Real-time chat feature has become increasingly popular for businesses across a variety of domains. In a short amount of time, it has both superseded traditional voice communications and also overtaken email and social media to become the dominant medium for user-to-user, as well as user-to-provider communications.
There are some key reasons behind real-time chat’s growing popularity
All these benefits combine to greatly enhance the trust factor of a service and consequently increase their traffic and user retention. This means that any business in this day and age wishing to enhance their customer service or boost their brand value should look into implementing a real-time chat feature.
Now if you are a business owner, who understands that real-time chat can be a powerful tool to increase engagement with users and would like to implement it in your online platform or app, then you are faced with a choice: Should you develop the implementation in-house from scratch, or purchase a solution from a third party service?
Before you go ahead and make the decision, it is important to consider all the factors involved in the development of a real-time chat feature. Although it might seem doable at the first glance, a lot of considerations that come into place as you proceed make it significantly trickier and more time consuming than anticipated.
Factors like chat infrastructure, server costs, team members to build & handle the technology, the time taken for deployment often end up costing you a lot more time than you’d like. Also, you need to ensure that your in-house team has enough coders with all the necessary range of skills required to deal with these challenges.
Additionally, you will have to factor in the significant costs involved in the development and hosting of a real-time chat feature and consider whether or not it meets your budgetary requirements.
We will go through some of the key factors that go into building your own chat implementation should you wish to go down that road.
Real-time chat infrastructures are quite complex with a lot of working parts and cannot simply be plugged in with minimal effort. There are quite a few complex features that a chat infrastructure must be capable of accommodating:
Firstly, the infrastructure has to afford one-to-one and group messaging in real time. Additionally, a good real-time chat implementation needs to be sophisticated enough to support rich communication capabilities with features including the ability to share documents and multimedia files. These features need to be built on an appropriate messaging protocol and maintained with an update-cycle that anticipates technology updates and user preferences. This is no small feat and can take on the characteristics of product development in itself, resulting, more often than not, in an abandoned or neglected sub-product.
Secondly, your infrastructure must also be able to store chat history along with multiple texts and multimedia attachments shared in it – available for instant access by all parties. Such capabilities are often essential for many platforms or even critical in a customer service context which relies on effectively gathering as much information as they can from a user, and as accurately as possible. As such you need the resources to host and maintain a fully-featured chat server capable of scaling up to handle these demands.
Thirdly, there are additional infrastructural challenges which may crop up according to other specific customizations you may need to implement, such as encryption protocols for better security or chatbots to handle low-level queries and frequently asked questions along with many other such granular features. All of which adds time and complexity to the development process.
If these challenges are not understood properly during development or if your team doesn’t have the specialized expertise necessary to deal with them, then your infrastructure will turn out to be inefficient, buggy, and saddle you with a large overhead in terms of time and resources spent. Even worse, an inadequately designed infrastructure is more likely than not to be vulnerable to security breaches which might compromise your business or the private data of your users. This is a huge risk that you should try to avoid at all costs.
Not only is development a costly process that involves spending a lot of money in salary and overheads, the far costlier resource you’ll be spending is time. Time which could be used more efficiently in developing your core services which you already have expertise in or spent on projects for your clients – both of which are responsible for making money for your business.
A development cycle for a robust, secure, full-featured real-time chat for your app or website will require you to consider costs for the following elements along with the time that will go into implementing and maintaining them:
All of these elements are highly complex and demand significant commitment of resources and manpower to engineer and implement properly.
A diverse pool of highly specialised knowledge is necessary to engineer all the necessary elements of a real-time chat implementation. Some major areas include:
If your development team isn’t big enough to handle all of these elements or don’t have the necessary depth of knowledge or experience to develop them independently then they will have to resort to using consultants or vendors to compensate for the lack of expertise. These services don’t come cheap and this again adds significant cost to your development and deployment process.
A real-time chat implementation requires a lot of server memory and features, both to host the application and also to store and transmit all the real-time traffic it generates along with other relevant features such as push notifications, typing indicators, emojis & stickers and so on. A typical hosting solution for a real-time chat feature requires three infrastructural components from the hosting service provider. These are:
(1) Server + (2) Load Balancer + (3) Auto Scaling
The cost incurred by all these required hosting components add up in a dramatic fashion. For example:
As you can see, hosting a real-time chat implementation can become quite costly, not to mention complicated, requiring you to have a thorough understanding of your needs and a precise idea of your scaling requirements to ensure that the feature works without a hitch doing everything that it is intended to do.
Not only is hosting yourself quite expensive, but also quite risky. Unless your deployment and scaling projections are on-point you can be saddled with bills that massively overshoot your predictions, which can cut deep into your cash flow and negate any potential profit which could be generated by adding the feature in the first place.
Just having fully functioning chat features and the capability to host it isn’t enough. You must find a way to integrate it seamlessly to your existing service. Running a chat feature for your website or application requires additional costs to be incurred as you will need to retool and expand your server capabilities in order to support it. Additionally you will need to rework the UI/UX framework of your app/website to accommodate it, so that customers can locate it and use it with ease.
Even if you choose to outsource the integration process by getting outside vendors to try minimise costs and speed up delivery, many companies may not offer any kind of UI framework. Others may offer very basic UI components necessitating more developmental downtime and resources on your end to fully integrate the feature and customize it to your specific needs. This adds significantly to your overhead and is vital to take into account.
Even after having dealt with and accounted for all these costs and challenges which come with trying to build your real-time-chat feature and deploy it, there are other unexpected costs that might manifest themselves indirectly in the process, costing you more on the long run. Here are just some of the issues you might run into in the short and long-term:
These are very real issues that plague in-house development efforts universally, and having to handle these issues not only costs valuable time and money but it can hamstring your business causing you to lose your edge versus competitors in the long run.
A third party provider develops and maintains a flexible, comprehensive messaging solution which they can host and implement for your business. You will usually be charged on the basis of monthly active users utilising the feature.
There are many beneficial aspects to choosing a third party provider to develop and deploy your real-time chat implementation instead:
There are many reasons to choose one over the other. Building means you get to have your own home-grown implementation, but it comes with a laundry list of challenges. Buying on the other hand means the solution belongs to the provider but it bypasses all the headache and costs that come with development and deployment. In either case these are a few questions you should ask yourself when you are making the call:
The final answer depends upon what is more effective and efficient for your business. If you don’t have the large pool of resources, manpower, and expertise necessary to build an effective solution and maintain it, buying might be the more cost-effective choice. Start-ups and small businesses might find it particularly useful to buy rather than build. In either case it is important to do your research and consider all the aspects before making that call.