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Air Force uses online service to get to know potential recruits

Visitors to the Air Force site can chat with recruiters either one-on-one or in chat rooms. The service logs between 15,000 and 20,000 sessions a month.

The Air Force is using an online chat service to bolster its traditional recruiting methods and is using data captured during thousands of chat sessions each month to equip its recruiters with helpful information on prospective recruits.

Offering chat sessions ' initiated from the Air Force's main Web page at www.af.mil or more directly from its recruiting page at www.airforce.com ' proved to be a natural fit in attracting prospects from the young demographic the Air Force is interested in, officials say. The service also discovered it could use knowledge gleaned from the chats to help recruiters follow up and communicate better with likely prospects. Earlier this month, the Air Force announced that it had met its recruiting goals for the eighth straight year.

Once people have visited the page and contacted an Air Force recruiter using e-mail or chat, 'the goal is to collect leads to follow up on for recruiting,' said Travis Scoggins, accounts supervisor at the Air Force's GSD&M Advertising contract agency.

Persuading a promising candidate to join the Air Force usually takes time, and the process can be tricky, Air Force recruiters say. Web chats help draw in young people and then gives the Air Force the data it needs to build a rapport with prospective recruits. 'Having online chat has been a helpful process to make that connection with kids,' Scoggins said.

Visitors to the page get answers to their questions, and 'we try to give them different types of information along the way to help them through the stages,' Scoggins said. 'It's a long and considerable learning process to get all the way down the path.'

'Having online chat has been a helpful process to make that connection with kids.' ' Travis Scoggins, GSD&M Advertising Contract Agency

Visitors to the Air Force site can chat with recruiters either one-on-one or in chat rooms, and the Air Force logs between 15,000 and 20,000 sessions a month. Since last year, the Air Force has required visitors to the site to create an account by filling out a form with 15 to 20 questions. The questionnaire decreased the number of interactions by about 5,000 a month, but 'this filtering mechanism has eliminated a lot of the distracting chats,' Scoggins said.

The Air Force has six people at its recruitment center who respond to e-mail inquiries and conduct chat sessions from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, ending at 4 p.m. on Fridays. Of the 15,000 to 20,000 new sessions they handle each month, about half are generated by e-mail and the other half by chat.

In the past six to seven months, the Air Force began using software from RightNow Technologies to capture data from e-mail and chat sessions for follow-up by recruiters and to track potential applicants. It forwards 1,000 to 2,000 leads to recruiters nationwide each month from data collected online, and its recruiters turn about half of those into applications.

The online tools 'supply the recruiter with excellent pre-approach information so instead of making a cold call he can make a warm call,' said Master Sgt. Deshan Woods, interactive account executive for the Air Force Recruiting Service at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.

Before the service started to use the RightNow software, 'we didn't have an efficient way of getting this information to recruiters,' Woods said, and most of the data generated during chats was simply lost. Now, recruiters nationwide get information on prospects in their regions within two to three days of an individual's online queries and can follow up while the potential applicant's interest is still fresh.

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