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Best Practices for Launching Live Chat for Banks and Credit Unions


By Jason Sherrill on Thursday, March 17, 2016


Live, text-based chat is a standard feature on nearly all large, profitable eCommerce websites today. Banks and credit unions are also finally starting to see the value in quickly connecting with prospective and existing customers using live chat systems on their websites; however, many banks and credit unions are not sure how best to get started. Let's examine a few good practices to get started.

Choosing a Chat System

There are two main flavors of live chat systems:

  • Hosted solutions
  • Installable solutions

The primary difference between the two is who owns and operates the server hardware and live chat software. When getting started, I usually recommend starting with a hosted solution. A hosted solution requires the smallest up front investment, can often be setup in one day or less, and implementation into the website can often be as simple as adding a few lines of code. The monthly cost will typically range from $40 to $100 per month, per operator, often times with setup costs anywhere from free to a few hundred dollars.

Installable systems can offer a greater level of customization and implementation configuration since the hardware and software will be installed in your environment, or perhaps on a dedicated or colocated server at your hosting provider's data center. An installable solution can also offer a higher degree of data protection since you will control the full environment and can implement additional security controls that may be unique to your environment. The downside is that installable solutions have dramatically higher initial costs and, in the case of hosted or colocated servers, ongoing monthly costs.

With hosted solutions, there are a few security considerations:

  • Ensure that the chat service uses SSL to protect chat sessions
  • If chat transcripts are not encrypted, find a service that allows you to disable storing of chat transcripts
  • Disable the option for customers to request a chat transcript via email. Often sensitive data might be exchanged in chat sessions that would not be safe to send via email
  • Ensure that each chat operator can sign in with his or her own logon credentials (avoid shared credentials)
  • Whenever possible, choose a chat provider that specializes in high security chat or hosting services and perform the same due diligence that you would for your website hosting provider

Your primary risk with live chat is customer impersonation and social engineering attacks. Most banks already have training programs in place to help educate staff on these risks, but it is worthwhile to ensure that your chat operators have participated in this training and have the skills to recognize situations that are suspicious.

Features to Consider

Many chat systems have extensive feature lists that range from storing of canned responses to full CRM integration and even video chat. When getting started with live chat, I recommend starting with a basic feature set. Skip the fancy bells and whistles, especially if your customer service team is new to live chat as well. Adding CRM integration, video chat, multiple departments and skillset based chat routing are nice features, but they also add significant complexity to the implementation and learning curve. So what features are important?

I recommend starting with these basic features:

Hide the chat button when operators are not available

When operators are signed out or marked offline, some chat systems replace the chat button with a popup form instead. This disappoints customers. If an operator isn't available to chat, simply hide the chat button altogether. The chat button should only be visible to customers when operators are available to chat.

Send hyperlinks to customers

Operators will be able to answer many inquiries by simply sending the visitor a hyperlink to a page on your website. Some live chat systems will recognize a hyperlink in a response and automatically navigate the customer's web browser to that page. This can save both the customer and the operator time when directing a customer to information on your website.

Spell check

Proper spelling and grammar are important skills for operators to possess. When handling multiple chats and typing quickly, it is easy for an operator to accidentally misspell a word. Many live chat systems have automatic spell checking features that will notify an operator when a word may be misspelled. Enabling this feature can help to ensure customers have a positive perception of the professionalism of your customer service team.

Staff Selection and Training

Choosing who will perform chat duties for your website is just as important as choosing a tool. Staff who have poor grammar or communication skills are not good candidates for this duty. Likewise, staff who cannot type quickly and accurately will deliver a poor experience to customers who will wonder why each response is taking so long, especially if the customer is a proficient typist.

I recommend choosing people with these skills:

  • Typing proficiency
  • A strong command of the language customers will be using
  • Training in authenticating customer identities (following the same protocols as on the telephone)
  • Multi-tasking proficiency
  • Conflict resolution training and skills

If you do not have anyone on staff that posseses these skills and it's not feasible to provide training that will bring one or more staff members up to the necessary skill levels, then I recommend not rolling out live chat. You want customers to have a positive experience when chatting with your staff online, especially prospective new customers.

Establishing Policies and Procedures

It's important for a bank or credit union to determine and document policies on what types of questions operators can answer via live chat. Some banks will answer the same types of questions in live chat as over the telephone. Others choose to direct questions relating to balances, transfers, and other account or transaction related questions to a different medium, such as the telephone or even an in-branch visit.

If you choose to answer account related questions via live chat, each operator should be aware of your identity verification procedures. Many banks adopt the same processes for live chat that they use when customers call via telephone. Some live chat systems even provide geo lookup information based on the customer's IP address, which can further aid in ferreting out phishers and scammers. For example, if the live chat software shows that the customer's IP address is registered in China, but your customers typically don't live, work, or visit China, then this could be a red flag during the identity verification process. A safe practice is to start with a policy that transaction and account related questions will be directed to other mediums until your staff becomes more comfortable with live chat and you have the opportunity to formalize your processes and procedures.

Typical Rollout Example

If you're following my recommendation to rollout a hosted live chat solution to test the waters, then here is what a typical rollout scenario might look like.

Choose a solution

Once you've chosen a solution, your chat provider will likely provide you with the code that needs to be inserted onto your web pages, along with instructions or documentation.

Identify placement and customization

Determine where you will place the live chat button on your website. Most websites will add the button in either the header or the footer of the website. In addition, you'll need to customize the appearance of the button and the chat windows to match your website's brand and styling preferences.

Test before going live

When we perform rollouts for our live chat clients, we usually provide them with a sandbox site where they can use the chat feature without customers seeing or using it. This allows for staff training and operator console setup.

Review policies and processes with staff

Prior to launching chat on your live website, ensure that your staff is aware of the policies and procedures that you've drafted for chat operations. Don't go overboard here with a lengthy manual or reams of documentation. Keep it simple and address the basics of what types of questions staff will field online and which they will direct to offline resources. Define when it is acceptable to block a user due to abuse or phishing attempts. Your policies will evolve and the staff participating in the chats will be your best information source for identifying policy needs.

Brief chat operators on the website

Many chat sessions will likely result in operators directing customers to one or more pages on the website. Ensure that staff have a strong understanding of what information is available on the website and where to find it.

Create a feedback channel

Chat operators will quickly begin to identify information that should be on your website to help customers help themselves. Ensure that your chat operators have an efficient feedback channel to the team that manages your website. Your website team can make your customer service team's job easier by listening to this feedback and adding content to the website to answer questions that customers repeatedly ask.

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