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The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Role of Chat

Huzzah! We’ve finally entered a time where car dealers no longer see digital communication as a hot commodity, but a necessity. Unfortunately, it coincides with a boom in communications technology and a surge in chat vendors trying to sell dealers “shiny new things.”

With so many options, how do you discern what features work and which ones are just smoke and mirrors? How do you protect your customers from terrible online service? How do you make sure your chat investment makes you money?

Don’t Panic. This five-step guide has all the information you need to find the most effective chat solution in today’s landscape.

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Huzzah! We’ve finally entered a time where car dealers no longer see digital communication as a hot commodity, but a necessity. Unfortunately, it coincides with a boom in communications technology and a surge in chat vendors trying to sell dealers “shiny new things.”

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With so many options, how do you discern what features work and which ones are just smoke and mirrors? How do you protect your customers from terrible online service? How do you make sure your chat investment makes you money?

Don’t Panic. This five-step guide has all the information you need to find the most effective chat solution in today’s landscape.

1. Choose the Most Logical Solution

For a long time, the most common chat solutions have been software, managed chat and, after a while, hybrid chat. Now, even chatbots are in the mix. And while it will be exciting to see where artificial intelligence takes us, there’s still a learning curve. Chatbots are like babies; you wouldn’t let a baby sell cars!

That being said, the most logical solution is to opt for fully managed chat. Here are three important reasons why:

• Employment Costs
Hiring one in-house agent full-time at $12 an hour costs you around $2,000 a month, not including benefits. An expertly trained outsourced team, available 24/7, easily costs less.

• Training and Management
By hiring an outside team, you don’t have to invest time and effort into training, overseeing and retaining your own team.

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• Consistency
If you outsource chat to a good provider, your customers will receive consistent quality customer service, which translates into consistent quality results.

If you do decide to build and train your own team to chat, don’t settle for mediocre software. Ask chat vendors about:

• Software features and their impact on customers
• CRM integration, reporting and analytics
• Compatibility with mobile devices
• Training and resources
• Platform reliability

2. Learn About the Vendor

In the car business, we like to think the only thing that matters is the results. And, while your bottom line is the bottom line, ignoring the foundations of a business relationship can cost you a lot of time and money. By getting to know the provider, you ensure that your goals align and your expectations are met. Be sure to get answers to the following questions:

• How long have they been in business?
The longer they’ve been in business, the better. In a cutthroat industry like ours, longevity matters.

• Are they automotive-specific?
Your vendor needs to understand the nature of your business. If a provider is part of a co-op program, that is usually a good sign.

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• What’s next for the company?
The industry is changing. Make sure you partner with a vendor who is innovating and evolving along with it.

And always ask who’s on the other side of the monitor when your customers ask questions:

• Where is the chat team located?
• What kind of training do the chat reps receive?
• Will the chat team be available to assist my customers 24/7?
• How are they able to represent my business, specifically?

3. Cast a Wider Net

One of the most impressive advancements in live chat is that you’re no longer limited to engaging customers solely on your dealership’s Website. Chat’s reach has significantly expanded, and dealers now have the ability to cast a wider net.

Thanks to open APIs and ground-breaking integrations with some of today’s most-used platforms, you can use a single live chat solution to capture more business across digital channels, such as:

• Facebook Messenger
• Search engine results
• Digital ads
• SMS texting
• Third-party Websites

Each of these digital avenues presents a unique opportunity to engage automotive customers throughout different stages in the buying journey. Smart dealers can seize these growing opportunities, streamline their solutions and get more sales, all at the same time.

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4. Expand Chat Across Departments

Your chat service should support the holistic needs of your business by helping all of your departments. Also, think of where the industry is today. We’re abuzz with topics like recalls, digital retailing and the importance of customer retention as car sales decline. Here are just a few examples of how live chat can impact other areas of your business:

• Service and Parts
Ask your chat provider if they support fixed operations. They should be helping sell more parts and integrating with your service scheduler to set appointments.

• Customer Service
Most times, upset customers just want to be heard. Chat allows you to protect your CSI and encourage customers to give you a second chance.

• Finance
When the chat team can help shoppers through online financing, you get qualified candidates at the dealership, and your customers get a quicker, better in-store experience.

5. Remember: Conversations are Key

It’s easy to get carried away and become entranced by new technology, such as video chat. But bear in mind that the technology was made to support conversations, not the other way around. Ten out of 10 times, the conversation itself will make or break a sale.

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Ask for chat transcripts and review them or chat in as a customer and pay attention to tone, efficiency, knowledge of vehicles and the dealership, and how they guide shoppers to take the next step. And always ask your chat provider what their team’s benchmarks are in:

• Chat-to-Lead Conversion
If you’re looking for the best chat provider, this is one of the first differentiators. On average, 70 to 80 percent of chats should convert into a lead.

• Leads with Phone Numbers
Lead follow-up is only as good as its source, and phone is the Holy Grail. Your provider should be sending most leads with phone numbers.

• Sales and Service Appointments
Leads are great. Appointments are better. If a provider doesn’t set appointments at 20 percent or more, you’re wasting your time.

Last but not least, once you have chat, don’t just set it and forget it. Remember, digital communication bridges the gap between your online customers and your dealership. Treat online shoppers with as much care as you would those standing in front of you. And keep your vendor accountable for their performance — their success is your success. The rest is up to you.

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Lisandra Ramos

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