Web chat meets members where they are

Options for staffing this hybrid communication channel

by Jamie Swedberg

On many websites, including the sites of online chat providers, chat windows pop up proactively and follow users doggedly as they scroll and click. That kind of interface is available for credit unions, but Luis Bedevia says few take advantage of it. Instead, CUs gravitate toward highly visible boxes—say, in the sidebar or at the top of the page—that offer real-time help if the member has a question.

“It tends to be member-initiated,” says Bedevia, call center manager at Xtend, Inc., a credit union service organization in Grand Rapids, Mich., that offers call center and other back-office services for member credit unions. “[Active solicitation of chat] is not a credit union mentality, right? It’s just not … we’re not pushy as a general rule.”

On the other hand, credit unions are very keen to be available when their members need them. That means it’s important to have somebody available to answer chats as often as possible.

VA Desert Pacific Federal Credit Union—which offers Web chat through AliveChat (a software-as-a-service chat interface offered by Houston-based WebsiteAlive)—has three staffers on chat duty. During business hours, when the three staffers are available, the chat windows on the site say “Online.” When the $55 million CU is closed, they say “Offline—please leave a message.”

Because Xtend uses its call center personnel to answer chats for its CU-owners’ members, the service is available whenever Xtend’s call center is open: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, plus 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. That’s longer than most credit unions are open, so it cuts down significantly on the hours when client chat windows are offline.

Perhaps the most complete solution to the availability problem is to have a 24-hour call center available to answer chat. WebsiteAlive offers a service called AliveConcierge that does exactly that. If a prospective member, surfing the Web at 11 p.m., types in a question about membership eligibility, a representative will take a message and deliver it to the credit union via e-mail, SMS or instant phone transfer. The member service rep can then respond the next day. The service is priced on a per-lead basis.

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