Redesigned Web Page Plays Up AFCU's Ability To Chat With Members

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How do you combine that personal, one-on-one touch in the otherwise cold, high-tech arena of cyberspace? Live, real-time, one-on-one "chat."

That's what Affinity FCU has up its sleeve with its latest addition to its website: Live Chat, powered by Live Person.

Similar to the signature America On Line Instant Message technology, Live Chat allows credit union members to reach Affinity's member support staff and engage in a personal, cyber tete-a-tete, giving members an additional channel through which to access credit union staff.

Affinity "quietly launched" the service on Dec. 10, simply putting the Live Chat icon on the member support page of the website without promoting the service at all, according to Susan Smith, e-commerce manager.

The "quiet launch" has allowed the specially trained staff to ramp up to full readiness while testing the service. The CU is also in the process of developing a new website slated for unveiling in April, at which time activity on Live Chat is expected to boom.

From Dec. 10 through the end of the month, the five Affinity staffers charged with chat duties engaged in a total of 132 chats, but most of those were practice chats with friends, family and co-workers, who were asked to help test the program.

"We wanted to make sure that it's an effective channel before we promote it to our members," Smith explained, noting that during the month of January, the Affinity chat team (only three of the five staffers can be logged on at any time) had a chance to work with members who had actual questions.

"They really like this channel. Most of our members are with AT&T and Lucent, so they're very tech savvy," she observed. "We sent an e-mail floater mid-month to the group of members who have signed up to receive e-mail from us telling them that live chat is now available. We figured the people who are most comfortable with e-mail technology are the ones most likely to be interested in and comfortable with this channel. In February, we'll put an article about Live Chat in our e-mail newsletter, and later on we'll start doing on-hold spots on the telephone, statement stuffers, more mainstream marketing."

The chat staff's responsibilities include taking care of outgoing e-mail in response to member questions, so the addition of Live Chat to their duties was a natural extension of their expertise: a combination of good communication skills and comfort with technology. They're able to answer questions related to the website as well as to products and services and account-related questions.

Presently, Live Chat is being tailored as a member support function, but Smith said she envisions adding it to other areas, like real estate products.

Similarly, the chat service is only available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, but at some point Smith hopes to see that coverage grow to include some night and weekend hours, with members of the chat team occasionally working from home.

Smith said Affinity chose Live Person's Live Chat because it's one of the best-known providers of this type of technology, and it offered a good fit for the credit union.

"Some of them offered more, but it was more than what we needed," she commented. "Live Person gave us just what we needed. It was much more inexpensive, more affordable, than I expected. And it really doesn't take up that much space on the computer, either."

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