Picture your association’s website as a physical place like a building constructed with bricks and mortar. Steady traffic flows through front door. Some visitors are familiar faces and some are brand new or unique visitors. They arrive each day at the suggestion of your association’s social media posts, eblasts, blogs, media releases, magazine articles and direct mail campaigns. They come to learn more about your association’s mandate, brand reputation as well as your calls to action for membership and donations. These website visitors are doing more than just browsing – they came ready to buy.

Now, imagine the experience if every “walk-in” was personally greeted and welcomed to your association.

“Hello, is there anything I can help you with today,” are the famous first words of a caring company.  In a face-to-face environment, this can be achieved when staff take time for personalized, proactive visitor interaction. In an online environment, real time customer service can be achieved through live chat.

For the past three years, my organization has been reaching out to thousands of our website visitors with an automatically triggered live chat window that simply says, “Hello, is there a membership question I can answer for you today?”  When a website visitor responds with a comment or a question, my colleagues in membership service receive an instant desktop notification and they respond immediately, usually within seconds. Most chats take less than five minutes to complete.  Multi-agent live chat plans are available to share the level of interaction with several membership service representatives. Website visitors appreciate the opportunity to quickly connect with real staff and in real time.  Live chat sends an important message that the organization believes in a proactive approach to membership care.

Membership services staff at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), serve an average of one hundred live chat interactions per week. The OFAH website ( receives a weekly average of 5,000 unique visitors. Live chat is not only helping to sell or upgrade memberships, it’s also building our brand and customer service reputation with quality membership leads. When a live chat interaction presents questions beyond the scope of membership services, we can simply email a copy of the chat transcript to the appropriate department and promise an email or telephone follow up after the live chat connection.

Live chat works in my organization because OFAH staff are in full control. We can turn live chat “off” during weekends and after office hours, or even at points of the day when we can’t commit time to responding immediately. Live chat also works from mobile devices, and although my organization has not experimented with this opportunity yet, our staff could remotely respond to live chat interactions during special membership events like conferences or trade shows. Triggers can be set to encourage live engagement when a website visitor is taking longer than usual on a particular issues page or membership campaign offer. Live chat can be fully automated to instantly start a conversation and provide real time support.

While there are many service providers of live chat platforms, many plans are as affordable as $60 a month. According to the OFAH’s live chat service provider, live chat has the highest satisfaction level of any customer service channel with 73% satisfaction compared with 61% for email and 44% for phone. These providers claim that 31% of online shoppers said they were more likely to purchase after a live chat interaction. Live chat “turns browsers into buyers” and the OFAH can attest to the power of this new membership engagement channel.

I personally agree that it’s very convenient to connect with a company representative or product expert via live chat. In fact, I prefer the option of live chat over the opportunity to call a toll-free number or to write to a generic customer service email address. It’s fast, and like texting, you can get a feel for the enthusiasm and sincerity of staff representing their company. The OFAH encourages our team to add their own personality to live chat by keeping the interaction professional but also lighthearted with the occasional “LOL” or smiley face emoji. 😊

CSAE members certainly understand the value of human connection. It is what built our respective associations. Personalized communication builds stronger loyalty. As far as the OFAH is concerned, if 5,000 potential members visited our office every week, we would do everything possible to welcome them to our organization. We believe 5,000 website visitors each week deserve the same commitment. Live chat is an extension of everything we do to look after our members and earn future support by offering the personal touch.

By: Robert Pye

Robert Pye is the Manger of Business Development and Corporate Messaging for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. He has been with the OFAH for 21-years. Robert completed his CAE in 2009.