Live Chat For Dentists – The Pros and Cons

Live Chat For Dentists – The Pros and Cons

Is live chat on your dental website really the killer application some suggest?

We first introduced live chat on dental websites over 8 years ago and since then we’ve implemented numerous versions on lots of dentists’ websites across the UK. So we have a fair degree of experience with what works and what doesn’t. Currently there seems to be resurgence in the use of live chat and we are seeing some marketing agencies offering free installations with new websites and even remotely managed services where each “lead” is charged for.

So there are a variety of options when it comes to website live chat for dentists; but are they any good? As with all of these so-called “killer” applications, you have to look closely to fully understand the pros and cons before you jump in. Let’s make a quick review so you know what to look out for.

Website live chat – the positives

There are certainly some positives to implementing live chat on a dental website, albeit it has to be done properly and professionally. But more of that later. The main benefits which are pretty universally acknowledged are:

  • Fewer missed opportunities – if the reception lines are busy, live chat offers an opportunity for users to contact you without having to put up with an impersonal answerphone message. Some people also prefer to use live chat rather than speak to someone in person. It is fair to say that websites which use live chat professionally will often generate more leads than those that don’t.
  • Provide a contact channel outside of normal working hours. If you opt for a service which is manned by trained, 3rd party personnel, you can provide comprehensive information for potential new patients over extended hours.
  • Temporarily free-up ‘phone lines – whilst live chat clearly won’t allow you to switch your ‘phones off for any extended period of time, it will allow you a good level of cover if you do have a temporary issue. It will also “load balance” across your various communication channels and relieve some of the pressure on your ‘phone system.
  • Learn about your patients – most live chat systems store the chat transcript and give you the reference you need to follow-up on the enquiry. Analytics are also available which reveal a variety of information including where the enquiry originated. This type of information is very useful for informing your overall marketing strategies.
  • Help your website SEO – this may sound strange but live chat can actually contribute to SEO in that it keeps a user on your website. Google can measure this “dwell time” and it is positive indicator for better search engine rankings.
  • Appeal to the younger generation – many young folk expect to interact with tools like live chat more than picking up the ‘phone. If only to cater specifically for the preferences of this demographic, live chat makes a lot of sense.
  • Differentiate from the local competition – people are very keen to see that your services are up-to-date and comprehensive and live chat really does help to demonstrate this. Whilst live chat is becoming increasingly popular, many practices still don’t have it and here’s a chance to steal a lead.

Live chat – the negatives

Whilst all of the positives of live chat might make it seem like a “no brainer”, there are a few things which will undermine it if you aren’t diligent – let’s take a look at the main negatives:

  • Inconsistent use – this is the biggest issue we’ve seen with live chat implementations. The system goes in, staff are trained and all starts well. However, things start to fall into disrepair when procedures start to fray e.g. the system is switched off and then forgotten, queries aren’t replied to and so forth. Patients are fickle and if they see inconsistency such as this, it can be extremely off-putting. So if you have live chat in place, you have to make sure it is attended diligently and in use when it is supposed to be. If you can’t guarantee that, then it’s best not used.
  • Your team aren’t trained correctly – you train your staff to respond on the ‘phone appropriately and similar has to be done for live chat operators. It’s not a simple “bolt on” which you can use in an ad-hoc fashion.
  • Follow-ups are missed – whichever channel patients use to interact with you, they should all have equal priority. We have seen instances where staff have downgraded and even disregarded enquiries coming in via live chat which is clearly unacceptable. So this type of system should be treated with the same level importance as any other communications channel.

A word on third-party services

Several services exist whereby a third-party will operate your website live chat for you. However, they should be treated with a degree of caution. Whilst these types of services claim to have fully-trained operators, they tend to be run by marketing agencies where, I would argue, the staff are simply answering with, at best, a very limited knowledge of dentistry. They are effectively just an answering service and often not a very good one.

The other issue to pay very close attention to is the cost of using such services. A typical model works whereby they set up the service for a few hundred pounds or even free and then charge per lead. What can happen here is that every enquiry via live chat is classed as a lead and the bills soon mount up! So I would strongly recommend running live chat in-house rather than outsourced if at all possible.

A word on chat-bots

We are also seeing chat bots starting to appear on an increasing number of dental websites and whilst this is also worth considering and possibly even testing, you also have to exercise a significant degree of caution. Even the best chat-bots which employ artificial intelligence and have huge budgets behind them, can still give some fairly obtuse answers at times and hence be quite off-putting. The systems used by dentists tend to be pretty low-grade and the ones I’ve tested simply don’t cut it, at least yet. So don’t fall into using a chat bot simply because it’s fashionable. It could be a negative experience for your patients, so please consider carefully and test before you jump in.

Summarising

Dental website live chat is becoming increasingly popular and it can be very beneficial. However, it must be done right or the experience you deliver for patients will be negative as we’ve discussed.

If you would like to find out more information about live chat for your own business, including full transparency on the pros and cons, please get in touch with Dental Media on 01332 672548.