Build vs. Buy: Chat for Customer Support

5 min read

Support is the defining factor of any customer experience. Nail it, and you’ll win the loyalty of your hard-earned leads.

Emily R.
Emily R.
Published November 24, 2021

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There are plenty of ready-made solutions on the market to get your customer support (CS) operation off the ground quickly, but they’re not without their drawbacks. Building a bespoke customer support interface can provide more customization and flexibility but at a higher development cost.

This article covers CS fundamentals, the primary support channel, and will help you decide whether to build or buy your solution.

Why Your Business Needs a Customer Support Solution

Customers hold more power than ever thanks to increasing levels of oversaturation in almost every industry. With so many options to choose from, businesses must take a strategic approach to set themselves apart from the crowd.

Top-quality customer support goes a long way with today’s consumers. It can be a driving force behind their satisfaction and loyalty, a clear benefit to businesses, since roughly half of consumers go out of their way to purchase from brands they are loyal to. The growing trend of personalized service some CS solutions offer also contributes to greater brand loyalty.

Along with the improved acquisition, engagement, and retention rates, customer support interfaces also benefit the agent side of CS exchanges. The right tools can promote better internal collaboration, greater productivity, and workflow efficiency. These benefits set CS agents up for more successful, streamlined interactions with customers, saving the business time and money.

Live Chat: The Primary Channel of Customer Support

Customer support software can encompass everything from internal ticketing systems that help agents track, prioritize, and respond to inquiries en masse to dedicated customer tools, like a knowledge base. There are also a variety of CS channels that inform and facilitate service delivery, including email, phone calls, self-service areas, messaging apps, and live chat. Some of these channels are better suited for internal support, while others are customer-facing.

Live chat is a channel that creates a direct line of communication from an agent to a customer.

It enables agents to toggle between multiple conversations at once, resolve issues in real-time, and meet customers where they are, whether on your site’s homepage or within a mobile app. Live chat also allows your business to reach out to customers proactively. For example, by including a chat widget where a user might make a purchase, your service agents can check in with the customer to ensure they don’t have any unanswered questions resulting in an abandoned cart. Live chat can also be combined with chatbot technology, allowing you to serve customers at any time, in any time zone.

Should I Build Chat for Customer Support?

There are many advantages to building and self-hosting a bespoke customer support chat solution. It might not always be the right choice for SMBs, but for many enterprise businesses, the benefits will outweigh the development cost and time spent configuring, troubleshooting, and maintaining it.

Self-hosting requires you to install the chat software on your own business servers or cloud infrastructure in order to reap the benefits of a lifetime license with zero recurring fees. While it might be a greater upfront cost, self-hosting allows companies to scale greatly without any extra fees.

Opting to build your own chat for customer support allows you to retain total control over its implementation, look, and feel on both the agent and customer facing interface.

Keep in mind that if you were to buy a chat solution, the URL that launches the chat window on your site might include the branding of the company you purchased it from. Building your own solution provides more opportunities for brand awareness plays.

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Aside from larger enterprises, highly regulated industries, like healthcare and financial services might prefer building chat for customer support over buying a ready-made solution. This is because of the added security benefits associated with storing and owning all of the data passed through live chat, eliminating any worry of a third-party vendor collecting or misusing it.

Should I Buy Chat for Customer Support?

Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) can leverage chat for customer support to build brand awareness, better serve their customers, and make more sales. Providing a polished and professional CS experience can help SMBs compete on a larger stage. However, low headcount plus lots of business potential equals no extra time to build, maintain, and customize a live chat channel. For most SMBs, it makes the most sense to bypass the development burden and buy a chat solution for customer support.

If you think your business should opt to buy a CS tool, check out our top three recommendations below:

Zendesk Chat

The Zendesk Support platform offers a host of products and services for customer support teams, including Zendesk Chat. Zendesk Chat is one of the most customizable solutions on the market. It will produce the most similar results to a custom-built chat solution, as you can manipulate the web SDK to your liking and integrate it with popular CMSs and iOS and Android apps. You can also create your own chatbot scripts and conversational logic with zero coding experience required.

Other advanced features include role-based access control (RBAC), which helps manage agent permissions and proactive conversation triggers based on customer actions within your website or app. Zendesk Chat Lite is a free plan but only allows for a single chat conversation to occur at a time. This plan might suit certain SMBs and early-stage startups, but businesses looking to scale should opt for the paid plan.

Key Features:

  • Triggered responses
  • Free plan option with Zendesk Chat Lite
  • Pre-chat form fills
  • Customer chat rating system
  • Role-based action control
  • Customizable SDK
  • Organized conversational routing
  • Customizable customer interface widgets
  • Live reporting
  • Easy integration capabilities


Intercom’s highly intuitive interface makes user and agent adoption a sinch, and its utilization of familiar chat features like GIFs, emojis, and typing indicators make conversations feel personalized and natural. It’s the perfect customer support chat solution for early-stage startups and SMBs that will only have one designated chat operator. It gets a little pricey for enterprise-grade plans that handle a high volume of conversations and require more operator seats.

Key Features:

  • Personalized support
  • Live messaging
  • Follow-ups for dropped messages
  • Fast answers for FAQs
  • Self-serve help articles
  • Interactive product walkthroughs
  • Consistent support across devices

Freshdesk Messaging

Freshdesk Messaging is an affordable tool to help your customer service team streamline collaboration, answer customer queries quickly, and automate mundane tasks within a sleek, agent-facing widget. Upgraded accounts come at a higher price but feature more advanced functionalities, including team dashboards, social signals that pick up on in-chat sentiment, and chatbots to support your CS agents.

Key Features:

  • Chatbot assistance
  • Omnichannel messaging
  • Chat history
  • Organize live chat channels by topics
  • Push notifications
  • Proactive message campaigns
  • Fast answers for FAQs
  • Sentiment analysis

Final Thoughts

Integrating a customer support solution into your business model is a must. Your company’s size and customer base play an important role in your decision to build or buy a solution. In most cases, SMBs looking to get up and running in record time should opt for a ready-made CS chat solution like Zendesk Chat, Intercom, or Freshdesk. An Enterprise company interested in a more customizable, scalable live chat solution will be better off building something bespoke for its flexibility to accommodate a large and diverse audience.

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