Live chat is a type of software that enables visitors to your website to chat live with an agent at any time of day or night. Usually, a box will pop up when a visitor arrives at your site, with a friendly picture of a lawyer asking, “can I help you?” and allowing the visitor to click “yes” or “no”. If the visitor clicks “yes”, a window appears where the visitor can engage in a discussion with someone – either a representative from the live chat company, or someone from your law firm. As with so many things in the legal world, when it comes to the effectiveness of the live chat feature, the answer is—it depends.
Who is the “someone” who answers the chat request? It typically depends on the company you are using. Some provide a virtual receptionist, while others will link to an assistant or lawyer at your office. Regardless of who answers the chat, make it clear to the visitor who they are chatting with so that they aren’t under any false impressions. If you are outsourcing chat functionality, make sure that the person fielding requests speaks fluent English and knows what they can and cannot discuss with prospective clients via the chat feature.
How much does it cost to add a live chat feature to your website? Although the cost of live chat will depend on the company and what kind of service they are providing, there are a few general guidelines and things to consider. On one end of the spectrum, there are some free services, such as Livezilla. With free services, you are obligated to provide the chat agent. On the other end of the spectrum, you have rather expensive fee arrangements where the company provides the chat agent. Usually these services charge by the number of chats that occur. If you opt for a pay-per-chat service, make sure you have some way to track your ROI. Consider whether the chat feature is actually increasing conversion, or just siphoning clients that would have contacted you through other avenues (phone, email, online contact form).
So, what is the bottom line—can you expect to get a good ROI on a Live Chat service? These days, as potential clients increasingly rely on the Internet to buy everything from groceries to complex legal services, any edge you can get is likely to provide some competitive advantage. The edge that Live Chat offers is the illusion of instant gratification. Where other web-based features (like an online contact form) take time to respond to, the online chat feature gives the client the illusion that they are making immediate progress towards their legal goal, even though in reality, their legal issue could take years to resolve. Many firms find a value in the perceived accessibility that live chat adds to their site.
In short, live chat may have some advantages, but keep a close eye on how much you are spending. Make sure that you are seeing a good ROI. Often, the quality of a visitor’s engagement with an offshore “virtual chat receptionist” will be lower than that achieved with a phone call to your talented legal assistant.