Car Dealers, Are We Stuck in the 90s?
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Car Dealers, Are We Stuck in the 90s? Live Chat at the Dealership 20 Years Later

It was the late 1990s, and the Internet was barely beginning to touch the automotive industry. We were in the midst of setting up our Website and a single computer to work the leads we would receive. I remember receiving some Internet leads via fax machine. We were all just starting to put it together.

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I remember being on the showroom floor on a call with a corporate analyst who told me that last Wednesday we had 11 visitors to our online showroom. I wondered, “Who were they? What did they want? How could I talk to them?” I was standing in an empty showroom at the time and needed to reach those 11 visitors to make my numbers.

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It was the late 1990s, and the Internet was barely beginning to touch the automotive industry. We were in the midst of setting up our Website and a single computer to work the leads we would receive. I remember receiving some Internet leads via fax machine. We were all just starting to put it together.

Sometimes I think we’re right back in the ‘90s again with the misinformation and misunderstanding of online chat.

Back to the Beginning of Chat

I was fortunate enough to start at the beginning of automotive live chat and to spend the last nine years working in this field, and I have witnessed firsthand what shoppers want from online conversations. Back when chat started, shoppers would put in a year and model, and that was it. You could sense them slowly backing away from the computer not having any idea what would come back at them.

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At the dealership, we’d be continuously tested to prove we were humans chatting with our Web visitors. Surprisingly, shoppers were expecting some kind of artificial intelligence back then, maybe because voicemail systems had programmed them for non-human interactions. And they were delighted when it was a “real” person responding to their questions in chat. Connections were made, and relationships were built over this new technology.

Evolving Emotional Connections

Now, nine years later, with the emergence of social media and online shopping, car dealers can have free-flowing conversations from the start. Consumers willingly click to have full, robust chat conversations, and they expect to have a competent, pleasant person responding to them.

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Car buyers crave that social interaction, not to leave a message. Why? Because buying a car is still a very emotional purchase. The attraction of chat is not just to get an answer but to share that emotional experience with someone. People like affirmation. They like being heard. Knowing this, ask yourself:
What experience are you providing through chat?
Is it a pleasant, social interaction where you offer valuable information?
Can you start a relationship that will naturally lead a shopper into the showroom?
Is your team more effective on the phone, chat or face to face?

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Stop Interfering with Chat’s Purpose

The idea that buying a vehicle is similar to making an Amazon purchase is just not true. You’re not in the business of selling a commodity, so why offer that kind of experience?

We know the majority of vehicles initially inquired about are not the ones shoppers purchase. There’s no need to keep shoppers entertained in a chat by offering various options that ultimately prove to be a waste of time. If someone walks into the showroom and asks a question, do you hand them a brochure? Do you tell them to wait a minute while you find someone who can help them? Or would you rather start engaging with them immediately?

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Many, if not most, of the new, seemingly impressive features in live chat are actually interferences that stand in the way of a true connection. The purpose of chat is to find out more about your car buyers’ wants and needs so they can receive the answers they need from the only source that can provide it — the dealership.

Live chat is still one of the most effective ways to get the insight we so desperately wanted when the Internet first touched the automotive industry. Chat is a powerful tool that can answer the questions, “Who is on my site? What do they want? How can I reach and help them?” Don’t waste those opportunities with a receptionist-style service, untrained chat representatives or distractions that keep them from interacting at all.

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Carol Marshall

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