I have to confess, I was skeptical when I first encountered the idea of live video chat. I didn’t see how the value of seeing the person I was chatting with; after all, not seeing the person I’m speaking to on the telephone has never been an impediment to my ability to trust my bank, insurance company, or favorite retailers.

But when deployed in the right circumstances – specifically, when it leverages the value of a visual element into the chat interaction – live video chat has some potentially compelling use cases:

  • Retailer Lands’ End offers live video chat with a personal shopping assistant who can show products. In my interaction, I was able to see the size of a handbag more meaningfully than just reading its measurements.
  • Live video chat can offer a private in-person consultation. For example, specialty pharmacy ITSRx.com implemented a webcam-based video chat program that allows customers to have demonstrations on topics such as how to inject medication properly.
  • Live video can help develop relationships. For example, a hotel offering could offer live video chat between its most frequent guests and the concierge at hotels they visit frequently; or a financial institution could use video chat between preferred customers and their financial advisors.

Live video chat must be more than a solution looking for a problem.  The ability to see the other person must have a compelling consumer benefit. 

At the same time, eBusiness leaders must be mindful that live video chat could be counter-productive to enhancing relationships if the video is a substitute for in-person. For example, extending the availability of a live mortgage broker via live video chat in a bank branch may be a poor substitute if an on-site person has been replaced. Similarly, the value of an on-site concierge is the personal interaction with someone who has deep local knowledge; chatting via live video with a remote concierge may provide the personal interaction but will fall flat if it compromises the local knowledge.

I’ve recently published a document called “Capitalizing on Live Video Chat” that explores the emerging opportunities for live video chat in eBusiness. I hope you’ll find it useful.