Located less than 10 miles from Evergage’s headquarters in Somerville, MA, Drift is a local media darling that’s taken the B2B world by storm. The company’s communications and engagement solutions help demand gen-focused businesses drive leads through what it refers to as “conversational marketing.” If you’re not familiar with Drift as a company, perhaps you’ve come across their seemingly ubiquitous message icon:

website chat

Despite Drift’s popularity, I can’t help but think that they would be better served if their customers would exercise a bit more restraint when it comes to when and how they engage their website visitors. Otherwise, Drift (and other chat solutions) could be heading the way of ForeSee.

ForeSee (now Verint ForeSee) is a voice of the customer (VoC) solution which you may have come across when you’ve been presented with a visitor satisfaction survey pop-up – often when you first land on a company’s website. Without knowing anything about a visitor (and often the visitor not knowing anything the company), ForeSee surveys purposely disrupt a visitor’s experience in the hope of encouraging them to share their feedback or opinions.

This obviously begs the question: how in the world can you provide feedback about your website experience before you’ve had a chance to actually spend time on that website? You can’t! Yet using an approach similar to ForeSee, it seems that many businesses using chat tools assume first-time visitors want to engage with them when they initially land on a website.

Evergage itself, as B2B solution provider, is focused on demand generation and account-based marketing, and online chat is one of our many marketing tactics (although we are not a Drift customer). However, we don’t interrupt new visitors you when they first land on our website.

Why? Well, we like to put ourselves in the shoes of those who visit our website, and we don’t want to distract them from first learning a bit about our solution and company. We monitor engagement to know when a chat session may be more appropriate, as we know customers are more apt to chat when they are on certain pages (e.g., pricing, features) and have engaged with the content for a certain amount of time. These are relatively basic indicators of interest that a company should be aware of. As part of our ABM strategy, we also take things a step further and personalize the chat greeting to the specific target account (by name and industry) and use the face of the actual person offering to chat:

website chat

Here are a few website chat guidelines I would recommend to companies when engaging visitors on their websites.

  • Don’t show/initiate chat on your homepage, or at least not the second a person arrives on the site
  • Only include chat on select pages of your site (e.g., pricing, contact, product pages)
  • Wait until engagement thresholds are met before displaying the chat option (e.g., visitor watches a video, downloads a white paper, scrolls down the page, has viewed multiple pages, has spent a minimum amount of time on your site, etc.)
  • If someone closes a chat box, don’t reopen it both on the current page or any other page during that visitor’s current session
  • Personalize chat messages for high-value or target industry accounts
  • Don’t show an open chat window by default

In Drift’s defense, it does provide a number of settings so business users can define when to show the chat icon on their websites. For example, the chat icon can appear based on a visitor's firmographic data, whether she falls into a particular segment, and more. I just wish more companies would utilize these options.

Final Thoughts

The bottom line is that chat is a powerful tool for engaging visitors and Drift, in particular, is one of the top solutions available. Unfortunately, marketers are often too aggressive in using chat message pop-ups, which can start to feel like those annoying ForeSee surveys.

Remember to put yourself in your visitors’ shoes. Maybe aggressive chat is working for you. If so, that’s great. But don’t lose sight of your customer experience. If you visited your own website, when and where would you like to engage? Begin there and then err on the side of caution. It will serve the best interests of your company in the long run and ensure chat remains an effective means of engaging with your visitors.