer feature is the knowledge base, which lets you create a subdomain (e.g., zapier.tawk.to.help) to share help articles with customers and to use internally for agents. Customize it with your logo, colors, social sharing, and other elements to match your branding. Then choose a layout, add categories, and start loading articles. Your customers will then be able to find answers to their questions using the search box. And if they don't find their answer, there's a ticket submit link that will drop into your messaging inbox. Here, you can assign it to a rep, add a priority, and respond with an email directly from the record.
Lastly, even though Tawk.to is completely free, they do offer 24x7x365 support via chat, and from my experience, they're quick to respond.
Connect tawk.to to the other apps in your tech stack with tawk.to's Zapier integrations, which let you do things like send a message to Slack every time there's a new chat in tawk.to or send all new tawk.to tickets to a task management app.
Post messages in a Slack channel when new chats begin on tawk.to
tawk.to price: Free live chat for website for unlimited users; paid add-ons (e.g., remove branding, video + voice + screen share, audio/video calling) available.
Best live chat support software for user experience
Re:amaze (Web, iOS, Android)
Some apps seem like they were custom-made for the user right out of the box. Re:amaze (sometimes written Reamaze) is that app. With its modern interface, ease of setup, and customer-focused features, this app will make handling support calls a bit more enjoyable for both users and visitors. That said, if you're looking for a chat app with built-in ticketing, Re:amaze can't help. To log and manage tickets, you'll need a help desk app and an automation tool like Zapier to connect with Re:amaze.
To start, you'll find an uncluttered UI with all the app's functions and settings oriented in the left-side menu. Clicking on the settings wheel brings up functions such as departments, integrations, and automations. They make it easy to set these up by providing examples, like departments (service, sales), tags (urgent, low priority), and response templates (initial greeting, escalation needed), which are all customizable.
Another example of how Re:amaze makes it easy is the use of Cues, push notifications sent to visitors to engage them about a particular topic. To start, click on the info icon next to Cues at the top. This opens a window explaining the purpose of Cues, providing examples with detailed instructions and a video showing how to set them up. In addition, there are three example Cues you can immediately add to your site. I clicked on the "Need help?" Cue and set up a rule for my homepage for the Cue to pop up when a visitor was on the site for at least 30 seconds. Other rules include current URL, number of visits, about to leave site, and a half dozen more.
The Workflows feature adds another layer of efficiency. They're trigger events that tell the app to perform an action or actions automatically. For example, if a visitor leaves a satisfaction rating under 3, a note might be sent to the user to "please follow up and apologize." The message will be tagged (Unhappy Customer) and can be forwarded to a supervisor. It's all customizable. To classify visitor questions, Re:amaze uses Intents, which can be automated as Workflows. So you might have a general support questions Intent that includes messages such as "I can't log in to my account" and "How do I change my password?" You would add these phrases into your Intent, and the app would begin "training" itself to spot them in chats. Then you can use them as a trigger in a Workflow that will perform a certain action if the requirements are met (e.g., "return" is mentioned, so the chat is routed to the returns department).
Overall, I found Re:amaze a pleasure to use because everything you need is right in the app—use cases, detailed instructions, and examples. And some of the features will undoubtedly make providing service a lot easier, which will filter back to the customer's experience too.
You can do even more with Re:amaze by connecting it with Zapier, to do things like create new Re:amaze conversations from messages in other chat apps or create tasks based on conversations in Re:amaze.
Create new Clientary tasks for new conversations on Reamaze
Re:amaze price: From $29/month for one user
Best live chat app for tracking customer satisfaction
LiveHelpNow (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android)
LiveHelpNow chat software makes gathering customer feedback easy with its customizable surveys. It also offers sentiment analysis to track chat conversations that are considered both negative and positive.
You can create unlimited surveys, adding custom colors and fonts, and using either a 5-star format or the 10-point Net Promoter Score (NPS) (Enterprise account only), making it easy for the customer to answer quickly. You design the questions asked and deploy them post-chat in the chat window or via link in text, social media, or email. Then track the survey results in analytics by agent or company overall.
