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Website Chat Should Shoot for Quality First, Quantity Second

By JD Rucker on Mar 10, 2014


There's a disturbing trend I'm seeing in the automotive industry when I visit websites. Perhaps it's been like this for a while and I simply took my eye off the chat ball. When I see chat windows that instantly prompt for the customer's contact information, it makes me cry a little inside.

This isn't what chat is supposed to be about. I'd love to have that debate with anyone. Chat is an alternative means of instant information. In other words, it's more akin to phone calls than to anything else. If you believe in having a barrier of entry for your customers to chat, then you should have your receptionist answer the phone with, "Thank you for calling XYZ Motors. Can I have your name, phone number, and email address, please? No? Okay, thank you for calling."


I totally understand how this came about. Chat companies were pressured to generate leads and that became the only goal. If you, as a car dealer, believe this, then I would contend that you've either been misled or you've lost touch with what chat should really do. There are two parts: lead generation AND customer service. Some people call the dealership to find out when the parts department closes. You don't need their contact information in order to tell them a time over the phone just as you should not require their contact information to give them the time over chat.

Whether you believe it or not, here's a fact that common sense should tell you: you're making some of your website visitors unhappy by creating a barrier to inquiry. Some people (more than we all want to admit) will never give their contact information before coming in. Unless your leads have a 100% appointment ratio, a 100% show ratio, and your lead volume is at 90% of your total traffic to the dealership itself, this fact should be clear. Despite what the up-log says, your customers are not driving by randomly. They went online. They've probably been to your website.

With that understanding, why would a dealership want to put a bad taste in their customers' mouths before they even decide to come by the dealership?

Serve your customers the information they want online without prejudice. Don't force them to fill out a lead form first. A skilled operator should be trained to work with people during chat, determine if they're a valid prospect, and gather the information the dealership wants DURING the chat process, not before. Will volume decrease? Maybe. Maybe not. I am no expert but I would imagine that the people who come into chat that wouldn't have entered because of the lead information wall will be more likely to leave their information as their questions are being answered.

You don't just want leads. You want good leads. You want great leads. Chat should be the best of both worlds, combining the dialogue potential of the phone with the information gathering of a lead form. If you make them fill out the form ahead of time, you're pushing away many who want to have a dialogue first. This is a big mistake.

Some would say, "If they're serious, they'll fill out the form, first." BS. There are plenty of serious buyers who want information but who have had bad experiences when they fill out lead forms. There's a reason lead form submissions are on the decline. People have been burnt in the past. Get them into a conversation first, then pursue the lead when appropriate. That's the right way to handle it.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, "Mr. Chat Provider - tear down this wall."


People chat for multiple reasons; they want to maintain anonymity or they are in a position where they can't talk on the phone, or they just want quick answers.

When chatting, think of it as pacing & leading. Give the customer the answers to the questions they ask. Or offer them your contact information first - then it makes it easier to ask for theirs.

In my experience with chat, if it's a "good" chat lead, they'll give you their contact information at their own pace. All customers move at different paces.

With all this being said, I don't see ANY issue at all in asking for their first name right off the bat - after all, it's rude to not introduce yourself at the beginning of a conversation, right? I have many custom responses set up in my chat to make getting contact information easier. Maybe you & I can do a "case study" on it sometime, JD? :-)

Mar 11, 2014

A lot of the problem with chat is the dealers views on what chat should do. I speak on this quite a bit. The main hiccup is you have dealers that don't look at the customer as anything other than a piece of data or a lead. Many dealers just want the info of the consumer and don't want to really answer the consumer's question because they feel if they answer all these questions online it gives the car buyer no reason to come into the dealership. Great topic JD

Mar 11, 2014

I agree with this and in our dealerships we converted chats to car sales around 80% of the time BECAUSE WE DID EXACTLY THIS. We were there to help, to assist, to be friendly and inviting. We required a first name because we used their name to be courteous and friendly. After answering questions and inviting them in, prospective customers would come to the stores and ask for their chat representative by name (chats were taken from our BDC department). Prior to that method, there was a "chat answering company" that my dealer unfortunately PAID to have a call center answer chats and they required a laundry list of personal information - that failed miserably. GREAT POST! Wholeheartedly agree.

Mar 11, 2014

Time to look at them and pick one. The more I dig into this mess the more I realize that there's good and bad about all of the chat providers. Anyone who has a recommendation or who can demo me on their products, please ping me directly or comment here. Thanks!

Mar 13, 2014

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