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When I initially went down the road of trying to find a couple of chat providers that I would want to recommend to our clients, I did so from a position of disgust. It has been a while since I have spent the time exploring chat providers and back then in my website vendor days I was really looking for integration rather than pure quality. The things I saw out there were awful when I started looking at it a couple of month ago and I felt compelled to find something stronger to recommend.
Today, I'm looking at it from the perspective of, "What services would I use if I owned a dealership today?"
Here are some of the things I believe are absolute "must haves" for dealership chat:
I took presentations from several vendors large and small. This was important, but really only to get an idea of what they considered to be their priorities. Those who were not able to connect with me for a presentation were not hurt by this fact as the pitch held very little weight in the matter. In fact, the one I ended up selecting had an average presentation - a couple of the others were much more compelling.
The most important criteria in making my decision was through an exhaustive examination of interactions I had through live chat on dealers' websites. I kept it very straight-forward - very few curveballs. While I would throw out the occasional odd question to test their automotive knowledge and helpfulness, the majority were "standard" questions that would represent the bulk of what really happens on a regular basis. How they handled the average chat was more important to me than how they handled offbeat questions.
The next most important criteria was in talking to some dealers for each client. It was hard with some of the smaller providers and I could only track down one or two customers for those, but I talked to at least four or five for most of them over the last couple of months. This was initially going to be the top criteria, but I learned something important in my travels. Most dealers are not focused on tracking the success level of their chat service. They would say, "I love those guys", but it was rare to get a concrete answer that was meaningful when asked why. Any managed chat provider will increase leads, but of the dozens of dealers I spoke to, only one had hard data to back up their choice.
I am not going to go into the weaknesses I found in any of the providers and they all had them. I will, however, point to some of the positives I found in the noteworthy providers:
At the end of the day, I'm endorsing CarChat24. They met all of my criteria and the way that they handled chats was superior to all others. Their "canned" responses were seamless to an average customer and they had an incredible mix of customer service and lead generation techniques.
The funny part is that I get the feeling they don't know what they have in their arsenal. In other words, judging by their website and the presentation I took from Jeff Stearns, they possess a superior product but haven't figured out how to position it properly. That's not a knock against Jeff - he's a very strong presenter and a knowledgeable car guy - but the sheer fact that they use the words "canned responses" in their presentation leads me to believe that the only reason that they aren't the biggest out there is because they're too transparent about the overall process.
It's very strong and I was able to see through it because of my experience, but I can also understand why a dealer would choose someone else. Nobody wants to believe that "canned responses" are better than manual creativity and conversation, but the numbers prove that scripted responses (a better way to put it, in my opinion) achieve better results.
At the end of the day, it's the science that hooked me. The fact that they track which operator faces, operator names, and chat responses work best was very compelling.
I am JD Rucker, and I approve of this message.