FirstGov gets chatty

Got questions about the government? Chat with FirstGov.gov.

The popular government information Web portal has unveiled an online chat to provide users with live assistance from representatives of the General Services Administration.

The chat is intended to make FirstGov as helpful and responsive as possible for users, said Teresa Nasif, director of the Office of Federal Citizen Information Center, which runs FirstGov.

She said Web site customer service representatives found that many of the questions they receive through e-mail messages could be answered by FirstGov's frequently asked questions section. In fact, telephone operators often give answers straight out of the FAQ, Nasif said.

However, dealing with 104 pages of questions can be daunting. Having an online chat allows users to go through a step-by-step process to learn how to get to the information they need.

The chat system will also let representatives track the site’s problem areas, Nasif said. Tracking chat requests “could point toward things that are more difficult to find on the Web site,” she said. In addition, it could help managers make the site more user-friendly.

“A lot of private companies started doing this,” offering online chat help, she said. “This seems to be another avenue to serve citizens.” Nasif said the response has been positive so far.

The Web chat will run as a pilot test for about six months. During that time, users can comment on the system, which they can access via a tab in the FAQ section of the site. It is available only in English, and representatives are available Monday through Friday between noon and 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

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