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From: Jared Hamilton
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Lindsey Auguste and Dennis Galbraith

Lindsey Auguste and Dennis Galbraith Investigative Reporters

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The Future of Contacts and the Potential of Video Chat

There are five ways shoppers can move from interacting exclusively with interactive touchpoints online to their first human contact with the store. We often roll these up into a statistic known as "contacts":

  1. Phone
  2. Email
  3. Chat or Text
  4. Walk In
  5. Video Chat

Of these, video chat is the newest and the least likely to be the first human touchpoint. Dealers and dealer groups successfully using video chat most frequently migrate to it from phone, email, or chat. A video chat is generally something that is arranged through another form of communication. However, that distinction is about to be blurred.

VisuallyLinked.com introduced a video chat product at NADA. In fact, it does little more than add a pre-created video to the chat feature. It is not what we think of when we use the term "video chat."  In some cases, the person taking the chat is working with more than one customer at a time, or involved in some other multitasking.  This can leave long pauses, especially toward the beginning of the call. The system selects a video relevant to the vehicle that the shopper is considering and allows the shopper to opt in to watching it while they wait for the next response.  Frankly, this is not much of a game changer, but the opportunity exists for more.

It is possible to use the addition of the video screen to the chat box as a way of converting the chat to a video chat, if both parties opt in. It is even possible for the shopper to see the facial expressions of the sales person without revealing their own. Communication works best when both parties can see the sincerity and reactions of the other. At a minimum, we should let the shopper see our sincerity for a better sales experience.

Going one huge step further is the ability to take the chat mobile. The salesperson will soon be able to move the video chat discussion to their tablet and take the discussion to the vehicle. Fantastic sales communication can go on when the seller is flipping back and forth between her own facial expressions and visual demonstrations of the vehicle, while engaged in an audio discussion. As an example: "I'm not sure how well the air conditioning works, but I'll run it for you. You can see me turning it on. Now watch the temperature in the car drop. Wow, that was 12 degrees in less than one minute."

The objective of phone, email, and text conversations is to get an appointment, but a video chat is an appointment. It is more like a walk-in than it is a phone, email, or text conversation. The ability to instantly introduce video into the text conversation and then shift to a live video chat is a game changer. It is the next best thing to being able to teleport the customer into the store. (No Captain Kirk, we don't have that yet and don't expect it.)

Soon, it will be common to switch from either an audio or a text conversation into a video chat. The concept for this has been around since 1878, just two years after the telephone was patented in the United States (originally called telephonoscope). It has taken longer than expected, but the infrastructure and cultural shifts are all in place now. This will change the way durable goods are sold. The majority of shoppers may still make their decision to buy at the store, but more agreements will be made outside the store, and those coming into the store will do so more ready to buy and with a deeper connection to the sales person they are meeting with.

This tiny addition of adding pre-produced video to the chat screen is a natural lead-in to the full video chat, a far richer form of communication. This changes the nature of the BDC and skill sets required for the job. It also changes the conversion metrics we use to track performance today. What are your thoughts about the future of contacts?

Bryan Armstrong
Sweet! I'm going to look into this. A video chat would be an "UP" in my opinion, and what a fantastic oportunity to expand your reach!
Chris Costner
This is very cool. It almost brings me back to the first time I watched "Back to the Future" for some reason but now it seems it would be expected. I think it is great for building value prior to the client arriving. I am curious to know others opinions on taking this to the negotiation phase. I am not sure how strong of a tool it would be for that. Thoughts?
Ralph Ebersole
activEngage has provided this feature for almost two years. It increases the number of chats who convert into appointments and leads. http://www.activengage.com/PR-03102009.shtml
Dennis Galbraith
Good question Chris. I'm sure it would be wrong to suggest that most shoppers would close the deal before seeing the vehicle in person, but it is also wrong to say that none will, or even to say that none would prefer to. The obvious conclusion is that a store should be able to meet the needs of every caller, if it is dedicated to being a top producer. To me, mobile injects the most interesting piece to this puzzle. I've said for the past 10 months that stores need to put tablet computers in the hands of their frontline sales people, to bring the transparent marketplace into the in-person conversation. Are we coming to the point where we also need mobile to bring the car into conversations being held electronically?
Chris Costner
You know Dennis, we very well could be. Transparency and convenience certainly win over most other aspects and that certainly could move the experience. It all just makes too much sense.

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