Online Chat

A marketing guide for attorneys

Originally published in 2018

Consumers are moving their search for an attorney online. As a result, they expect speedy communication.

Exceed expectations with online chat

Thanks to digital commerce, conversations between consumers and businesses have evolved beyond just the telephone to a multifaceted approach that allows people to decide the platform that feels most comfortable for them. That includes email, text, and social media messaging. It also includes online chat.

Everyone deserves to be heard, even if it means hearing from them in an unconventional way.

Online chat is used by legal consumers who don’t like using the phone but still want immediate communication. It’s empowering prospects to connect with law firms on their own time, making the process of finding representation more convenient for the person not quite ready to pick up the phone.

Your prospects are not one-size-fits-all, and the way you support your customers shouldn’t be, either.

This guide describes the power of online chat and the popularity this platform has gained over the past few years. It will discuss the benefits of having live chat on your firm’s site and why it’s so important to be open to the connection at any time of the day. And you will see it in action. The guide provides an example of a chat transcript to better understand how it works and why it’s so effective.

Chat’s growing popularity

Live chat is now the leading digital method of contacting a business. More than 40 percent of people who reach out to a business online do so through chat, dwarfing the 23 percent who use email. That number might come as a surprise, especially given how important email is to your firm. But when people need an attorney, they often want information quickly and online chat offers an (almost) instant response. Consumers like chat because it’s a conversation, not an email they send only to sit and wait for a response.

Piqued interest

Legal consumers have expressed a growing interest in using web chat. For more than a decade, consumers have used this method of contact for things like setting up new services with phone and cable companies, or reviewing orders with a retail business. Many legal consumers are already comfortable with the idea of using online chat functionalities, because they’ve been interacting this way with companies for years. It makes sense to consumers that the legal industry will follow suit. In fact, according to FindLaw’s 2018 U.S. Consumer Legal Needs Survey, 53 percent would consider using a chat service to gather legal information — including attorney recommendations.

Multitasking made easy

Like you, legal consumers are busy. Throw a legal issue into the mix, and you’ve probably got the cherry on the sundae. Chat is a passive form of communication that can be utilized whenever and wherever, allowing people to keep a conversation window open while multitasking at work, surfing social media, or taking care of the kids after a long day. Chat gives the legal consumer the opportunity to pass along information on their terms and in their own time.

Out of office

Speaking of doing things in their own time, legal consumers may be ready to make contact with you while you’re out of the office. Nights, holidays, weekends — legal issues don’t have downtime. Chat gives your firm the ability to connect with prospects day or night with 24-hour service, a fact 70 percent of legal consumers consider important. Legal needs don’t keep business hours. Live chat means you don’t need to be next to your phone to capture a new prospect.

The satisfaction factor

Chat is gaining relevance in commerce partly because it mirrors text messaging, the way many people communicate now. That medium has evolved into a language of its own as it has become a requirement for mobile data plans. Its ubiquity makes live chat, especially on mobile devices, a natural transition.

But online chat with businesses hasn’t grown because of its convenience alone. Consumers also feel good about the experience of using it. According to Zendesk, live chat has a 92 percent customer satisfaction rate, higher than any other form of contacting a business. Because the experience is so positive, it is now the preferred method of contact between consumer and business.

A generational shift

When you think about online chat being closely linked to text messaging, you also need to think about who has been texting most of their lives: millennials.

Unsurprisingly then, this generation also prefers business chat. According to the 2016 KPCB Internet Trends, 24 percent of millennials used live chat to communicate with a business that year, tied for first with social media. Picking up the phone was ranked at the bottom.

With millennials now in their mid-20s to mid-30s, webchat resonates with a large swath of the U.S. workforce with disposable income and legal issues. When you add chat to your website, you’re bringing this group one step closer to your law firm.

Dollars and cents

Chat offers the convenience and comfort of engaging nonverbally. Knowing someone is actively helping with their legal situation can provide a sense of ease, even if it’s just the initial gathering of information. That feeling of security may cool some of the legal consumer’s anxiety and help them prepare to take the next step: hiring your firm.

As discussed, a majority of consumers are usually satisfied with their chat experience. Couple this with those feelings of good will and adding an online chat feature to your website may mean you’re more likely to turn prospects into clients.

The research backs it up, too. According to LivePerson Inc., “Customers who chat convert at nearly 3.5 times the rate of those who don’t.” When looked at from this perspective, omitting the option to chat on your website may mean you’re leaving money on the table.

How chat works

Let’s take a journey through the eyes of a legal consumer to understand how live chat works.

1. Background.

Susan broke her ankle in a car accident that wasn’t her fault. She needs an attorney because she can’t work, and the insurance for the person at fault says they won’t pay Susan for the days she’s out. A legal directory listing leads her to your firm. She starts by checking out your Facebook page, trying to get to know you better. There, you have a post responding to a recent blog about fighting insurance companies. She clicks the link and is brought to your firm’s website.

2. Focused research.

On your website, Susan looks through the pages and likes what she sees. The option to chat with a representative from your firm is visible and prominent, so she opens the chat window. The first thing she’ll see is a legal notice that what she shares with the operator is not covered by attorney-client privilege.

3. Connect through chat.

No matter what time of day, Susan can connect to an operator via chat. These operators are trained to recognize the kinds of words and phrases a legal consumer in your practice area uses. They will gather all general information about Susan and her potential case your firm needs and determine the correct practice area her case fits.

