N.J. CU Finds Members Have An Affinity For Chatting

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Chatting online with members is neither saving money nor time for Affinity Federal Credit Union, according to management at the $1.2-billion CU.

But for the past 18 months the chat has gone on, currently at a pace of about 50 chats per day, said Lorrie Fox, assistant vice president of Member Services.

"The chat feature is simply an added convenience and serves as another communications channel for our members," she explained.

Last month, the CU added a secured version of the chat module so that members can talk to representatives about account details behind the site's online banking authentication.

Secure chat is a smart move, according to industry analysts Gartner, Inc. The Stamford, Conn.-based firm recently urged financial institutions to enable personal interaction and cobrowsing on their websites.

With almost 50% of Affinity FCU's 110,000 members using online banking, the secure chat version is available to a good portion of the membership.

"We almost tripled our use of chat in the first two weeks we launched secure chat," Fox said. "We can offer greater convenience for our members in home banking. Members can ask secure questions and get secure information."

For example, a member and a representative can look at electronic account statements together because the member's identification has been verified during home banking log-in, said Carolyn Parelli, Affinity FCU's e-commerce manager.

"In our NON-SECURE chat, we can't continue a conversation about the member's account without first picking up the phone to authenticate the member's information," Parelli said.

Both secure and non-secure chat sessions are more expensive than call center contact, Fox said. Each call by telephone cost the CU $2.46, she said.

And chat hasn't reduced toll-free calls, she said.

Although Fox hasn't yet tracked the expense of each chat session, she knows that members ask more questions and therefore chat online longer than they do on the phone.

Non-secure chats, which can originate from the CU's homepage, last about eight minutes, Fox said, as compared to a typical three- minute telephone call. Secure chat takes even longer, at 20 minutes per session, she said.

A Benefit-And Sales Opportunity

Though the CU is positioning chat as just another benefit of online banking, member service representatives are also taking the 20-minute opportunity to cross-sell products and services.

"We've seen some investment referrals and upselling to credit cards for example," said Fox.

Call center representatives still outnumber chat representatives, 45 to six. At the same time, chat reps can handle three online chats simultaneously.

Chat reps are also responsible for members' after-hours emails, which are enabled by the chat feature.

Affinity FCU's chat features are provided by New York-based LivePerson, Inc. Secure Chat is implemented via the CU's home banking platform through an agreement with LivePerson and home banking provider Digital Insight Corp. of Calabasas, Calif.

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