Once the province of retail customers who would rather type a request rather than wait on hold for 15 minutes, live chat is now a ubiquitous online tool across industries that is quickly becoming a preferred means of communication by consumers.

According to a recent Forbes article, “Emerging Trends in Customer Communication Preferences,” the numbers of online consumers who use live chat increased by 20 percent over five years. Another survey found that 41 percent of consumers prefer using chat for customer service matters, compared to 32 percent who prefer using the phone, and 23 percent who prefer email. Importantly, the same study found that consumers are more likely to buy from a company if they offer live chat support. So what does that mean for professional services?

Online Consumers Know It — and Like It

First, consumers are beyond the point of testing the chat waters; they expect it and appreciate the convenience it brings to online interactions (look for a future post on customer satisfaction and how live chat improves consumer experiences in an upcoming post). Professional service providers — including with chat by adding the tool to their own websites.

Indeed, for law firms, the 24/7 nature of client emergencies begs for such a tool such. Our recent eBook on the topic, “Live Online Chat – A Guide to Getting the Most out of Your Marketing Dollars,” looks at how live chat can be an impactful tool for firms looking to grow their client base through website visitor conversion. Consider the fact that 45 percent of all live chats happen outside of regular office hours and that 63 percent of all live chats happen from a mobile phone. Clearly, consumers expect on-demand communication, whether they are shopping for shoes or searching for a lawyer.

Live chat is also a game changer for law firms to proactively reach out to site visitors — without support staff having to lift a finger. A friendly alert — “Hi. If you need anything, we’re here to help” — may be all the encouragement a visitor needs to start a conversation with a live operator. The real, human interaction that follows has a powerful effect. As we mentioned in a recent post, a Forrester survey showed that investing in proactive chat capabilities will produce an incremental 105 percent return on investment, compared to just 15 percent for reactive chat.

Everyone Is Looking at Their Phones

Another reason why live chat may be taking off is mobile. Imagine having the advantage of asking a service provider questions at any hour without waiting for an email response or having to talk on the phone. Add the on-demand nature of chat to mobile capabilities and you have a powerful combination of instant gratification and communicate-from-anywhere convenience. Silence is golden, which is another reason mobile and laptop users love the privacy that live chat gives them. Even at work or from the kids’ baseball game, visitors to your site can interact with a live operator by silently texting questions about your firm and details about your services.

For now, the live chat trend isn’t going anywhere and consumers have a lot of reasons for expecting sophisticated, tech-savvy business to include a chat tool on their sites. Legal consumers are no different. They are comfortable with using live chat, and know how much easier it is to ask questions anytime, anywhere. They will have the satisfaction of receiving a response almost instantly, which adds traction to their interaction with your firm, adding goodwill to a new, hopefully fruitful, relationship.