A Live Chat Story
I am a huge technology nerd. I would argue that the integration of technology into our orthodontic offices was a huge differentiator in my early days of private practice. As time has progressed, a slew of companies and services have become available to the orthodontist. Furthermore, I would argue that certain technologies (e.g., iTero, Entertainment, etc.) are table stakes in today’s competitive landscape.
In our offices, as time has ensued, the technologies we use are less patient facing and more practice facing. However, they are just as valuable as they allow us to vastly increase efficiency. It is my intention to share some of these technologies in a series of upcoming posts. I would like to start with online chat on your website.
At last year’s MKS forum, I made the hasty decision to sign up with one of the 2 dominant Orthodontic Chat Services (OCS). I had hesitated for years to add chat to our website as it “wasn’t something that I would want.” However, I am of the opinion that it is imperative that we give the consumer what they want, as opposed to what we want. So I signed up to give it a go.
My other main concern was that there were many leads that were unable to schedule an exam. Meaning, the chat company obtained contact information but we were not able to schedule them via email or phone despite multiple attempts. As an aside (although I highly doubt it), my wife, Dr. Alene Humphries, swears they hire people for an amount less than the lead fee to initiate a chat via a VPN (to get a unique IP) and go on to charge us a higher fee.
Knowing that the backend technologies are readily available, we began to consider handling patient chats in-house so that we weren’t being charged for our leads and so that our staff could schedule the leads as soon as the chat was initiated. The final push to make the switch came when I discovered inaccurate information about our practice in the canned responses used by our OCS.
During a 10 minute lull one spring morning, I started looking at companies that provide the backend chat technology. The orthodontic vendors use someone else’s software and provide the chat agents. On the recommendation of Scott Frey, I made an account with PureChat (free for up to 15 chats per month and paid for unlimited chats and more services). By the end of lunch we had the chat client up and running on the site and staff standing by. By the next day we had drafted our canned responses and we were ready to roll.
Initially, we ran our own chat agent during the day only. This allowed us to provide immediate assistance, by looking up next appointment information for a current patient, scheduling an exam for a prospective patient, etc. Then, at the end of the day, we would swap out the code base (by changing the PHP include) to switch back to OCS. The rationale was that there may be a benefit to having a live person there after hours. However, after trying a number of different iterations, we elected to leave our own email contact box after hours and discontinue the OCS all together.
A Few Lessons Learned
Our original chat box design prompted patients to enter a name, provide a phone number or email address, enter their question, and click a “Start Chatting” button to contact us.
Over the next month, we saw a sharp decline in chat volume. Although the chats we did receive were being handled much more adeptly than before, we were reaching far fewer patients.
Hoping to reverse this decline, we made several changes to the chat box design. First, we delayed the animation so the box would only “pop out” once a patient had stayed on our site for 30 seconds or more, rather than immediately when they arrived. Second, instead of requesting any information upfront (not even a name), our new chat box allowed patients to type in their question and begin chatting with us immediately.
Since making the change, we have seen over a 1000% increase in chat volume. We found that subtle changes in design acted to reduce barriers for patients, and give them better access to the information they need. In addition, our staff can handle a higher chat volume than phone and person to person volume, driving increased efficiencies. A piece of technology that I initially rebuffed because it wasn’t what I would use is quickly becoming a favorite means of patient communication. We are thrilled to have incorporated a chat service that we manage, and believe it has greatly improved the experiences of both current and prospective patients.