This buyer's guide overview is designed to offer insight and advice for those who may not be familiar with this category as well as help guide dealers in their decision making process. It is not designed to endorse or influence readers but simply to educate.
What is Chat?
Chat services are an additional form of communication in which a dealership's website visitor can use to communicate instantaneously with the dealership. There are a wide-range of chat services ranging in complexity. Dealerships offering the ability for a customer on their website to chat with them can engage more customers as some may not want to fill out a form or be in a position to call the dealership but want to ask questions about anything from vehicle availability, pricing or even schedule service appointments.
Types of Available Chat Services
Self-managed chat services are those in which a dealership's staff is in direct communication with the customer when a chat is initiated. This type of chat is typically the least expensive but also requires that a dealership have someone available to respond to the customer should they initiate a chat.
Managed chat services are those in which a chat provider's agents monitor, answer and respond to customer initiated chats on a dealership's website. Those chats transcripts are then typically sent to the dealership's CRM for an Internet manager of BDC representative to follow-up with. A managed chat provider's goal when interacting with a customer is typically to gather contact information from the customer and chat agents are not typically able to directly answer customer questions on availability and pricing without involving someone at the dealership.
This structure utilized both self-managed chat and managed chat depending on the situation. For example, the dealership could elect to have sales reps or BDC agents in the store handle chats during business hours use a managed chat service afterhours or at peak times of the day so customers don't have to wait to chat with someone. Some managed services also allow for active chats to be “taken-over” mid-conversation by dealership representatives if the customer is progressing quickly.
Considerations in Choosing a Chat Solution
The organization, operational and staffing capabilities of a dealership will be an integral part of choosing which type (self or managed) chat service a dealership chooses. Dealers should bear in mind that offering a chat service at all requires a commitment on the part of the dealership to be responsive to customers. A customer initiating a chat which isn't responded to, is equal to a customer calling the dealership and nobody answering the phone. A dealer should know whether they have the staff availability to cover the chat functionality during and after business hours. Statistics show that customers will only wait a few seconds for a response on a chat before abandoning it altogether. Dealers with BDCs in operation could make chat monitoring and response part of their responsibilities. Dealerships who plan to rely on their salespeople to respond may want to consider time periods when every salesperson is with a customer and who will monitor chats within those periods of time. If a dealer determines that it does not have the ability to not only monitor but to respond to these customer-initiated engagements quickly, a managed chat service may be the right option for them.
There are various pricing models available depending on which type of chat services a dealer selects that should be considered:
A self-managed solution can be either an automotive-specific or generic one. Either will provide the basics needed to provide communication functionality via chat for a dealer's customers. Pricing can range from as little as $50 per month upwards. Dealers considering softwareonly providers should inquire as to how the chats are memorialized as well as whether the transcripts of those chats will be sent and recorded in the dealership's CRM or simply sent via e-mail.
Some managed chat providers offer pricing structures on a per-chat basis. Essentially, this means that a dealer may pay a lower monthly rate and only be charged for customer-initiated chat sessions. For dealers with a high-volume of unique visitors on their websites or in areas with a dense technology educated population, this may not be the pricing structure to choose as the chances are a higher percentage of visitors will engage the dealer via the chat option. On the other hand, dealers in rural areas with either small populations or those less likely to be technologyoriented, this might be a cost-effective way to provide chat communication.
This pricing model entails a moderate flat fee and, in addition, additional charges incurred by the dealer based on successful customer chat conversions. Dealers considering performance based chat should inquire as to what precisely is a conversion in the contract – sales lead, phone call, etc. With the industry standard goal for chat engagements being 1-2 percent, a dealer should weigh their monthly website volume into this consideration. This model allows customers to communicate with the dealer on matters aside from sales (like service appointment questions or general hours of operations) without incurring an additional fee.
Most flat rate fully managed chat services will include unlimited chat engagements by customers. There will be no consideration on whether the chat is a sales, service or general question by the customer. Dealers who receive a moderate to high volume of web visitors may want to consider a flat rate for two reasons. First, there is a fixed cost involved and second, they are providing an additional means for consumers to communicate with them. Most fully managed chat providers will operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week in all pricing models except for software only so a dealer can capture customers who are wishing to communicate with the outside of business hours.
Quality of Service
In this section, we're focusing specifically on fully managed chat services. The people employed by the chat providers are a direct representation of the dealership. The customers are not necessarily aware that the people responding are not employees of the dealership so the quality of their response is something a dealer should consider.
Training and knowledge of the car industry will vary from vendor to vendor and even from different times of the day. Non-automotive vendors may have people trained to specifically get customer information but may not be versed in how to respond to car sales or service related inquiries. In addition, automotive chat providers who do have trained their chat employees in the automotive field could have more qualified and better quality chat agents on duty during regular business hours and less qualified during late hours. If a dealership's chat is to be available to customers 24 hours per day and 7 days per week, a dealer may want to inquire what the chat agent's knowledge in the automotive field is and whether that standard applies at all hours.
While there's nothing inherently wrong in outsourcing chat agents, a dealer may want to consider issues like the communication and knowledge abilities of those outsourced agents. Dealers may want to ask a potential chat vendor whether their agents are outsourced and ask for dealer client references. Dealers can then mystery shop those clients at off-hours to see for themselves the quality of responses and knowledge the chat provider's agents represent.
For the most part, any chat provider catering to the automotive industry will, at the very least, be able to send the chat transcript to a dealer's CRM via XML/ADF format. How the contact information included in the chat populates within the CRM will be dependent on how it is sent and how the CRM provider interprets the chat. Dealers choosing this option should inquire with both the chat provider and their CRM provider on how the chat transcripts will look when received within the CRM for ease of follow-up.
This option mainly applies to dealers considering a self-managed or hybrid solutions. When a customer initiates a chat and has questions about a specific vehicle and/or questions that cannot be immediately answered from a computer, it can seem like a long time to the customer for the salesperson or BDC agent to collect that information. There are mobile solutions which exist which allow a salesperson to continue a chat initiated on desktop or by the company's representative to their mobile phones and continue the chat as they collect the information including uploading pictures. This continues the conversation and decreases the time between responses helping to avoid the customer dropping the chat.
A natural extension of chat is SMS or text messaging. Some chat providers also offer the ability for dealership personnel to engage with potential customer via text messages including both pictures and video.
Chat communication is a very attractive method of communication for consumers with many millienials comfortable with this mean of communication. It's instantaneous, provides immediate answers and shows that the dealership is interested in listening. Choosing a chat provider should be viewed just as important as choosing a receptionist as, in many cases, chat may be the first time a customer contacts a dealership thus making it their first impression of the operations and customer service they should expect to receive doing business with it.
The Chat vendor ratings on page 8 will share various chat service providers provided by verified dealers. The ratings should give a dealer confidence in choosing a chat service solution and provider that best fits their needs and budget.