Kathy Kimmel
Kathy Kimmel
Director of training
Jim Flint
Jim Flint
John Eagle Family of Dealerships
Corporate director of interactive sales and marketing
Ed Parkinson
Ed Parkinson
Vice president

If you’re using online chat, you know the benefit of making real-time connections with in-market shoppers. Chatting with car buyers as they browse your listings creates a unique chance to answer questions, earn trust and set an appointment. “Chat is a great way to get more prospects,” says Kathy Kimmel, director of training for Cars.com. “But I’ve seen various levels of success, depending on the sales process that surrounds the chat.”

To drive greater consistency in and performance from these interactions, Kimmel focused on advanced chat techniques during the October DealerADvantage Live webinar. She was joined in the discussion by Jim Flint, corporate director of interactive sales and marketing and for John Eagle Family of Dealerships; and Ed Parkinson, vice president for ContactAtOnce, a chat services provider.

“Some dealerships are having great success with chat – they’re setting appointments and selling cars,” Kimmel said. “What we’ve found is the stores that are having a lot of success have defined steps to handle these customers – much like you have steps to a sale in your dealership or you have steps to an internet sale when you’re working a phone call or an email.”

To help you accelerate chat program results, the panelists focused on three key techniques:

1. Build Rapport by Putting Your Face to Your Name

Beyond answering questions, every chat session creates an opportunity to make a personal connection with the shopper. The quickest and most effective way to get the ball rolling, according to the panelists, is to include your picture in the chat window.

“Using a photo humanizes the shopping experience. It’s just the way we’re built as human beings,” Parkinson said. “The face is priceless, and I would recommend that everyone use a picture.”

Flint agreed, equating chat with Facebook and other popular social media sites. “That visual element is really important,” he said, noting his BDC agents frequently are asked, “‘Is this really you? Am I talking to this real, live person?’ For our people, we can say, ‘Yes, that’s me.’ With that as backdrop, (the agent can say,) ‘Hi, I’m Donna. Who am I chatting with today?’ It becomes a more natural progression, and you exchange the information equally.”

For Kimmel, there is another advantage to letting customers see what you look like. “It can help you not get skated,” she said. “(Customers) may or may not remember your name, but they’re going to remember that photo.”

2. Get the Shopper’s Phone Number by Simplifying the Shopping Process

While most chats should stay a chat, Parkinson said there are times when shoppers might prefer a phone call. The secret is to frame the request for their number with a sincere offer to provide additional information and make the conversation more convenient.

Appropriate scenarios, Parkinson said, include:

  • Discussing the trade-in. Offer to save the customer time and keystrokes with a simple, “‘Would it be easier for you if we got on a call?’ It’s a great question to ask, at the right time,” Parkinson said.
  • Opening your inventory. Speaking on the phone similarly eliminates tedious back-and-forth typing when you’re reviewing multiple listings. Rather than close the chat window once you’re on the phone, though, use the chat window to send links for the buyer to consider. This approach allows you to quickly eliminate vehicles that aren’t a good fit and focus on the perfect match.
  • A personal demonstration. Help shoppers take the next step toward a purchse by verifying the car’s availability and condition. “If you want, I’ll walk around that car for you right now,” Parkinson suggested. “I just need to grab my cellphone and get to the lot. Can you give me your number, and I’ll do a walk-around while I’m at the car?”

3. Set the Stage for a Follow-Up Conversation

As you conclude a chat session, remind shoppers to save or print a copy of the session transcript – especially if they don’t set an appointment. This record of the conversation provides them with your name and contact information and details about the vehicles you discussed. As these prospects move closer to a purchase decision, it reminds them of how to reach you and provides a solid point for continuing the conversation.

For many of the same reasons, the panelists said, you should save a copy of the transcript to your CRM system.

As you work to connect with internet shoppers, online chat allows you to answer their questions about the vehicle(s) they’re considering and introduce them to your dealership. This dialogue then becomes the basis for the next step in the sales process – leading them from your virtual showroom to keeping an appointment at your store.

“Chat creates a new channel for prospects, and often these are people that are very engaged and clearly in-market buyers,” Kimmel said. “It’s important at your stores that you develop a process for your chats, to make sure that you’re using these prospects to your best ability and that you’re working each and every one of them so you really are selling more cars.”

Additional Resources

Looking for additional tips you can implement in your store today to drive more traffic with your online advertising and desk more deals with your internet sales processes? Check out Cars.com’s DealerCenter. Here, you can read our DealerADvantage blog or listen to archived recordings of our DealerADvantage LIVE webinar series.