Support boxes

Many site owners try to find novel ways to get in touch with their visitors to better understand their needs. In the process, they include slow, but widely spread third-party code, without questioning what has become a norm. They also might smoothly reveal forms in absolutely positioned elements, hiding the content on the page, waiting just for the right moment to come—possibly when the user moves the mouse around,—before they activate the effect. The desire of full control over the user experience is somehow perceived to be right, even if it gives the user less freedom and forces him in a subordinate relationship. What he was currently doing becomes second-nature when all that matters is the site owner's perception of his current needs.

Support boxes are elements that appear in one of the corners of the screen and usually contain a message like “Hi there! How can I help you?” to facilitate a dialogue. Next to this question might be a photo or an avatar that should reinforce the visitor's feeling that a real person gives him its focused attention. “Now typing...” and other elements can also be used to mimic a real chat. More often these are bots that ask predefined questions and try to take appropriate action based on the response. It is highly unlikely that a founder of a small company would be able to hire at least three people just to have a 24/7 support. This means that such attempts to simulate care become hollow, and will lead the visitor to discard or “mentally turn off” the messages. Because there are no real people with unique character behind them, the whole page component degenerates to a “box” for him. This can even become a “learned behavior”, so that this visitor no longer answers to even real people trying to speak to him in similar ways on a web site.

But if such components are simply perceived as boxes, why do we continue to use them? They can help automating support... which is probably the least susceptible thing to automation. The support of a real person who while explaining details and fixing problems is finding ways to intelligently interpose how the best cookies are prepared or what one needs to consider on a trip to Paris can't be replaced even by the most advanced computer algorithm. It's time to stop even trying to automate support and to get rid of the useless boxes on our sites. If they don't have a purpose, don't work or feel like separate patches that stay away from the main content or are unrelated to it, it is much better to remove them. There is no need to obtrusively push anything to the visitor, when a great design will enable him to pull whatever he needs when he needs it.