Generously defined, chat refers to conversations carried out over digital channels. This becomes a source of confusion for many people, as chat-based interactions can happen through various types of digital channels—each of which comes with its own distinct chat experience.
Chat’s vague definition invites descriptors: online chat, mobile chat, live chat, web chat, in-app chat, chat apps, or SMS chat. So what are these different forms of chat?
Online chat is a broad term describing internet-based communications where messages are sent real-time between sender and receiver. These communications can be text-based, voice-based, and/or video-based and can include multiple participants. Online chat could refer to chat rooms, conferencing applications, messaging apps (Facebook Messenger, Slack), video chat (Skype, Google Talk), or web chat. Mobile chat and online chat are essentially the same thing, except that mobile chat communications are carried out within a mobile environment (through the mobile version of a web interface or through a mobile app).
Clearly defining chat communications is vital for determining which ones can best address the needs of prospective customers.
Live chat (web chat): These are the chat services used by organizations, usually to facilitate interactions between clients and customer service representatives. Real-time interactions happen through web interfaces, such as a chat window within a web browser, bypassing the need for customers to download an app. Live chat is a synchronous form of communication, which means that both sender and receiver must be present within an active chat session in order to have a conversation. In-App Chat (Integrated Live Chat) is the same as live chat, but takes place from within a company app.
Chat app (instant messenger app, social messenger app): Although a “chat app” could refer to any web or mobile-based application having a messaging component, it is more generally used to describe standalone messaging apps, such as Facebook Messenger, Kik, WeChat, or WhatsApp. Unlike live chat, chat apps are used asynchronously, meaning that the conversation doesn’t have to be continuous; rather, participants may take hours or days to respond. Many chat apps approach the look and feel of text messaging; however, unlike texting, they don’t require access to a phone network.
SMS Chat: More commonly understood as text messaging or texting, this form of communication involves sending messages between mobile phones over a phone network. Unlike all the types of chat discussed above, SMS does not need wifi or data to transmit messages. Similar to chat apps, SMS communications are asynchronous, which means that users can temporarily leave conversations and later return to them at their convenience.
When talking about chat, precision is key! For companies providing multiple digital channels in one platform (In the Chat offers live chat, in-app chat, social messaging, and SMS), clearly defining the various types of chat communications is vital for determining which ones can best address the needs of prospective customers.