ICMI is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.


Live Chat Companies and Privacy Ethics

Last month, Website Magazine included “Ghost Monitoring” as a feature proudly offered by a live chat software company. Ghost monitoring is the name this live chat company gave to the ability for chat operators to see what users are typing before that visitor clicks “send.” This is a serious problem for four reasons.

Live chat privacy

End User Live Chat Concerns

First, from the end user perspective: this is invasive and unnecessary. As a site visitor, what benefit are you offering me by being able to read my messages before I hit “send”? Maybe faster service, but more likely it’s just going to lead to miscommunications as chat agents jump the gun in responding, thinking they fully understand what it is I’m attempting to convey to them.

Moreover, even if you as a company are transparent about the fact that your agents can see what visitors are typing, there will be visitors who do not read or do not fully appreciate what that statement means—and they will not be happy when they discover it for themselves (more on that in the “company” section below).

Rep or Agent Live Chat Concerns

Second, from the chat agent perspective, it becomes a guessing game about when to respond. Normally, a chat agent can wait for a full message to be sent, wait a moment to see if the visitor continues typing, and respond once the visitor is done. With the ability to see what the visitor is writing, it’s no longer as clear when the appropriate to respond should be.

Not only is this an issue in terms of misinterpreting an unfinished thought, but there’s also the etiquette of cutting a visitor off mid-thought or responding so quickly it seems like the agent wasn’t really listening to the visitor. Perhaps you still think that the speed is worth the trade-off. Read on.

Company or Business Live Chat Concerns

Third, from the perspective of the company using ghost monitoring in their business live chat, you are probably hoping to achieve one of two things:

  • faster response time (as live chat agents don’t have to wait for the visitor to hit “send” in order to begin formulating a reply) and/or
  • information the visitor would not normally divulge.

In the case of response time, you’re trading accuracy for speed (see miscommunications above). In the case of private/rare information, there’s a reason why the visitor isn’t sharing it with you, and for you to act on it is a bad faith gesture.

It’s worth noting that 75% of customers would stop using a company or product if they thought their privacy was (or even more crucially: even if they just suspected that it could be) violated. Why introduce that risk to your business? What are YOU really gaining from this information?

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the logistical aspects of how you would capture and act upon rare/private information, as unsent messages are not likely to be saved in a transcript the way sent messages would be.

Velaro Live Chat’s Concerns

Fourth, from our perspective at Velaro Live Chat, we believe that live chat is an important way to build a relationship with your customers. You undermine the value of live chat as a communication channel when you utilize or promote live chat tools that can be used in such invasive ways. Proponents of tools like ghost monitoring might argue: “But what do site visitors have to hide?” Probably nothing, but that’s not your business regardless of the answer.

Do you let visitors see what your live chat agents may be typing before they hit send? Prospective customers deserve the same courtesy.

You can read more about Velaro’s position on site visitor privacy and live chat software here.

In Conclusion

This may sound like a live chat software company bashing another live chat software company because we’re competitors, but that’s not at all the case. I deliberately did not mention their name because that’s not the point. Velaro Live Chat could easily incorporate a feature like Ghost Monitoring if we thought it was something that would benefit our customers and/or their customers and prospects. But we don’t believe it represents a benefit to any party involved.

The point here is to incite critical thinking about what is and what is not ethical behavior in the business live chat space.

This post originally appeared on the Velaro blog.