These days, it’s not hard to find a website live chat vendor. Frankly, it’s not that hard to find someone who will give you live chat software for free. And free is great, right?

Well … sometimes.

We’re not going to sit here and tell you that there isn’t a place for free live chat software (or low-cost live chat software). It’s all over the place for a reason: It works for a lot of companies. Is yours one of them? Maybe – but if you have enterprise-grade needs, probably not.

If you’re looking at free live chat software, the first thing to think about is reliability. This is particularly important for eCommerce retailers, where the twin aims of deploying a live chat app are reducing cart abandonment and increasing average deal size. Commodity live help providers are certainly capable of keeping their solutions online most of the time, but that’s no great shakes. Even a few hours of downtime each month can be remarkably harmful.

If a system outage means a live chat agent isn’t available, you’re not able to answer that “one last question” between the customer and the Buy Now button. What’s worse, a greyed-out CTA is actively working against your efforts to turn site visitors into brand evangelists. Instead of the store with great products, you’re the guys who can’t even keep basic functionality running correctly. Not only are deal sizes not increasing, they’re becoming zero. That’s bad.

(Don’t bother asking a free live chat provider for an SLA, by the way. Any percentage of zero is still zero … and that’s about all they could refund you for outages.)

What about data security? It’s a big deal now – and it’s only getting bigger as website live help moves into more industries and vertical markets. Nowadays, we’re not just talking about “How wide is the Size 10?” and “What’s the return policy?”. Live chat agents are increasingly capturing credit card numbers, Social Security number and other critical information. It’s stuff that simply can’t leave your control, under any circumstances.

Imagine you’re using a free live chat platform. When someone asks where user data is routed, what’s your answer? You probably don’t know. Again, that’s bad. Security is huge, and a proper audit trail is a big part of the puzzle. If you can’t provide that, trust is hard to come by.

Of course, not all free live chat solutions route data though indeterminable locations and unsecure servers. What about the ones provided by the customer service industry’s big guys? They’re trustworthy, right? Absolutely!

(But they’re also incomplete.)

The live chat package that came with your CRM is inexpensive, but there isn’t much to it. It’s little more than a doorbell to your website; agents can take chats, answer questions … and that’s the end of it. There’s no third-party integration, no reporting to speak of, and no analytics. Forget making your next chat better than the last; improvement is a guess, at best. The price is right – the feature set isn’t.

Don’t get us wrong: There are certainly cases where free live chat works just fine. But when you’re at a point where reliability, reporting, analytics and performance management matter, it’s time to step up to an enterprise-grade solution.