Steven Golding
Steven Golding
Bay Family of Fine Cars
Internet Director

Chat is no different than a phone up, so treat the shopper as such. The biggest thing is to make sure you get the customer’s phone number and email address early in the chat — a “just in case” statement usually works. I use that when I get customers on the phone with the initial call: “Just in case we get disconnected, may I have your name and a good callback number?”

Andre Johnson
Andre Johnson
Rothrock Chevrolet Lotus
General Manager

Actually greet customers as if they were physically in front of you. For example: “Welcome to Rothrock Chevrolet. My name is Andre. Your name is?” It works for me every time. It loosens the customer up to communicate with you. The initial greeting is critical, and it will determine your success rate with instant chat.

As you work to convert internet clicks to appointments and sales, online chat provides you with a powerful tool to reach in-market shoppers. Even with big-ticket items such as a car, many consumers prefer to chat with a salesperson rather than send an email or make a phone call – just as they’re increasingly doing with friends and family. Not only does it allow car buyers to easily determine availability and get additional details, but chat also protects their identity. Shoppers often opt to remain anonymous until you’ve assured them they can safely share their name and contact information. Let’s look at what you’ll need to tackle and how you can get prospects into the store.

Look Who’s Chatting

Corporations across myriad industries (e.g., telecom giant AT&T and clothes maker Land’s End) have adopted chat to create that comfort level, generate leads and close sales. Chat can also keep a prospect on your site when questions arise. In your own business, consider how chat could help a customer trying to determine whether the Accord EX or the Accord LX you have for sale is a better fit. Would you rather shoppers click over to and hope they return to your site or click on your “Live Chat Available” link?

At Rothrock Chevrolet Lotus near Philadelphia, general manager Andre Johnson began using online chat with his listings in early December. “It was amazing,” he said, noting the store sold six cars in the first week.

“They’re now buyers,” Johnson said. If they’re going to chat, they want to know, ‘Do you have that car now?’ You have a greater chance of selling them the car – and not losing them – than when you’re emailing them information about the car when they already have that in front of them.”

Incorporating online chat functionality into your site and third-party listings is not difficult, but it presents unique requirements your sales process must address:

  • Staff accordingly. Once you’ve decided to offer chat, be sure that you can manage incoming requests. Individual salespeople typically can handle simultaneous sessions, but car buyers may not wait more than a few seconds to receive a response. To ensure customers aren’t left to wait or going to your competitor, consider assigning another salesperson to chip in during peak hours. You also might want to put the receptionist on standby, hire a part-timer or pitch in yourself to handle inquiries.
  • Be available. Whenever your chat system is active, an employee should be available to respond. Some systems automatically go inactive after specified intervals of inactivity, but you might want to take the precaution of logging out any time you step away from your desk. From a business perspective, you’re better served to trust the customer will return later for chat when it’s again available than risk losing a customer whose chat request is seemingly ignored. Similarly, tell customers if you need to leave your computer for information and how long they’ll need to wait.
  • Build rapport. When responding to shoppers, use a conversational tone and respond in your own words. Avoid canned phrases so that car buyers understand they’re not communicating with a computer. (Add your phone number and store address to “quick keys” to eliminate the risk of typos.) Some chat systems allow you to upload a picture of yourself, an option that personalizes the interaction and helps shoppers feel comfortable about sharing their name and phone number. Keep in mind that five or more responses from you may be needed to establish this comfort level. Also be careful about sharing with the customer how much of their search activity related to your listings is available to you through your chat application. Some people may be concerned and abort the conversation.
  • Give information, get information. Car buyers are contacting you for information about a vehicle you have in inventory. Answering their questions is critical to establishing a relationship that allows you to get the information you want. Look for an opportunity early in the conversation to obtain the customer’s name and phone number. Rather than directly asking shoppers to provide this information, let them know you want to ensure they get the details about the vehicle they’re considering should the chat session disconnect.
  • Set the appointment. Just as you would do if the customer called you on the phone or sent an email, don’t be shy about scheduling an in-store visit. Until customers see and drive the car, they don’t know whether it’s “the one,” and it’s easier to sell to a person standing on your lot versus an anonymous prospect typing on a computer keyboard.
  • Measure performance. Just as you track the results of your phone and email inquiries, you’ll want to monitor your online chat program. By reviewing session transcripts and measuring conversion rates, you can identify areas for improvement and gauge the impact chat has on the bottom line.

As you look to drive additional traffic to your store and generate incremental sales, chat provides a powerful tool. Not only does it allow you to communicate with in-market shoppers, but it often connects you with buyers who are lower in the purchase funnel. They have identified specific vehicles they believe meet their needs and are reaching out to dealers to confirm the cars’ availability and condition. Depending on how well you answer prospects’ questions and the credibility and rapport you build, many of them will agree to an appointment and quickly move toward a purchase.