The Portland, Ore., virtual receptionist company Ruby Receptionists is today announcing its acquisition of the online chat service ProfessionalChats, a three-year-old company based in Kansas City, Mo. This is the first acquisition by Ruby, which was founded in 2003, and it will allow it to offer its customers managed chat services through their websites, Google listings and Facebook.

“This will be a real game-changer for our customers, especially in the legal community,” Ruby founder and CEO Jill Nelson said during a phone interview.

Ruby completed purchase in December but delayed the announcement to provide time to transition the technology. Nelson declined to reveal the price of the purchase but said Ruby acquired 100 percent ownership.

Scott Hansen, founder and CEO of ProfessionalChats, will remain with Ruby as president of the ProfessionalChats division. All of the company’s 100-plus employees will join Ruby, while remaining in their Kansas City location.

For now, Ruby’s virtual receptionist service and the newly acquired chat service will be offered as separate products. By midyear, the two will be integrated as a single offering, Nelson told me.

Although ProfessionalChats has some customers in the legal industry, the bulk of its business has been with customers in the medical, dental and chiropractic professions, where it has done business under the names HomeServiceChats, OrthoChats, ChiroChats, DentistChats and HearingChats.

Expanding the service within the legal industry will be Nelson’s first focus, she said. “We are fast and furious prototyping the legal industry offering.”

This service will be most helpful to lawyers who use their websites and online advertising to generate leads for new clients, such as personal injury, criminal defense and family lawyers, Nelson said.

“Consumers who search for a lawyer expect on-demand answers,” Nelson said. “In Google and Facebook, where there is click-to-chat, we’re able to provide that.”

The ProfessionalChats platform includes a live call connect service, by which a chat specialist can provide a live warm phone transfer to the customer’s business. That would be useful to law firms that prefer to qualify leads or schedule consultations directly, rather than through the chat specialist.

Although this is Ruby’s first acquisition, others may be on the horizon. Nelson said her company has also been looking to establish a closer relationship with an online appointment scheduling service.

Ruby would not be the first virtual receptionist service for lawyers to also offer online chat. The company is another that offers both receptionist and chat services.

Photo of Bob Ambrogi Bob Ambrogi

Bob is a lawyer, veteran legal journalist, and award-winning blogger and podcaster. In 2011, he was named to the inaugural Fastcase 50, honoring “the law’s smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders.” Earlier in his career, he was editor-in-chief of several legal publications, including The National Law Journal, and editorial director of ALM’s Litigation Services Division.