Evaluating Live Chat vs. Texting for your helpline
By now you probably realize that you absolutely must offer some form of Online Emotional Support to stay relevant in a world where people are going online for everything, including helpline services like crisis intervention, suicide prevention, or information and referral.
iCarol enables you to provide both live chat and texting (aka “Messaging”) to your community. Messaging fits in seamlessly with the rest of your iCarol system, and you can make use of the same tools you’re used to engaging when taking a call, like call report forms and resource searches. Helpline managers will be able to run statistical analysis on Messaging interactions, with or separate from reports about Calls. The platform is intuitive, just like the rest of iCarol, so your volunteers and staff will catch on very quickly. And best of all, because the counselor’s screen and the process flow is virtually identical whether you’re engaged in a live chat or text, once your volunteers are trained on one it’s a total breeze to add on the other.
But say you’re just getting started, and you know you can only choose one platform for now. Which one do you go with? Which is better for your community, for your target population, for your service requirements? Take a look at this comparison between Live Chat and Texting with iCarol…
How the client reaches you
|We’ll give you a bit of code to place on your website which will make a “Chat now” button appear. This button checks iCarol to see if 1) You have a chat shift set up at that moment and 2) If someone is assigned to that shift. If both are true, then the button will show you are Online and clicking it takes the visitor through to registration and on to the chat.||Our team will work with you to text enable your existing helpline number, or obtain either a short code or a new 10 digit phone number for your service. You’ll then advertise this number, along with your hours of availability, on your website, fliers, social media ads, etc. People will send a direct text to that number to initiate a conversation with your counselors.|
For both Live Chat and Texting, you’ll set up shifts in iCarol to note whether your service is available.
|Live Chat||Texting||If a shift is not set up and staffed, the Chat Now button will automatically display as “offline” on your website and the visitor will be unable to initiate the chat. The button will display the next time chat is available, so the visitor knows when to return.||You can advertise your service’s hours and availability, but a visitor may still send you a text, even if you have no shift set up at that time. If that’s the case, the visitor receives a polite message (customized by you) letting them know that they’ve reached you outside your available hours.|
|Your conversation is secure and encryped end-to-end from visitor to counselor, because the entire conversation is traveling over iCarol’s secure servers.||The conversation is secure when passing over our servers, but there times that the conversation is flowing over the telephone wireless network. While phone companies do make some promises about data protection, they are not complete. This is true for any text messaging service.|
|Live chat is typically conducted via a computer, and so the visitor will likely stay in one place while chatting. Visitors might use their smart phone’s web browser to view your website and start a chat, in which case they may be more mobile.||Very mobile, since visitors will be using their smart phone to text in to your service. They could text you from the bus, from a library, the park, etc. and may be on the go as they carry on the conversation.|
Length of the Conversation
The overwhelming majority of our clients report that any online interaction, whether via chat or text, take much more time than a phone call. Our clients tell us that a typical chat, for example, may be an hour or more long.
|The entire conversation takes place during a single session, and there is a clear beginning and end. It’s not uncommon to have these sessions last an hour or more.||Also longer than phone calls, but this conversation may span several days, or even weeks. Think about how when you text with a friend, they may suddenly “drop off” because they got busy and had to turn their attention elsewhere. Later, when they’re available again, they may text you back to continue where they left off. The same can happen with visitors texting in to your service.|
|There are no per-message or per-Chat costs for live chat.||We offer bundles of text messages to you at a nominal cost. Depending on the subscription your visitor has purchased with their wireless phone carrier, they might also incur per-text costs from their mobile provider’s network.|
Setting a Service Area
|When the visitor clicks the Chat Now button, they’ll be taken to a registration screen. You can decide what questions, if any, you’d like to ask before they proceed to the chat. Using registration requirements before the chat begins, you can ensure that only visitors who identify as residing within a certain geographic area can enter the chat.||You can optionally choose to have visitors register their phones prior to the very first time they send a text to you. This can help you collect data, ensure it’s not a “robot” text, and restrict service to a selected geographic area. For example, during registration, you can have the system ask visitors things like age range or gender, which funders may require. If you asked for geographic information, iCarol could automatically restrict service to visitors from an area you select. Visitors only have to answer these questions once; thereafter, iCarol will remember the answers they provided that first time they texted in.|
So now you know some of the differences and similarities between offering Live Chat or Texting through iCarol at your helpline. If you’d like to learn more, why not join us for a webinar about Messaging with iCarol. Or you can with your questions.
Dana joined the iCarol team in 2013 after 12 years of direct service and administrative duties at a blended 2-1-1/crisis intervention/suicide prevention center. As the Communications and Social Media Manager at iCarol, you’ll find her presenting Webinars, Tweeting, Blogging, Facebooking, and producing other materials that aid helplines in their work.