We all now that developing relationships with potential and present customers is the name of the game. To do so, we need to choose one of a wide range of tools for the job, and live chat is a fast-growing sector. This software will allow you to chat directly with your website visitors, solving any issues they may have, collecting feedback, monitoring visitor paths around your site, answering questions in real time, and much, much more.

Putting a telelphone number or email address on your site and expecting them to call or contact you is _so_ yesterday! Get interactive in real-time with your site visitors with live chat.

The obvious options for live chat can include Twitter and Skype, but there are also plenty of other choices.

Free and Open Source Live Chat software:

Crafty Syntax offers a comprehensive range of features and is well worth a look, particularly if you want to go beyond customer help and monitor paths through your website etc.

LiveZilla has an enormous number of features,  and although reported to be sometimes difficult to set up, you can get help from helponchat (who will also offer operators for your own 24/7 chat if you are short on human resources to provide the service.)

Volusion free is a very simple version of livechat that is easy to implement, whilst the premium version offers all the functionality you would expect when paying for a live chat solution.

Tinychat is a simple solution with webcam support. It ties in neatly with many social networking tools and the video quality is reasonable. More useful for holding webinars than Live chat in our opinion.

Paid Live Chat solutions:

Website Alive prices start from $29.95/month for 2 operators and limited functionality, rising to $97.95/month for a fully functioned solution. No set up fees.

BoldChat has 3 options, with prices ranging from $29/month per operator to $99/month. The full featured version seems to be one of the most comprehensive available, including call load balancing, SalesForce integration etc. Possibly overkill for an SME, but great for large enterprises.

ProvideSupport has 3 options, ranging from $15-60/month. The fully featured version has some great options, such as allowing operator to operator chat (which will help deal with awkward customers or questions), as well as automatic emailing of transcripts.

LivePerson is one of the original chat solutions and has many enterprise clients. The features are many and varied and this is a 5 star solution worthy of consideration if you have the budget and resources to make the most of it.

If you are using live chat on your site, let us know which tool you are using, what your experience with it is, and how it has affected your sales and conversions.

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ClickThrough is a digital marketing agency, providing search engine optimisation, pay per click management, conversion optimisation, web development and content marketing services.