Sentiment analysis uses artificial intelligence to identify words and phrases from a chat, determining whether the conversation was negative or positive. If it detects a negative chat, it will automatically send an email to the admin so they can reach out to the agent, customer, or both to resolve a potentially poor experience. All chats are rated by sentiment analysis using a 10-point scale (10 being the highest) and then reported in the analytics section.
Another useful support feature is the automated idle chat messages. So if a visitor has not responded in, say, five minutes to an ongoing chat, a message will be sent to remind them that the agent is still there waiting to help. Similar messages can be sent to visitors when an agent hasn't initially responded (e.g., "Very sorry for the delay. The next agent will be with you shortly").
And the Chat Whisper feature lets managers monitor and coach their agents during chats. The manager selects an active chat session from their dashboard, then types a message into their own chat window in real-time. The manager's name and message will appear in the agent's window as a thread with the customer's, but only the agent will see it. In turn, the agent can respond to the manager. Sneak Peek, the ability to see what customers are writing before they hit send, was also added recently.
The icing on the cake: LiveHelpNow has finally gotten a much-needed redesign. When you first sign up, you'll be taken to the admin area, which looks largely the same as in years past. But at the top-left, click Agent Workspace to see the new UI for agents. Here, you can choose a light or dark mode and the workspace layout. While you're chatting, everything you need (e.g., knowledge articles, history, notes) can be accessed with a click.
LiveHelpNow price: From $21/month for one user; add-ons also available (Support Ticket, FAQ/Self Service, Call Management)
Best live chat app with a full-featured service suite
Zendesk (Web, iOS, Android)
Though 15+ years is a long time in this industry, it seems like Zendesk has been around much longer—it's a name that has become ubiquitous in the support space. And it's not hard to see why. The Zendesk service suite has everything you need to handle service duties, including chat, talk, social, and a help center—all packaged in a powerful platform that will take some getting used to.
When testing the various chat apps, I found installing the code directly to each page was generally more reliable (compared to using a WordPress plugin) though more time-consuming if you have a lot of pages. So with a quick cut and paste of code to my site's home page HTML, I was chatting in a few minutes.
From the main support page, you'll access all settings and channels. Click on any channel to open a separate window for that particular console. For Chat, you'll be taken to the home screen showing real-time analytics for visitors and chats. Open the settings to access routing rules, triggers, and other features. With routing, you can set chat limits for certain agents and add skills for each agent, so they'll only receive chats they're qualified to handle.
While in a chat, an agent can submit a ticket, which will funnel to the support page as open, label it as pending customer response, or close it. Tag other agents or managers within the chat if you want to keep them informed of the ticket process. A timeline of all previous chats with a visitor are populated in the sidebar for reference, and you can hover over any interaction to see the full chat details.
With the Talk channel, you can purchase business numbers or bring over your existing numbers. You'll pay a monthly line rental fee and fairly competitive per-minute pricing. From the talk console, create greetings and configure your IVR (phone tree) settings to determine how incoming calls are routed. Your lines will then be accessible from a customer's record. For example, if you're chatting and need to call your customer to resolve an issue, click the call icon in the chat window and dial the number. Each live call is shown and tracked in the talk console. Also displayed are various call metrics, such as average wait times and calls abandoned.
Other channels include Twitter, Facebook Messenger, bots, text, a help center, and community forum. Zendesk makes setting the help center and forum easy by providing an instantly accessible subdomain where you can begin building out your help FAQs, articles, and topics. You choose which articles are internally or publicly available and can allow for commenting and promotion (voting) before posting. In the forum, all posts will be sent to the content moderation queue for approval.
You can connect Zendesk to thousands of apps with Zendesk's Zapier integrations to do things like automatically create tickets for new form entries, add new tickets to your project management tool, and more.
Zendesk price: From $19/month
Take a look at how Zendesk stacks up to similar apps in our showdowns: Zendesk vs. Freshdesk, Zendesk vs. Intercom, Zendesk vs. Jira, and Zendesk vs. Zoho Desk. Plus, discover more ways to automate Zendesk.
Best free live chat app integrated with a free CRM
HubSpot (Web, iOS, Android)
HubSpot's chat feature included in their always-free CRM hasn't changed much in the last few years. It's still relatively basic compared to most other chat apps, but with HubSpot, you're likely choosing to use their CRM first—the chat feature comes as a bonus. And being part of their ecosystem means easier integration with their other paid "hubs" such as marketing, sales, and operations.
