Every car shopper is different, and while phone- and floor-ups may be ideal from the dealership’s perspective, being available to customers who aren’t ready for face-to-face meetings is key to building relationships and bringing more shoppers into your store. Having online chat is a great way to open the door.

“Treat chat customers like they are on the showroom floor,” says Cars.com Dealer Trainer Jack Simmons.  “Answer their questions just as you would if they were with you in person. The more transparent you are in providing the information a customer is looking for, the more trust you generate and the more likely you are to achieve your goals by the end of the chat session – including getting their contact information and setting an appointment.”

Jack shares the following best practices for driving more business to your store using chat:

  1. Always have a member of your staff available to respond quickly. Customers have chosen online chat because they are looking for an immediate response, so availability and timing are very important. According to Cars.com’s online chat partner, Contact at Once, about half of potential customers abandon their chat session with a dealer if they don’t receive a response within 15 seconds, yet the average dealer takes 28 seconds to respond, indicating that many dealers are leaving business on the table.
  2. Give them what they want.  Your goal is to draw a chat customer into your dealership.  Their goal, on the other hand, is acquiring the information they need in real time – and if they don’t receive it from your store, they’re likely to move on to the next.  Keep them talking by giving them the information they’re looking for, asking open-ended questions that equip you with more information about their needs and including links to photos and video.
  3. Always emphasize your dealership’s strengths.  Price isn’t everything.  Do you have unique amenities, like a family-friendly waiting area or extended hours?  The old adage of “people buy cars from people” hasn’t changed, so be sure to tell them why they should buy from your store.
  4. Train, train, train!  Create scripts or key points for your associates that are consistent with your phone, email and in-store messages.  Many chat providers also offer chat session transcripts, providing opportunities to point out room for improvement and recognize associates for employing good chat practices.
  5. Set a follow-up appointment.  Just before ending any conversation, ask the customer if they would like to set a follow-up appointment or phone call to keep the momentum going toward the sale.

Chat may not close the deal, but it establishes a relationship with a prospective customer, hopefully making it easier to earn that car shopper’s business in the end.  In fact, many chat providers make chat transcripts available for use in person with the customer, allowing you to continue the conversation and address anything that wasn’t clear online.

To get started with chat on Cars.com, contact your sales representative.