When Susan initiates the conversation, the person on the other end will have a list of keywords and phrases you’ve provided. These will help determine if Susan’s case is important enough for a “hot transfer,” meaning the operator attempts to connect her and your firm directly on the phone.

If her problems aren’t as immediate, the chat will end and Susan will wait to hear from you. Either way, you will receive a transcript of the chat so you can review her legal needs, decide if Susan’s case is right for your firm and contact her with the information gathered by the representative.

It’s important to know, though, that chat is not a “top of the funnel” activity. In other words, it’s not a flashy means of marketing, nor is chat the potential client’s frivolous interaction while assessing who you are and how your firm might help. Instead, it’s another form of connection once a legal consumer has narrowed the field. And, it may be the only comfortable connection point for some consumers. In fact, FindLaw’s chat exit poll found that 43 percent of all prospects who decided to initiate a conversation with a law firm via chat would not have contacted the firm if that service wasn’t an option.

Just like the rise of new technologies and possibilities, the number of people who use chat will likely increase in the next few years. To continue growing your practice, you’ll want to ensure that consumers can contact you by any and all means possible. Webchat included.

What does chat look like?

Just like a nurse, online chat helps you triage and move those cases you want most to the top of the list. Let’s break it down with an example of how a legal chat service is deployed.

The example below shows a chat between an operator trained on law firm intake and a legal consumer who needs a personal injury attorney. The sections highlighted will help you see where the chat operator asks just the right questions to make the potential client feel helped while also getting you the necessary details to determine if the case is a good fit for your firm.

12:40 PM Operator

Thank you for choosing to chat with us. An agent will be with you shortly. The use of this service does not create an attorney-client relationship, and your communication may not be protected by attorney-client privilege. How may I help you?

When a potential client first opens the chat window, this automatic message starts the conversation. Users may not understand that their conversation is not legally protected by attorney-client privilege. To ensure that there is no gray area, operators will preempt any expectation with clear language

12:41 PM Visitor

I was in a car accident that wasn’t my fault. I went to the hospital with a broken collar bone, but the other driver’s insurance isn’t paying for the medical bills. The wreck was three months ago and I’m still waiting on a check from the insurance company for hospital and rehab charges. I’m not sure what to do or who to talk to about reimbursement.

12:42 PM Operator

I’m sorry to hear about your car accident. As an intake specialist on behalf of the firm, I’d be happy to assist you today. Can you provide me with your name and phone number?

The operator works on your behalf, providing the kind of trained intake expertise that guarantees you’re receiving all the applicable contact and case information a prospect is willing to provide.

12:42 PM Visitor

Susan Graham. My phone number is 919-555-1598.

12:43 PM Operator

Can you tell me when and where your accident occurred?

The operator collecting important details makes sure the chatter’s case is in your area. If someone is looking for a PI attorney in Springfield, Illinois, and lands on a website for a firm in Springfield, Missouri, that legal consumer isn’t for you.

12:44 PM Visitor

It happened on the corner of Wade Avenue and Brooks Street on 3/17. The driver pulled out in front of me while I was at full speed. I was rounding a curve and unable to see the car run the stop sign, so I couldn’t hit the brakes.

12:45 PM Operator

What do you see as the urgency of this matter?

12:47 PM Visitor

Well, the hospital has sent a bill to my insurance company. They are not willing to pay because the accident was someone else’s fault. Now I have a large hospital charge and I can’t work because of my injuries. I’m losing money because of something that wasn’t my fault.

12:49 PM Operator

Thank you, Ms. Graham. I’d like to connect you with one of the attorneys immediately. Do you have time for a phone call with someone at the firm?

Once a chat operator recognizes one of your priority phrases, the prospect becomes a “hot transfer.” The operator asks if the prospect wants to be connected to your firm immediately, and you are contacted by the chat service so you can begin the conversation.

12:50 PM Visitor

Yes, I do.

12:52 PM Operator

Ms. Graham, I’m connecting you to Arthur Baylor. Expect a call in a few minutes. It was a pleasure chatting with you today. Have a great day!

Chat and your mobile site

Many legal consumers take action while on the go, which is one of the many reasons having a mobile-optimized site design is so important. If Susan was using her cell phone or tablet to research and connect with your firm, is the chat functionality still possible?

Yes, Susan has the same option to chat if she found your website on her phone, and she will have the same experience on mobile chat that she would on her computer. Likewise, your firm will still receive the same information from the chat operator. The only difference is that the pop-up chat request is disabled, since the space it requires would actually disrupt her overall user experience. The option to chat is still in the bottom corner, though, and it will move to stay on screen as she scrolls down.

What’s the next step?

It’s all about your intake skills.

Prospective clients who contact your firm via chat are clearly interested in your help and want to hear more about what you have to offer. Because they’re already screened and you have their contact information, you can immediately assess if their case is a good fit for your firm, if you should hand them off to your support staff for more information, or if you should refer them to another attorney to fit their needs better.

Regardless, a chat prospect should be responded to as soon as possible. They should hear from someone at your firm directly, because legal clients both want and expect a polite, quick response to their inquiry, no matter what. It’s this kind of basic customer service that can help your firm’s reputation and possibly win you both this client and others in the future.

Connect with potential clients using online chat.

Turn more online prospects into real-life clients.

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