By: 28 September 2020
Live chat or chatbots? Communication is key

Live chat and chatbots can be used as both a reactive and proactive tool to help with client engagement and nurture the customer journey, says Andy Cullwick of First4Lawyers 

Pre-pandemic, customers were already expecting more flexible ways of contacting businesses, and likewise businesses were becoming increasingly aware of the need to ensure accessibility for all. Some people feel comfortable on the phone, others don’t or can’t use a telephone easily as a communication channel. With many people sitting at computers all day, live chat facilities have soared in popularity in recent years. At First4Lawyers, we have had a live chat service on our website for more than five years, and have hundreds of chats per month.

Live chat can be used as both a reactive and proactive tool to help with client engagement and nurture the customer journey. Seeking help and support for a legal claim can be daunting for an individual and adding a live chat function means clients have a less intrusive way of seeking the information and help that they need.

For many, picking up the phone to discuss something quite personal could be too much of a hurdle. The live chat offering can provide a tool to enable people to have the confidence to start their conversation.

It shouldn’t be a one-way street though. As much as offering live chat benefits the customer, you should also pay close attention to your web analytics. By analysing data and customer behaviour, businesses can learn how and when to proactively start a chat with a website visitor. 

From the outset, it was important to us that all live chats were handled by the claims team advisers rather than a separate call handling service. However, we were also keen to see if artificial intelligence (AI) could help us automate parts of this service without losing the personal feel and empathy that a human can offer. Naturally, this led us to look at using chatbots, computer programmes that simulate human conversation, but it was also important that if we were going to consider using a chatbot, that we could maintain accuracy. We’ve all experienced those cold chats where the bot simply doesn’t understand what you are asking and you are screaming at the screen wanting human interaction.

Chatbot versions of live chat are quickly growing in popularity, and it isn’t difficult to see why. The insurance industry is seeing how they can automate processes such as directing customers to the right policies, or filing claims. Digitising the customer journey also has the effect of shortening the sales cycle, which is providing increased business efficiency.

Chatbots can also be used to great effectiveness, during what would have traditionally been classed as out of hours, ie, 8pm to 8am, a time when, for most businesses, there are naturally fewer members of the team working. During this period, live chat is often turned off and customers are greeted with an option to leave a message instead. Since running our chatbot during the typical out of hours window, we have seen 11% more enquiries than we would normally see in that time period.

We have also seen an improvement in the overall quality of claims that come through during that out-of-hours time period. Across weekday evenings, we are seeing a 20% improvement on overall claims conversion rates and at weekends a 6% improvement since using a chatbot.

However, if you can utilise the learning capabilities of AI then you can harness a feature that works 24/7, which can be easily up or downscaled to help during peaks and troughs of workflow, without affecting your staffing levels.

AI can be taught to ask the sort of questions that our claims team advisers would ask and respond accordingly depending on the answer given.  

The versatility of online chat, be it live chat or chatbot, is that people can have a laptop set up on the kitchen table, office or even coffee shop rather than having to squirrel themselves away on the phone. It is this kind of versatility that will likely see their use increase as a result of the challenges of handling the pandemic.