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Live Chat for Schools & Businesses

If you don’t have time to talk, there’s always time to chat

Just put live chat on your website they said. It will double your leads they said. Well that didn’t work out…the most response I got was one guy from China asking me for a job.

Fortunately, I gave it another try.

Newer technologies, and the skyrocketing acceptance of Live Chat as a preferred communication medium has transformed “chatting” into a viable replacement for web-forms and phone calls.

Oh, and as it turns out, you don’t even need to be around to chat with a prospect.

My Experiences with Programmable Chatbots
We’ve all interacted with live chat to some extent. Mostly for customer service, but as a digital marketer, I’ve experienced it from multiple perspectives. Spoiler alert; I’m now pretty excited about it from every angle.

My Experience as a Consumer:
The air conditioning went out in our office, so I did a quick Google search, and went to the website of a local HVAC company. I just wanted to ask about pricing and scheduling. There was no live chat option, so I went to their contact form. They wanted me to fill in 9 fields of information. I don’t have the patience to fill in 9 fields of information, so I picked up the phone. Naturally I found myself in phone tree hell.

If you know your party’s extension, dial it now. If you’d like to speak to a customer service representative, please press 0. I’m sorry – no one is available right now. Please leave your name and number. Someone will get back to you soon.

I hung up...

Lots of options, so I just clicked on the next listing from my Google search. This time around, I was immediately greeted with an invitation to start a live chat.  Within 60 seconds, I understood their pricing and had booked an appointment.

My Experience as a Business:
I tried chat on our company website a couple of years ago with virtually no results. The failure mode was that so many of the live chats came through when I wasn’t available. The Internet is 24/7. I’m not. Why then, would I bother one more time?

According to an article on Inc.com, consumers expect you to be available on their schedule:

  1. 51% of consumers say a business needs to be available 24/7
  2. 42% of consumers say that they prefer live chat functions because they don't have to wait on hold.
  3. 92% customers feel satisfied when they use the live chat feature.
  4. 44% of online consumers say that having questions answered by a live person during an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer.
  5. 51% customers prefer live chat for multitasking purposes, with another 21% preferring live chat so they can shop while they work.

As a Digital Marketing Agency, we work across time zones and with business owners who work outside normal working hours due to their hectic schedules. I wasn’t going to let a minor detail, like not being available, dissuade me from talking with perspective clients at the exact moment they wanted to talk with me.

So what changed?
In olden days (a couple of years ago) when someone was on our website and wanted to chat, I’d have to be available at that exact moment. Given my schedule, that was unlikely, and the results showed it.

With new artificial intelligence technologies, chat can be more of a virtual sales assistant, than just a text application. I’m now able to pre-program a few qualifying questions, and allow the visitor to self-select. Based on what they select, the Chat-bot will automatically ask an appropriate follow-up question, eventually providing the visitor with the answer they were looking for, or letting them know that I will get right back to them if they leave their contact info.

As soon as the visitor starts a conversation, I simultaneously get a text message on my phone, and a pop-up on my computer, so if I’m available, I can jump into the conversation while the chat-bot is holding down the fort.

With approximately 50% of visitors favoring online chat, our latest go-round with live chat software has made an unmistakable positive impact on our business. There are a lot of options for chat, but we use Path. It has a slick interface, and most importantly, they will help you set up the “logic” to think through the automation (what your visitors can opt into, and what responses they will see). It’s reasonably priced, and there is a discount for annual enrollment.

My Experience with a Client:
Our specialty is school marketing; Charter Schools, Private Schools and Colleges. One of our clients, a Nursing College, enrollments were through the roof. We were driving a tremendous amount of targeted traffic to the website through search and social media, but the numbers didn’t pan out. From our perspective, they were only doing “pretty good”, but not to the extent they reported.

Authors Note: We put together a comprehensive school marketing resource that you are free to share with your internal marketing team.

After doing an analysis with their enrollment team, we discovered that a tremendous amount of conversions were coming from the live chat, not just from phone calls and submitted forms. The school enrollment manager reported that many of the leads that started as a chat, quickly converted to a phone call. He also reports that it was a highly personal experience.

That begs the question; if we didn’t have live chat on the website, would we have experienced an increase in phone calls and submitted forms?

I suspect that the chat option may be siphoning off some of the other communication modes, but I also suspect that the immediacy, and the interactive nature of live chat (along with the built in prompting to have a conversation) increases the overall response rate, and the net bottom line. At the end of  the day, enrollments were way up, so who cares if they came in through phone, form or chat?

My Recommendation:
Give it a try. Even if you don’t have anyone available to monitor the actual chat, the programmable nature of these technologies can help you capture the contact information of your visitors and what they are interested in. Path has a monthly option and a trial period, but so do many others on the market.

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