Live chat can really, really work for your dental practice
Live chat can be a big advantage for gaining new patients in your dental practice. Here's what you need to know as you consider adding the live chat feature to your website.
If I told you I could double your money, you’d be wary, and you should be. If I told you there’s a way to double the number of appointments you get from your website traffic, you should remain wary, but less so.
That’s because while all manner of double-your-money schemes have failed, the use of live chat has reliably increased website visit-to-appointment ratio for nearly a decade. Historically about 3% of visitors to a dental website make an appointment. When live chat is applied, that figure increases to 4%, 5%, 6%, and sometimes more.
What is live chat, and why is it effective?
Live chat is a function on your website that enables visitors to “chat” via text with a representative who can answer questions about location, hours, the practice, prices, the doctors—almost anything that might be on a customer’s mind.
The live chat representative doesn’t set appointments, but rather gathers all of the relevant information about what patients need and want, as well as their contact information, and passes it along to the practice. For an appointment-hungry practice, this is not just a qualified lead, but a hot one too, for which the rate of setting appointments is very high.
Why is this process effective? Primarily because live chat is proactive, while website visits are reactive. Acting alone, a visitor must formulate questions and then search for the answers. This can be a problem. The answers may or may not be on your website and may or may not be clear to a visitor. All the answers might be on the site, but they might be in the wrong language. Live chat cuts through all of this by probing the visitor.
Another reason live chat can be effective is that it enables the dental practice to display its customer service chops. That is, if the practice contacts the prospect in a well-informed manner within an hour of the chat, prospects are generally impressed. Our experience has shown that if a prospect receives a call from the practice within five minutes of the chat, the appointment and service acceptance rate is approximately 80%.
Installing live chat
Installing a live chat function on your site costs approximately $250 a month through a third-party service. What are the economics of this cost? Smaller practices receive, on average, about 300 visits a month, and using the 3% metric, about nine of these will set appointments. Applying live chat can add an additional nine leads. Historically, up to 60% of live chat leads result in appointments, or five new appointments, of which 2.5 will accept and pay for services. Based on annual patient spending figures of $1,000 per patient per year, in this example live chat adds $2,500 per month in revenues. Based on the monthly cost of $250, the return is compelling.
Of note, to break even in year one with $3,000 in live chat costs, the function would, in the context of the numbers shared here, need to convert three patients, or about 0.08% of the total number of visitors. In year two, these three patients would be “free” and bring most of their revenue to the bottom line.
In general, the case for live chat becomes more compelling the longer it is deployed. As a percent of patient revenue, the cost of acquisition becomes smaller and ultimately achieves rounding error status, particularly as patients age and need more services.
For dental practices the big consideration for live chat is the outsourcing of chats to a third party. Often only the largest practices can dedicate a full-time marketing associate to chat with patients all day. For everyone else, a third party is needed.
It’s not the cost of these services but the risks that can occur when a third party interacts with a practice’s patients or prospective patients. Will they provide correct information? Will they chat something inappropriate? Will their response times be fast enough?
Presently, live chat management is a highly fragmented industry. There are a few 800-pound gorillas, and many smaller players. We would advise you to select a firm that has experience in the dental industry and uses representatives based in the United States.
Beyond that, due diligence is easy. Simply visit the sites your prospective live chat firm manages and if you like what you experience, you can put live chat to work for your practice quickly and easily.
Shay Berman is the founder and president of Digital Resource, an internet marketing agency that specializes in helping dental practices increase their patient volume and revenue through innovative digital marketing programs. Mr. Berman attended Michigan State University, where he learned from some of the Google executives who taught there. This knowledge, along with extensive experience in the dental business, has been instrumental in his success advising dental practices. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.