Google are currently testing a new “live chat” service directly within search results, which allows potential customers searching on Google to engage and chat directly with businesses.
This new service is displayed via a new link in the Google My Business listing, and will launch a direct chat with a business utilising the popular Google Hangouts, which works both on desktop and mobile devices. This new feature was spotted by Matt Gibstein, who shared screenshots of the Google Hangout Chat functionality he stumbled across.
What does it do?
This new chat feature will allow text-based communication for customers to get in touch with a business. This can be useful for situations where they have a quick question to ask a business, or perhaps where a customer may feel a phone call to be too much effort. This could be particularly useful for restaurants, where customers could ask if there are tables available, as calling to discuss if your restaurant is currently busy may be something people wouldn’t consider.
Google displays whether a business is available at the current time, and incorporates the service directly within the business listing result card which is displayed on Google’s search results page. The chat feature also offers an estimated time for a response, which is produced from the opening hours of the business in question. However, whether someone is there to receive and respond to these queries, is another matter entirely.
Why have Google introduced Live Chat now?
Chat functionality has become a very popular feature on a range of websites around the world, with business who offer support to their customer getting a lot out of it. It offers more direct access to the business, making communication with customers a lot easier, and also sheds some of the workload involved with ticketing systems and phone calls. Bringing chat functionality to the Google search results page then, could prove to be an interesting endeavour.
This news comes after Path Talk launched in 2014, which saw Path (a popular messaging app) add similar functionality whereby customers could talk directly to business. Whether Google are directly responding to this or not is unclear, but a chat option directly in Google’s search results for My Business page would almost certainly be more popular among businesses.
For one, it’s on the results page where customers are searching (and businesses would almost certainly see the value in this), and secondly, it doesn’t require signing up for yet another service. Path Talk offers local business information with status information and the like, which has proven popular in the US.
What’s the potential of Live Chat in Google’s SERP?
If the new feature is a success, it could become a normal aspect of a business listing on Google, displayed alongside the address, map location, phone number, ratings, reviews, and opening hours for businesses on Google. For the moment, the feature is still being experimented with, and so there is no news when this could become the norm, and even if it will.
If this feature became fully-fledged , and a normal part of any online marketing or support, then it would need some form of functionality to indicate whether there is someone there to receive and respond to your queries.
It would also be great to see a live chat option in other places, such as Google Maps. Imagine searching for a local café on Google Maps when you’re in a busy city, seeing how far it is to walk to, and wonder whether it will be packed once you get there. Well, one quick message and you could find out yourself. Experimenting with this new feature is at least a sure sign that Google are looking to expand their features for businesses, and will allow more direct functionality and interaction directly from the search results.
With the rising global popularity of chat apps such as WhatsApp, Kik, Tango, Viber, WeChat and the infamous Snapchat (the list goes on), businesses are already experimenting on whether they can provide any useful form of marketing via off-site live chats; of which some have succeeded.
Snapchat is already showcasing original content from global businesses, and there are many companies making use of WhatsApp group conversations and direct messages; but on the whole, businesses have yet to find a widespread use of direct messaging that is viable and useful. And it seems that Google may have found the answer.
Certainly, having a Google Hangout chat with a customer who is searching for a business like yours, could be a very good starting point to impress and continue to build a relationship in the future.
If there’s one thing to take away from this, it’s that having an up-to-date Google My Business listing will help your company get found. Who knows what the future has in store for Google My Business, but it’s certainly something Google are keen to expand upon, and therefore, it’s something all businesses should be looking into.