As more of our interactions take place online, it’s more important than ever for apps to offer high-quality, effortless communication to their users through mechanisms like live chat. At the same time, supporting these communications at scale requires an extensive and robust real-time infrastructure, and developing both chat features and the network to support them can be costly in developer time, effort, and ongoing maintenance.
As a solution, chat services let you add live messaging to your app that fits your exact specifications, and do so without spending the time or resources to maintain the real-time infrastructure necessary for quality communications. By letting you easily deliver high-quality chat experiences, the right chat service lets you add a valuable communication channel to your app with all the simplicity of building a standard feature.
This guide will dive into the foundations of chat services, explore the use cases they unlock, and highlight the features and functionalities that you should look for when evaluating whether a particular chat service will fit your needs. By the end of this guide, you’ll see why a chat service is the best solution for adding chat to any app, and will have actionable steps to start implementing one in your app today.
At its most basic, a chat service makes it easy to build and deploy high-quality live chat as a native feature of your app, regardless of your target platform.
Most chat services offer code-based tools in the form of APIs, delivered via platform-specific SDKs, that empower your developers to build fully-featured chat like they would any other feature.
A chat service like PubNub is built on top of a robust real-time communication platform, which handles the actual sending and receiving of messages. PubNub’s network supports chat between any number of users, and is reliable even at scale and under high demand.
By offering access through easy-to-use SDKs for every platform, PubNub lets developers leverage our network for their chat implementation effortlessly, and removes the need for companies to build and maintain their own communication infrastructure. This ultimately lets them focus their time, resources, and attention on building the core features and functionality of their app.
From gaming and virtual live events to customer support and telemedicine, chat is at the heart of how users communicate within apps, whether that’s with other users, companies, or even AI agents. For companies building these applications, using a chat service lets them quickly and easily add chat, opening the door to use cases that would otherwise take an entire team and ongoing effort to build, deploy, and maintain.
Increasingly, users turn to digital spaces and virtual experiences for entertainment and social connection. Whether playing multiplayer games with friends or attending virtual events like concerts or sporting events, users turn to chat to connect easily and naturally with others. This communication in turn plays a key role in building the sense of presence and community that these apps rely on.
For games, chat forms the basis of a healthy and engaged player community because it keeps communication, social activity, and player connections all right inside your game. Without in-game chat, players turn to external messaging apps to keep in touch, fracturing your community and creating multiple opportunities for disengagement.
Chat plays a similar role in virtual live event apps. Rather than messaging in external apps, chat for live events lets family, friends, and other audience members connect and engage spontaneously, capturing the energy of engagement of in-person events.
For both games and virtual live events, a chat service like PubNub lets you build full-featured chat that’s embedded directly into your broader experience. By making it easy to create chat, PubNub lets you deliver quality communications effortlessly, and instead focus on developing the things that make your experience unique. And, beyond chat itself, PubNub’s scalable and reliable network lets you accommodate the frequent activity and high concurrent demand of any active player base or avid audience.
For customer support, chat is an indispensable tool that helps your team address customer needs more quickly and more effectively. Often, companies will use a standalone service or helpdesk to handle enquiries. But, the downside of many traditional customer service platforms is that they tend to be self-contained and separate from your actual product or service. This can lead to convoluted support conversations, as agents and users try to solve complex issues with limited context and information.
Chat services allow you to instead make support a highlight of the customer experience. They let you build anything from a simple chat widget to your own custom helpdesk right into your application, creating a seamless live chat support experience. This lets your team handle customer questions directly, with the advantage of having automatic access to app-specific information like recent usage, account details, and device type, which can be crucial for reducing issue resolution times.
Beyond the basics, chat services offer solutions for customer support at scale. Staffing a support channel to serve large numbers of customers can become an obstacle. In response, many customer service workflows now embrace automation, usually by handling simple queries with chatbots. Here, a chat service can power chatbots directly, and can provide tools to pull customer info directly from your CRM. This means that both human and bot agents can have immediate access to all the account information they need to resolve issues quickly and effectively.
As a chat service, PubNub offers a full range of solutions for customer support chat, from core chat SDKs to tools to develop chatbots that can handle conversations intelligently. And, our chat UI kit for support chat gives you a blueprint for building the exact chat experience you need to serve your customers.
For telemedicine apps to deliver quality remote care, they must give patients a range of communication options that help them feel comfortable communicating with their virtual care team. This means that, right alongside voice and video, in-app chat has an important role to play when it comes to enabling open, genuine care conversations.
