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And the Best Chat Provider in the Automotive Industry is...

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:

  • Proper managed solutions: I'm not going to argue the point too much in this post, but I am very much against the majority of dealers trying to manage their own chat. I know there are some that have the time and training to do it well, but that's rare. Managed services are so important.
  • Proactive engagement: One of the biggest secrets that dealers are not told is that the primary reason that companies push against proactive chat prompting is that it's more expensive. Basically, they make more money when fewer chats come in. Companies that step up and encourage website visitors to engage in chat are doing it right.
  • "Always On" chat box: Chat is an alternative to phone. It's a safe way for website visitors to get instant information that they need in order to make decisions. When the chat box is replaced by a lead form, it defeats the whole purpose. Your customers that want to interact with you should be able to get the information they need regardless of time.
  • Customer service first, lead generation a close second: Again, since this is like phone, having the information that people need when they need it is so very important. Someone asking when they can drop their car off in the morning for service is just as important (maybe more important) than someone asking for the sale price of a vehicle. On the sales front, leads are still exceptionally important. I looked for aggressive without being pushy. Customer service first. Lead generation second.
  • Attentive staff at the provider itself: If there was one thing that stood out for nearly all of the chat providers, it was the staff itself. I had only one semi-unpleasant experience talking to a tiny chat provider and that really came down to not having the right person to answer my questions. This was, for the most part, a wash.

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:

  • Engage to Sell: Their fans are the most passionate. This says a lot about their customer service and the relationship they build with their clients.
  • ActivEngage: The company culture and the way they handle difficult situations is something that makes them stand out from the competitors.
  • Contact at Once: Integration. Integration. Integration. They're everywhere.

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.

Views: 1504

Tags: Automotive Chat, Chat

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Comment by Ralph Ebersole on June 18, 2014 at 12:04pm

While Ralph, JD and I disagree on this issue, we thank JD for his review in the DealerAuthority Blog... http://dealerauthority.com/dealer-authority-reviews-activengage-fir...

Comment by Tom Hawkins on June 14, 2014 at 8:18pm
Ralph...you need more "passion" in your posts! :)

Thanks for pouring your heart out..
Comment by Ralph Paglia on June 14, 2014 at 5:55pm
Craig,

I expressed my opinion in a very truthful and transparent manner... But, I had very little influence on JD Rucker! He called me and we talked about it. JD would have preferred if he and I had each picked a different supplier, so we could have another debate topic. That said, the reasons why I prefer and recommend CarChat24 over other Chat providers are very different than JD'd typically nit picking features and benefits comparison...

My reasons are quite simple... Of all the advertiser that have ever advertised on ADM, Shereef at CarChat24 is the ONLY SUPPLIER WHO HAS HONORED THEIR AGREEMENTS AND PAID THEIR FEES ON TIME... Yeah... The ONLY supplier that pays what they owe for sponsoring ADM, regardless of whether or not I ask for payment, or send an invoice.

When I was "Interventioned" by my partners last summer, and was completely isolated for two months, hospitalized/sequestered/quarantined/detained, whatever anyone wants to call it, the only advertiser who took the initiative to help the ADM community with content management, money and resources, was the CarChat24 team...

I have spent many hours on the phone with CarChat24 leaders, and worked with them in person at multiple conferences and while in dealerships. Regardless of the many other really good dealer staffed chat service providers out there, and there are several, I will personally use Shereef, Tom and the CarChat24 team at every opportunity because of two basic principles that they live by:
1. Integrity: CarChat24 instructs all their people to simply apply the rule of "do the right thing" when dealing with dealers and managers.
2. Honor: the CarChat24 team is comprised of mostly US Marines (retired) and I have learned that someone forgot to tell them that they do not have to live by the code of conduct they had when they were active Marines... Time after time I have seen the CarChat24 team go above and beyond the scope of their services to make sure a dealer is more successful because they chose CarChat24 over their competent and formidable competition.
3. Leadership: Shereef has repeatedly introduced features, special low cost offers, incentives and new technology that CarChat24 writes the code for... Which is then copied, emulated or in some way mimicked by other Chat providers... I have repeatedly told Shereef that everyone at CarChat24 should be proud when a competitor introduces similar software features or services offered a couple months after CarChat24 does, because just like when you and I worked at HAC Group, if something is good, and helps dealers sell more cars, the imitators flatter the original team that created it when they try to copy it...

Like I said, JD Rucker has his own very different reasons, which it think are "Who gives a damn?" But the very fact that two people who disagree on so many digital marketing and social media strategies and tactics, but who have both loudly and publicly announced their recommendations for CarChat24, should at least make this outstanding supplier worth considering and checking before a decision is made.

BTW... I have turned away far more advertisers and sponsors than those who have been accepted for both ADM and dealerELITE... If Chris Saraceno and I do not personally believe in a supplier's products and services... We do not accept their insertion orders or requests to sponsor either or both networks.

All the owners of AMP have substantial incomes and assets that have no ties to the business of managing ADM and dealerELITE. The content and promotional decisions we make are less influenced by revenue from the supplier than many other factors we look at... Such as who owns the company, how good the product is, how do they treat dealers, pricing and will they stand behind their product, even if it means refunding a dealer's money?

In my opinion, superior technology loses it's advantage if the purveyors of that technology lack the integrity, commitment to dealers and steadfast dedication to a sense of honor for themselves and their company.

I've worked with a lot of suppliers as both a customer and a supplier... I've never seen owners more committed to their dealer clients and higher ethical standards than the guys that own CarChat24... Period, that is how I truly feel and what I believe in my heart of hearts. I would jump into a bar room brawl to back up the CarChat24 team... And I won't do that for hardly anyone else... Except you and Jimmy J., of course!
Comment by Craig Polito on June 13, 2014 at 2:42pm

Its easy to vote for somebody who pays to advertise on you website...... get a grip JD and Ralph......

Comment by Jeffery Sterns on May 14, 2014 at 4:27pm

Comment by Tony Rehn on Saturday

Who is Ford Directs provider
Tony, the source in the Evergreen Ford chat (Ford Direct) appears to be "whos on" equipment.
Comment by andy flint on May 12, 2014 at 1:07pm

As per usual, JD!

Comment by Cherie Price on May 12, 2014 at 11:27am

Andy.....I'm going to assume they are good.....if for no other reason than to keep a sense of humor when they are unmercifully teased about their name......GUBAGOO??!!  I'll bet they had an easy time when  applying for a dba as NO one else would have that name already.......Just messin' with you and GUBAGOO!! Have a good one and expect anything and everything from me on Mondays ;)

Comment by andy flint on May 12, 2014 at 9:40am

Thanks JD. I'm not recommending them, just curious to see if they were on your list of companies that you researched.

Comment by J.D. Rucker on May 11, 2014 at 6:40pm

Andy, I looked at over a dozen providers big and small. Since I only said nice things about four of the providers, it wouldn't be good for me to mention any of the other providers that we checked since their omission from this article would be sort of an insult. It wasn't as comprehensive as I would have liked - there are definitely ones that I missed - but we did check more than the ones mentioned in the article.

Comment by andy flint on May 10, 2014 at 10:19am

Hi JD,

I'm curious, did you check out Gubagoo?

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