A chat is a real time online conversation between computer users. All participants must be in front of a computer at the same time for the chat to work. Users type their message and their message appears on the monitor as text entries that scroll many screens deep. Businesses often use chats to provide customer service, but the service is only good if both parties are online. Add time zones, busy lives and late night Internet usage and often chat's turn into a one way messaging service and the company replies later to your email address. Chats were very popular in the late 1990s, but they have declined in value with instant messaging and other communication vehicles growing in popularity.

Some chat providers cite that a live conversation beats out a contact form as the chat operator can guide visitors through a website, set appointments, provide information and more. The chat promise is that the conversation is real, instantaneous and the beginning of the relationship between the client and the business.

But of course, a live operator must be available to participate in the chat 24/7 and this can be costly. Pricing can range from $ 40 per day to outsource the service to $ 1500 a month or more. Or you can license the chat software, pay for additional bandwidth to run the service and then take time to complete the training program. Add a support person to operate the chat while you are out on business and the prices becomes unrealistic for small business owners. Its can add up to thousands of dollars with no guarantee of enhancing your business. The Houston Chronicle states that “[online chats] could wind up boosting your profits, but there'll also be a possibility it could chase customers away. about its success … ”

There are a plethora of free and paid contact forms available. Using contact forms avoids the problem of company's sharing their email and getting spammed. Contact forms are becoming more widely accepted among online users.

Contact forms can make it easy for a visitor to give feedback or submit an inquiry. But they are one-way communication vehicles. They can be a bit difficult as well with too many required fields and if the visitor is sensitive about providing that much detail, the common conclusion is to exit the website. Or the visitor completes the form in its entity and it takes days for someone on the other end to respond. Either way, these scenarios mean potentially lost business.

According to Dan Schawbel, “In a web 1.0 world, contact forms were acceptable, based on the fact that communication was one-way. As we engage in social media, we want to 'open the doors' to everyone who takes interest in our brands. This may be for feedback purposes, to establish or accept new opportunities or just further relationships. ”

The world is constantly changing and business must change to meet the demands of the market. Transforming your website into an interactive marketing vehicle to capture more business not only makes sense in the short run to accelerate growth following a deep recession, but it makes sense in the long-term for continued economic survival. Small business needs to look at all avenues to heighten the visitor online experience to not only remain viable, but to prosper.