I’ve been asked several times recently if consumers find proactive chat to be intrusive or annoying. It’s true that most consumers prefer to initiate contact with customer service. However, 27% of online consumers agree with the statement, "I like having an instant messaging/online chat box appear and ask if I need help with my online research or purchase." (North American Technographics Customer Experience Online Survey, Q4 2009 [US])

And what about the other 73% of consumers? I don’t believe it is the prospect of chatting that annoys people. It is the interruption. So what can you do to annoy-proof a proactive chat invitation?

First, make sure the invitation design clearly communicates that this is a chat invite and not a pop-up ad. Also make it easy to decline. The layout and design should make declining just as easy as accepting. For me, it is that split second of looking for the “no thanks” that propels a proactive invitation from innocuous to irritating. Respect declines. In a recent transaction on Virgin America’s Web site, I was interrupted several times in as many minutes by a proactive chat invitation. That was annoying. Once a customer has declined, either don’t offer again or set explicit rules in place that incorporate the previous decline.

If you’d like more information on how to implement proactive chat, I’ve recently published “Making Proactive Chat Work," which I hope will be helpful.