At last week’s Digital Dealer Conference in Orlando,’s director of training, Kathy Kimmel, spoke to dealers about the importance of using tools such as online chat to better engage with car shoppers. The proliferation of chat tools on sites like and dealer websites gives online shoppers a tool to quickly and conveniently reach out to a dealership, and has given dealers a powerful way to connect with customers who may otherwise avoid contact in order to remain anonymous in the process.

“While online chat is certainly not a new concept, for many stores it is still an underused weapon in their customer communications arsenal,” said Kimmel.  “Consumers like to do business on their terms, so by opening the door to conversation when and how they want to communicate, dealers can better engage potential buyers, begin to build relationships and set out on the path to a sale.” 

According to Kimmel, there is good reason to implement chat in your store if you are not already doing it today.  “We’ve found that 69 percent of our visitors that engage in chat are planning to buy in the next 30 days, so these are really motivated shoppers,” said Kimmel. “They are initiating a dealer chat to get answers to immediate questions and to help move their decision-making process along. Your ability to provide a timely and high-quality response is just as critical as it is with online leads.” sees some key trends in consumer chat behavior and process tips from leading dealers that can help stores be more successful when implementing a chat tool and managing chat requests. Based on these insights, Kimmel recommends the following to ramp up for chat success:

  • Response Time Matters: For years, we have talked about the need to respond quickly to online leads. With chat, the need for speed is even more essential. Customers expect a response within seconds, and about half of those initiating a chat move on if their request is not answered within 15 seconds. So that valuable chat leads don’t slip through the cracks, some stores charge a BDC with managing this instant response. Others link chat functionality to a mobile phone so they don’t miss sales opportunities while away from their computers.  
  • Staff for Peak Hours:  While this may come as a surprise, people are not always working when they head into the office for the day. In fact, some even shop for a car on company time (Gasp!).  We see a large uptick in the number of conversations during business hours Monday through Friday as people use chat tools to avoid making phone calls in ear shot of their boss or sending emails that could be tracked on their corporate system.  Dealers should expect increased volume during this time period and staff for chat accordingly. This volume peaks between noon and 4 p.m.
  • Respect the Customers Choice of Communications Channels:  If a customer is sending a chat, it may be because they either don’t want to, or are not in a position to talk by phone or email at that point in time.  Instead of rushing them to your preferred communications platform, work to offer solutions in the online chat conversation and to identify customer needs. Once you establish a relationship, you can begin to work toward an appointment or follow-up phone conversation. Be sure to ask the buyer when it would be good for them to talk.
  • Show Yourself to Customers: An easy way to start to build the customer relationship in chat and to build trust is to include your picture in chat.  You should set up each person on your staff with an individual photo, so they can build rapport. This can also help shoppers identify sales staff if they later walk into the store.
  • Capture Incremental Sales in Off Hours: Sometimes shoppers like to use chat to engage in off hours, but it does not mean you need to staff your store 24/7. Some stores outsource this function to a service that can capture the customer and work them toward an appointment with dealership sales staff. For those willing to take on more, it can be a great time to capture additional sales leads. We had one dealer who made it part of his normal evening routine as he played online poker. It was a gamble that paid off as he was able to sell a few additional cars each month as a result.
  • Use Transcripts as a Coaching Opportunity: Chat is a great training tool. Providers like offer access to all of your chat transcripts, so you can see what is working well and where there is room for improvement. Unlike a recording of a ten minute recorded phone call where you must listen to all ten minutes to use it as an assessment and training tool, you can review a ten minute chat transcript in 60 seconds. It is a very tangible way to identify staff challenges and to provide your sales staff with coaching to improve results moving forward. You can also identify positive performance and use it as an opportunity to recognize your sales team.


“Dealers can find greater success using chat if they implement some of these simple steps,” said Kimmel. “Small tweaks can make a big difference.”

She also recommends that dealers not currently using chat get in the game. Many companies like offer programs at no charge and are easy for the dealership to implement. For more information on how to engage shoppers with chat or other technologies such as mobile or video, see Kathy Kimmel’s recent workshop presentation from Digital Dealer here.