People applying for mortgages on a Web site often give up, finding on- line applications too long and too hard, experts say.
To hang on to such prospects, an Internet-only mortgage company plans a new button for its Web site.
The button would trigger an immediate call from an agent. The agent could then take control of the person's browser and help navigate the site and complete the form.
The so-called teleweb system was created by WebLine Communications Corp. of Burlington, Mass. American Finance and Investment Co. of Plantation, Fla., plans to launch it next month.
Users will need separate phone and computer lines to get an immediate call. Few people have separate lines at home, but most of those with computers at work do. In any case, most people accessing American Finance's site do so from work, said Jack Rodgers, American Finance's president..
The six-year-old company is a division of First Mortgage Network Inc., also based in Plantation.
Some customers prefer to discuss their mortgage options with an agent, said Ken Landoline, who works in Santa Clara, Calif., for Giga Information Group, a Cambridge, Mass., research firm. Using the Web with a call center cuts down call times from 10 minutes to two, he said.
"The more options you give the customer, the better the service," he said.
An agent will call within seconds after the customer types in his or her telephone number, said N. Louis Shipley, WebLine's vice president for worldwide field operations. If no agent is available, onscreen messages tell when the next representative will be available or suggest that the customer schedule a time.
American Finance, which has been pilot testing the service for nine months, is paying a $25,000 licensing fee plus a monthly charge.
Mr. Rodgers said he expects the service to earn its cost within weeks. He is projecting a 25% increase in the number of visitors inquiring about its mortgages, as well as a 15% increase in sales.
"A significant percentage don't become customers because we can't grab them at the moment when they have a passion to purchase," Mr. Rodgers said.
WebLine, founded in 1996, has 65 customers, including Putnam Investments. Several banks are pilot testing the service, Mr. Shipley said.
A growing number of companies, including SiteBridge Corp. and ActiveTouch Inc., offer collaborative telephone and Web sales services, said Michael Maoz, a research analyst for Gartner Group, Stamford, Conn.
Selecting a mortgage is one of the most important and expensive decisions are person can make, and many are concerned about completing an on-line form without the option of speaking to an agent, Mr. Maoz said.
This service "allows companies to address customer needs better because now they can call and have someone lead them through it on the Web," he said.