This comfort makes it more likely that patients will participate in care, better adhere to treatment, and have more positive outcomes overall. For providers, effective care means that doctors’ time is well-used, bringing down both up-front and long-term costs associated with ineffective care.
For teams developing telemedicine, PubNub’s HIPAA-compliant chat service is the basis of this seamless communication experience. It lets you integrate consistent, reliable, and secure chat within a refined user experience—without introducing regulatory or privacy risk to your application. This lets patients confidently engage in their care in ways that feel like the consumer applications they use every day.
The first step to getting the benefits of a chat service is to choose one that best suits your needs. Many chat services purport to offer the same slate of basic features. But, picking one with unforeseen limits can mean obstacles down the line, like the inability to support your entire user base at once, expand to new features, or support new platforms.
But, with foresight, you can avoid these pitfalls by choosing a service that will support you both with up-front development needs, and as an ongoing partner. In selecting a chat service, consider:
What chat features are on offer
Whether customization is built-in to the design of the service
How the service will empower your development team
How the service’s pricing model supports you as you grow
Chat appears across our digital experiences, from Slack for work to Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for social connections. The net result is that these social media apps set user expectations for what quality chat looks and feels like, and your in-app chat must meet these expectations in order to provide a quality chat experience.
In order to make your chat comfortable and familiar to users, a chat service must offer, at a minimum:
Core features, like chat history, user presence, open channels and 1:1 chat, and file upload.
Instant feedback, like typing indicators and read receipts.
Expressive features, like emoji, stickers, and message reactions.
With easy-to-use APIs, PubNub makes it easy to build the full gamut of modern chat features. By leveraging PubNub as a chat service, you’ll easily give your users the features and functionality they expect, helping them feel instantly at home using your in-app chat.
Beyond core features, the chat provided by your chat solution of choice should always be customizable. This doesn’t just mean the look and feel (though those are important), but also means that you should have full control over how chat integrates with your app and your specific user experience.
PubNub’s chat APIs are designed to be fully customizable to the exact specifications of your application. Beyond that, PubNub’s chat UI kits offer customizable templates that help you quickly create best-in-class chat with beautifully designed user interfaces. Using these kits as a roadmap lets you focus on your unique feature set rather than basic user flow and functionality.
As a general rule, the tools you pick should make life easier for your developers, not harder. Put another way, the right chat service will support all your teams’ needs, from easily developing new features to expanding to support new platforms as your user base grows.
This ease-of-development all starts with the tools your chat service offers. Here, the chat service you choose should simply offer a wide range of fully-supported SDKs so that your team can easily support any platform your users may be on.
At a minimum, you should aim for a service that offers SDKs for web, iOS, and Android. PubNub goes beyond the basics, and offers chat SDKs for every platform.
For mobile apps, PubNub has an SDK for every programming language used for both iOS and Android. From Kotlin and Android Java to Swift and Objective-C, our broad library of SDKs means that you can deliver chat to all your users, no matter what technology your team uses. With PubNub, whether building chat for website visitors, Android, or iPhone users, you’ll be able to use just one service for all your needs.
The way a chat service is priced can make the difference between a viable option and one that’s way out of budget. API-based platforms that offer flexible plans, like PubNub’s pricing, let you scale affordably. With pricing options based on monthly active users (MAU), PubNub lets you integrate chat in a way that makes the most sense for your current size, use case, or budget, and continues to work with you as you succeed and grow.
While chat is at the heart of digital communications, it doesn’t stand alone. Oftentimes, the information shared in a chat conversation needs to be saved, reported out, or otherwise integrated into a broader communication workflow. As a result, the chat service you pick should support you as you extend and integrate chat more deeply into your product communications as a whole.
Additionally, chat is just one part of your app, meaning that any chat service is just one part of the tech stack that your app is built upon. This means that, as a tool, it needs to work in tandem with the other technologies and services you already love.
Taken together, this means that your chat service should be part of a full platform of tools and connectivity to seamlessly integrate chat into your app as a whole. As a complete chat platform, PubNub supports your complete chat development needs with features like:
Integrations with best-in-class services for voice and video
Tools to build chatbots and integrate them closely with chat
Webhooks to easily automate workflows for any use-case in tandem with your own custom server logic
Tools for seamless omnichannel workflows, like chat-to-SMS integrations, that can enable agents to send text messages from within a chat app, and vice versa.
Together, these tools ensure that chat built on PubNub becomes an integral part of your complete application, rather than a self-contained element. By building on our complete chat platform, you get the simplicity of our SDKs, the power of our real-time infrastructure, and endless options to expand and connect chat to other vital communication channels for your users.