For years, Apple, REI, Disney, and many other industry-leading companies have been using online chat to achieve superior customer experiences and increase sales effectiveness. Research shows that visitors who chat are 7.5 times more likely to complete a purchase than visitors who don’t chat. Chat also leads to greater customer satisfaction and more frequent repeat business. But is it right for professionals and private practice orthodontists?

The theory behind chat is fairly simple: make it easier for potential patients to communicate with your practice, interact with a greater number of potential patients, and schedule more consultations. Though the theory of chat for your practice is simple, the practice of chatting professionally is difficult to execute. So, is it worth implementing in your practice? What are the costs and the benefits of chat? Should I manage chat in-house or outsource the management of my chat? What’s a budget-conscious way to get started?

To answer these questions, I would like to share the results of both beta testing and real world use with doctors like you of our product, OrthoChats, since our launch in April. Our clients range from small rural one-doctor, one-location practices to four-doctor practices in the urban core.

Just like moving from two-step exams to habitual same-day starts, adding online chat is simply a change in approach. Would you prefer patients leave without signing a contract, or would you prefer them to get started today? Would you prefer your web visitors to be in control of calling you for a new patient consultation, or would you prefer to collect their information and have your best new patient coordinator call them?

What to Expect

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Some Stats…

Monthly average OrthoChats data you can use to benchmark your chat success.

Average chat duration: ?8 minutes 5 seconds

Total chats per practice: 48.30

New patient chats per practice: 22.49

New patient information ?collected per practice: 11.52

New patient chat conversion: 51.22%

Chat satisfaction ratings: ?98% positive

Initial chat response time (including typing): 19 seconds

Total average response time (including typing): 27 seconds

Current patient support chats per practice: 25.81[/sidebar]

First off, online chat allows your practice to interact with new patients outside of normal business hours and increase web-conversions. Because chat is more effective than a lifeless “Request a Consultation” button, you will convert more web visitors into new patients when your office is closed by live interaction with the patient. Remember: Our goal as marketers should be to meet the buyer where the buyer wants to buy.

The fact is lower communication barriers help increase the frequency of communication with new patients on your website. Our statistics show that 5% to 6% of web visitors are likely to engage with orthodontic online chat. Of the total chatters, over 40% will be new patients. With an experienced and high-quality chat agent, you can expect to collect contact information from 50% to 60% of those new patients.

Another benefit you might not have considered is that online chat can lead to better organic search ranking for your website due to longer user session duration. When patients chat with your practice, they stay on your site for a longer period. Longer session duration leads to higher organic Google search results. We clock average chat length between 7 and 8 minutes.

Online chat is going to mean fewer current patient calls to your practice during peak hours. Client data shows that 61% of chats are taken from 10 am to 4 pm CST, 19% are taken before 10 am, and 20% are taken after 4 pm. By answering patient questions during the day, your staff can focus their efforts on providing outstanding in-office patient service.

In the end, online chat offers your practice the opportunity to increase patient satisfaction. Your office will be more accessible to patients throughout a greater portion of the day. When accessibility increases, new patient satisfaction increases. Not only will new patients be impressed, current patients will use it during your busy days and while they are at work.

The Costs

Now for the costs of incorporating online chat on your website. Professionally managed chat is a financial investment. If you choose to have a professional manager for your chat service, expect the starting rate to be $700 to $900 monthly.

But the costs can also be nonmonetary. First, online chat can result in an increased website bounce rate. Reviewing our data, we have noticed a slightly higher bounce rate after installing chat on practice websites. However, the evidence suggests that the benefit of session duration outweighs the negative effect of the slight increase in bounce rate. We only saw increases in Google organic rankings after adding chat and never decreases.

A second nonmonetary cost is the potential for patient frustration due to poor chat execution and framing. Chat is easy to do poorly. If done poorly, patients get frustrated, staff get frustrated, and chat is ineffective. Just like the phone, if your team has poor service, poor phone skills, and poor scripting, your phone conversations will not be effective.

How to Start

So, knowing the benefits and potential costs of including online chat on your website, how do you get started? There are three options for implementing online chat for your practice. The first is to outsource chat to industry insiders. Chat agents that are well versed in nuanced differences between different treatment types and know about the orthodontic process will be more effective at answering chats. This will lead to better patient experiences and more effective collection of new patient information. Additionally, if the agents know about your practice offerings, they can build value for your practice, specifically. This option is best for offices without large call centers.

The second option is to outsource chat to industry outsiders. There are hundreds of options that allow you to do this. Service can range from per minute fees, to a flat monthly fee. However, be aware that these chat agents do not know much about orthodontics or specifics about your practice. They often chat for businesses in a variety of industries.

The third option is to manage chat in-house. Chat software can be placed on your site very easily. There are services that range from free ( or MyLiveChat) to more than $100 per month (BoldChat, LiveChat). This works best for practices with a large call center already established for extended hours. It is difficult to reliably answer chats if it is not the staff person’s main responsibility.

Once you’ve decided how you are going to incorporate online chat, there are a number of things to keep in mind to make sure it is executed successfully. But there are also a number of mistakes you can make that can hurt your success. Here are the beginner mistakes to avoid:

  1. Having a prechat survey. Do everything you can to decrease new patient barriers…that’s the whole idea of chat!
  2. Making the chat box look “spammy.” You want the box to look trustworthy, not like a cheap service outsourced from another country.
  3. Not tracking your results. Make sure you are keeping track of the effectiveness of your chat.
  4. Believing your patients when you survey them about chat. If you ask a patient, “Would you have come here to the office if not for our chat?” they are going to say “yes!”—100% of the time. No new patient wants to admit that the convenience, alone, of chat was enough to get them into your practice.
  5. Not having a “pop-out” window. Pop-ups are generally annoying and detract from the web page. So it’s important that your pop-out is tasteful and it looks like a real human is on the other end. Pop-out chat welcome messages are responsible for starting productive chats 75% of the time.

When you boil down all of these details, you need to make sure that, at the end of the day, you are achieving a better ROI with chat than you could with another marketing activity. That’s the golden question we should always ask ourselves before making any marketing purchase: Can I use these marketing expenses more effectively in another place or on another project?

Here is our proprietary calculation we use to estimate the ROI for our future clients based upon our current client data collection:
The above calculation will give you a likely return on investment to revenue. But keep in mind that this is with highly trained OrthoChats Smile Specialists. Each practice’s results will be different.

Just like direct mail, Facebook marketing, and Google Adwords are not for everyone, chat is not for everyone. However, when chat is implemented deliberately and correctly, it can be an extremely effective tool for driving revenue and “wowing” existing patients. If you are interested in implementing chat on your practice website, whether you are looking for a professional service or you are looking for help getting chat set up in-house, feel free to chat on our website and our team will gladly offer complimentary help. OP

Scott Hansen is the owner of OrthoChats, a professionally managed chat service for orthodontists. In addition, he manages an orthodontic practice in Kansas City. While achieving his Masters in Business Administration at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, he was awarded a certificate of achievement for his entrepreneurial work from the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. He can be contacted at [email protected].