A Customer Klatch

Hello Again!—Dale Wentz (left) and Jennifer Cotton helped launch and now manage a live chat channel for QNB Bank’s customers.
Hello Again!—Dale Wentz (left) and Jennifer Cotton helped launch and now manage a live chat channel for QNB Bank’s customers.

Live chat channel sparks digital engagement

By William Atkinson

Talking with customers took a digital turn at QNB Bank in Quakertown, Pa., in 2011. That year the $1 billion-asset community bank began using an online “live chat” as a major channel to serve and communicate with its customers.

Now the chat channel is an extension of the bank’s customer service center, and the bank has full-time service agents who handle chat inquiries full time.

“We introduced the chat as part of our strategic initiative to offer customers different avenues of communication for customer service,” says Jennifer Cotton, QNB Bank’s vice president and customer service center manager. “We recognized that customers have evolving needs for contacting customer service, so this offered them another convenient avenue to do so.”

QNB Bank customers access the chat channel through a link on the bank’s Web page and its mobile service site. There are also links to the service within the bank’s online banking, account login and account overview Web pages.

Chat inquiries from customers are handled almost identically to how the bank handles customer phone calls, including the ability of service staff members to handle product and service cross-selling conversations, Cotton says. In addition to the chat messages, QNB Bank’s service center handles customers’ phone calls, emails and inquiries generated through the bank’s website and online banking channels. It also handles postal correspondence from customers.

Questions customers ask over chat range from short ones on the bank’s operational hours to lengthy discussions about loan products, Cotton says. “There are regulars who use it frequently, but we also get many new people all the time,” she says. “Customers have come to rely on the chat service and notice when it is not available.”

QNB Bank measures its chat volume monthly through reports, which show the number of chats per agent and the length. When the service was first introduced, average volume was about 100 inquiries per month. These days, the average is about 475 a month.
“Some people chat with us two to three times a week,” says Dale Wentz, executive vice president and chief retail officer.

“Customers have come to rely on the chat service, and notice when it is not available.”
—Jennifer Cotton, QNB Bank

The chat service helps the bank foster familiarity and trust with many of the customers, Wentz says. The bank’s representatives take opportunities during live chats to discuss relationship-building opportunities, which can help introduce customers to new products and services.

“We look at our customer service center like a branch, an opportunity to not only service our customers, but to look for relationship-building opportunities,” Wentz says.

Wentz and Cotton say community banks considering adding a similar communication channel should prepare to devote considerable time and attention to the supporting service, particularly before and during an early rollout period. It took a long time to educate QNB Bank’s customers that the live chat option was available for everyday banking questions, Cotton points out.

Staff training is also an important element of success, along with developing a thorough rollout plan, Wentz and Cotton say. The bank trained call center representatives how to respond to inquiries through the channel, including preparing some scripted responses.

Also, selecting and training specialized chat representatives who are hands-on in creating and adapting responses was helpful in building engagement through the medium.

Also, selecting and training specialized chat representatives who are hands-on in creating and adapting responses was helpful in building engagement through the medium.


William Atkinson is a writer in Illinois.