The Live Chat Problem

Part one of a two part series.

Lawyers don’t care about “leads” – lawyers care about clients.

But, over the course of the last decade, a well-funded industry has created a new language around “leads” and lawyers bought in to it.

One such business, is the legal Live Chat which was sold to over 5,000 legal websites as necessary to gather “more leads.”

Is this a simple mathematical equation?  Is it common logic that more leads equal more clients?  Or, did we all get sold snake oil?

Our mid-sized plaintiff’s law firm decided to perform an audit of Live Chat from three-year’s worth of “lead” data to figure out if this equation worked out.   The marketing pitch was perfect…

The price seemed right.  With no long-term commitment, very little set up and $20 to $35 per chat, why wouldn’t we just try it?  Not to mention every other lawyer we knew was using it.

The idea of an open all-night off-site office filled with representatives that don’t sleep, celebrate holidays or take vacations?  Sign me up!

And, we were told that we would pay only for “qualified leads.”  Leads that are “qualified” for us?  That seems like a no-brainer.

We signed up and didn’t look back…for three years, until an audit of our entire intake system showed us how Live Chat was a huge contributor to the chaotic intake funnel we dropped on the laps of our intake staff with no guidance.

The audit showed that order was not coming from this chaos without a huge intervention.  We had no tool to assist this chaos, our staff struggled to prioritize intakes and we were missing opportunities.  Ultimately, our audit revealed the fact that….

Live Chat is a problem. 

Let’s start from the basics, the marketing pitch – instead of talking about “leads,” what if the Live Chat company started with something we all care about – clients?  How many $35 leads must be sorted through to find an actual client?

Here is what we learned from our audit – three years of using Live Chat on resulted in 1,764 long, directionless conversations at a cost of just under $40,000.  And, from 1,764 “leads” we ultimately assisted 25 individuals.

Live Chat resulted in 25 clients out of 1,764 “leads” – that is a 1% “chat” to “client” conversion rate at a “cost per signed client” of $1,590.

Live Chat companies claim to increase LEADS not clients – but many of us assume these are one in the same.

In fact, we did see an increase in “leads,” over the years we used Live Chat, but our previous efforts without Live Chat resulted in much higher conversion rates without the added cost.  Live Chat agents may have been engaging website visitors all night long, but, this idea that “leads” increase “clients” did work out mathematically for us.

One of the reasons we may have failed from the beginning is that Live Chat is not actually bringing additional visitors to legal websites. It may seem like common sense to most, but it’s worth reminding lawyers that Live Chat is not a “marketing” tool (nor do they claim to be).

Live Chat is similar to a late-night answering service BUT, it goes a step further, it engages visitors before they are ready to talk to you.

Website visitors find lawyer websites for many different reasons.  If they don’t find what they are looking for, they are likely to leave.  So, it’s quite possible that many “leads” are actually just people that would have left your site BUT FOR the Live Chat pop up that engaged them in an open-ended conversation.

Getting back to the audit…You might have seen the cost per signed client above and thought, spending $1,590 to assist in signing a qualified client isn’t a bad deal.  If you’re a bottom line person, financially this might have worked out.

Here is where that analysis goes haywire – Live Chat was a fail for our firm not because we spent a ton to assist in cases we signed, but, because of the two largest costs of using Live Chat –  staff frustration and missed opportunity.

Live Chat platforms allow law firm to reject leads that are not relevant to the law firm if the rejection is done within 7 days.  Because Live Chat conversations are purposefully “open ended” – meaning the Live Chat agent speaks until the potential client (who has no idea what it means to be a “qualified lead”) stops speaking – the determination of relevance to a law firm requires at least one additional conversation with the Live Chat lead.

Tracking down those seemingly “qualified” leads within 7 days proved to be challenging.  Ultimately, we rejected 36% of otherwise “qualified” leads.  But, with a 1% conversion rate, its safe to say we paid for a lot more “unqualified” leads that we simply could not reach within 7 days.

In three years, our staff sorted through and attempted to reach out to 100% of the 1,764 live chat leads.  Our intake staff estimated that reading through the transcript, attempting to discern the issue and sending the lead on to the appropriate decision maker took at least five minutes.  This amounts to 147 hours of valuable staff time deciding what to do with a Live Chat lead.

But that is just the start.  Internally, our intake staff attempted to reach individuals that contacted us five times prior to rejecting the lead as “unable to contact.”  Follow up with 1,764 Live Chat leads amounted to 735 hours of valuable staff time.

In three years of use, our staff is estimated to have spent 882 hours on reading, sorting through and following up with Live Chat leads.

The wasted time is tough to stomach, but the bigger problem internally was the staff frustration that came from the inability to prioritize and organize the leads.  Over the course of three years and the reading of 1,764 long, rambling transcripts (many that became repeat visitors using the agents as late-night therapists) our intake staff made these leads the lowest in priority.

Staff happiness is a problem we can’t quantify.  But, we can quantify some of the missed opportunities we found.

Like many law firms, TorHoerman Law worked hard to develop “scripts” or “criteria guidlelines” for each conversation based on practice area and litigation.  These were used successfully on the phone and in the form of “dumb forms” on our website. They were built to collect valuable information that could be used to determine the importance of a case.

The information collected through our criteria-based conversations received high priority status by our intake staff and lawyers because all of the information needed to determine “qualification” was given to them up front.  Our staff knew that a quick decision could be made about whether we could assist the visitor prior to having to track the person down for a second time.  Since the next conversation with the visitor was purposeful and resulted in action (either to assist or not assist), our conversion rates when using criteria-based conversations was significantly higher than the open-ended discussions resulting from a Live Chat transcript.

But, on, a Live Chat agent popped up after 17 seconds stopping website visitors from providing us with the information, we would have needed to make an immediate determination about qualification.

Live chat agents converted a criteria-based qualification determination into an open-ended chat.

We will never know the extent of all the missed opportunities over the three years of usage, but, here is a single, painful, missed opportunity…

Friday 8/11 6:25 pm – An individual sees a TV commercial about a litigation TorHoerman Law had been working on for years and, though we had not invested in TV commercials, this visitor finds TorHoerman Law through a web search.

TorHoerman Law had been experimenting with SimplyConvert smart forms – a link to a Benicar smart form was placed on the page the visitor found.  If the had filled out the smart form and had met the requirements of the settlement, he/she would have had a contract in their hands minutes after completing the smartform.  In addition, a TorHoerman Law attorney would have been notified of this visitor and would most likely have followed up with a phone call.

Instead, a Live Chat agent popped up on this page and prevented the user from filing out the smart form.

The transcript of this Live Chat call is below, but it’s important to note that the visitor was very knowledgeable about the settlement, understood the time restrictions and had a very simple question “Does this firm have any clients that are filing a claim for Benicar?”  The Agent answered that TorHoerman Law “had many years of experience in Medical & Mesothelioma HOWEVER we may be able to assist.” The Agent’s answer is nonsensical, is not true and does not attempt to answer the legal question the user had.

TorHoerman Law was not able to reach this person again.

The $300 million Benicar Settlement closed twelve days later.

That is what a missed opportunity looks like…



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