CUs Using Live Chat Happy To Talk About How It Is Working

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Live online assistance may be the ultimate website member service, according to industry analysts and several credit unions. But many credit unions are approaching online chat applications with trepidation.

Honored last year by NAFCU for its success with live chat, the $3.5-billion American Airlines FCU talks online with members in about 90 chats per day, up from about 20 per day in 2000 when it was the first CU in the U.S. to launch the service.

But it's not the increase in chat volume that's most impressive, according to Gail Enda, senior vice president of marketing and member services at the 204,000-member CU. The service allows AAFCU to help members while they are online-members with one phone line don't have to disconnect from their dial-up connections to call the CU for service. Therefore, there's less disconnect on potential online sales.

'Satisfying The Issue'

"Live chat gives us the ability to work through the member's issue and end the conversation when we have completely satisfied the issue," Enda explained. "It's also a great feature when someone online is considering membership."

Despite AAFCU's success, most CUs aren't jumping for online chat tools. Newton, Mass.-based Meridien Research reported in May that financial institutions pay little attention to the benefits of online chat. Members and potential members often abandon website interactions if they can't get help online, said the report, and then may turn to more expensive service channels, such as call centers, or delayed response channels, such as e-mail. Or, they may ditch the interaction completely.

The nation's largest CU, the $16-billion Navy Federal, is one of the skeptics. Loren Moeller, public relations specialist at the 2.2-million member CU, said online chat presents CUs with some serious obstacles, including specialized operator training. And that perspective comes from a credit union with a worldwide online member penetration rate of 30%.

Pasadena, Calif.-based Wescom Credit Union agrees that there are training obstacles. "Phone representatives may not have the same competencies in the chat space. They may be good at speaking but not might be able to spell, or type fast enough," said Brian Siegel, director of e-commerce at the $2.3-billion CU.

Wescom, which serves 180,000 members, is thus taking a "wait and see" approach. Said Siegel: "Ultimately we'll offer live chat. But we really need to be aware before we put something out there. Besides, we focus on products that will bring benefits to large groups of members, and not a lot are asking for live chat."

But American Airlines FCU didn't trip over operator training issues, said Pedro A. Noda, Jr., webmaster. MSRs weren't specially trained, he continued, because they had experience answering online banking emails.

Five 'Multi-taskers'

In addition, AAFCU's five online operators are good multi-taskers, said Enda, which adds value to the service. "MSRs do a lot of different things. They don't just sit there waiting for live chats to happen."

Online assistance is further justified because online assistants can handle up to four chats at once, whereas phone reps deal with only one call at a time, Noda said.

AAFCU offers live chat through New York City-based LivePerson Inc., providing real-time sales and customer service for companies doing business on the Internet.

All in all, Enda sees chat as a service differentiator in a competitive market. "Live chat is really about the member experience we're trying to create. We want our members to reach out and touch us in the way they're most comfortable, so that they know we care about them."

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