The chat widget can be customized with your company colors, agents' pictures, greetings, and away messages. And because it's integrated with the CRM, contacts are automatically created from a chat as long as an email address is provided. With HubSpot's Zapier integrations, you can automate the process even more, sending those contacts to the other apps in your tech stack.
The Chatflows feature lets you build chat messages to engage different types of visitors. For each Chatflow you create, you can designate the sender, determine who will see the message (e.g., all visitors, segmented lists), and decide where on your site a visitor will see it. For example, you may want to send a proactive chat for a segment of customers who recently purchased and are visiting your help page.
HubSpot also offers free bots with pre-made and editable questions that most small businesses will find helpful, especially when they're unable to field a chat. These include bots for qualifying leads, creating tickets, and booking meetings. You can set filters for who receives the bot, on what page, and when (e.g., 50% of the page scrolled). HubSpot makes this process simple with its Chatflow builder, providing clear explanations for each step and option.
Before you can deploy chat or a bot, you'll first need to go to settings in your dashboard, then click on Tracking Code under Account Setup and follow the instructions. The live chat and chatbot setup are included in the CRM under the Conversations header. Each one took me about 10 minutes to set up. When you're ready to deploy, click on Chatflows under Conversations and slide the Status button on.
Also accessed in Conversations are the team inbox showing all chats, connected team user email accounts, and Facebook Messenger (if integrated) conversations. This is your central customer support inbox for communicating with visitors and customers. It's also where an agent will select and engage in a chat conversation.
HubSpot price: Free for unlimited users and a free forever CRM; Marketing, Sales, and Service hubs start at $45/month per user if paid annually
Want to learn more about managing leads through their entire lifecycle? Check out this free lead management course featuring Zapier.
Best live chat app for agent gamification
LiveAgent (Web, iOS, Android)
If you want to improve customer support and make your reps' jobs more fun and competitive, LiveAgent's gamification might be your answer. This feature lets agents monitor key support stats, earn badges, and progress through 12 support levels from Novice to King.
You can customize each support level based on conditions, such as chats per hour, answers per hour, missed chats, and several dozen others. Here's a description for a Pro: You are a Pro now. Your answers are precise and to the point. Customers shiver with expectation waiting for your answers. Answer 500 tickets or make 500 chats to reach this level. In this description, you can edit both the number required and the condition. These levels are achieved over time and can't be lost because of inactivity. Agents can also earn badges for things like the fastest chat response time, and each one is customizable.
Once you have these elements defined, you can start to track performance on the LiveAgent dashboard. Here, you can see agent productivity and a leaderboard with filters for time period and by conditions such as positive ratings, work time, badges, and levels.
Gamification is just one of the many features to help support teams improve the customer experience—LiveAgent is a full customer support suite. Other standout features include a Twitter and Facebook integration for managing your company social channels, where agents can monitor mentions, respond to Tweets, and create support tickets right from the chat interface. There's also a self-service customer support portal for managing forum posts, articles, and customer feedback.
If I had a gripe with LiveAgent, it would be their use of icons rather than labels within the chat agent's window. For example, under Ticket, are six icons. One is a letter, which you might suspect would be email. But hover it, and it says "related tickets." There are 16 icons in the window to learn. Maybe it's a personal preference, but I'd prefer labels to ambiguity.
You can also automate LiveAgent with LiveAgent's Zapier integrations to do things like automatically send a Slack message whenever there's a new LiveAgent customer or add new chat contacts to your email marketing list.
Send new Slack message when a customer is created in LiveAgent
LiveAgent price: From $29/user/month
The right live chat app can help improve your company's customer support, giving both customers and potential customers the preferred channel to communicate. It's also relatively inexpensive, easy to set up, and as simple to operate as an email inbox.
Looking for more full-featured customer support apps that include live chat? Head to our roundup of the best customer support apps, many of which also include live chat tools.
Originally published in July 2019 by Sean Kennedy with contributions from Matthew Guay, this article was most recently updated in October 2022.