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Your online dealer chat program is an open doorway between you and your online visitors. But, it is like every other sales tool you may have; it’s not an end all be all of products. Just because you have a dealer chat program does not mean you will instantly start selling more cars. The fact is you won’t if you don’t make it work for you. It a fine line between being proactive with your online customers and being that “pushy car guy”. Here is a general idea on how to maximize your ROI.
First and foremost the dealers MUST make sure someone is always monitoring the chat program. You wouldn't let a customer walk on and off your lot without talking to them would you? But yet during normal business hours dealers will have no one logged onto the chat program. Each time your customer sees the offline image or does not see your chat icon, (because your program may be set not to show the icon if no one is monitoring your chat traffic) it is a missed opportunity to interact with them.
It is my opinion that most of the time the customers should initiate a chat with the dealer. Which means that the dealer should have their chat logo, unobtrusively of course, all over their website; on the homepage, contact page, even the main navigation bar is always good. How about the credit application? We all know customers can sometimes get frustrated with a hard to figure out credit app and simply leave the site. However, if there was an easily identifiable chat button in place they may be more inclined to use it. Most importantly, and many don't do this, have it on the vehicle detail page! Customers will use it there over any other place on the site because they are in the buying mindset. Whether they are finding what they want or not they are there to buy a car and want your help.
Initiating the chat with the customer from the dealer side is a bit trickier. This type of contact should be handled with finesse. When to do this is undecided but most chat programs will help with this. A good program will let you know what page the customer is currently on, how long they have been there, where they have been on your site, how long they have been on your site and how they came to you. This will not only give you an insight to your customer’s state of mind but also help you with your approach. For example, if you see they are clicking away through your inventory chances are they are not finding what they want but, if their pattern shows some time on a vehicle, maybe looking at a few more and going back again to a particular vehicle then chances are they are comparing everything else to that one that they are really starting to favor. So even if you never initiate a chat with the client you can at least observe the patterns of your online customer base and use that information to guide your marketing efforts accordingly. There is a lot you can take away from simply observing how your customers interact with your website.
If you do decide to initiate the chat with your online visitors don’t start off with "Hi I'm Steve that 2010 Tacoma you’re looking is a really nice truck". I've even seen "Hi I'm Steve, we have great specials going on right now for the 2010 Tacoma your checking out" both of these are a major DON’T! This approach will instantly freeze up the customer. It will make them feel awkward almost give them a sense of being stalked because now they know you have been watching them on your site and will more times than not quickly leave your site, probably never to return. Online is not like being on the lot, you can't just walk up and say, "yeah she's a beauty isn't she, gets 30 mpg city, mp3 plug in, handles perfectly" etc. You should always take a softer approach online.
Customers enjoy the anonymity that online buying offers them. Start slowly and take a lenient approach, "Hi I'm Steve may I be of some help today." If they start interacting, fantastic! Be the great salesperson you are and sell them what they are looking for. If they don't respond (and most won't, they will simply close the chat pop up but not leave your site,) don’t worry. Simply try again in about 10 minutes or so. Try something a little more like "Hi I'm Steve can I be of any help? We do have some great deals going on right now for the Venza, Tacoma, Sienna," etc. Give your visitor about 3-4 different cars with 1-2 of them being what they have been viewing. Do this even if you don’t technically have a great deal to offer them because you know that you’re going to give them an incredible deal to roll that car! This approach is more likely to take them off their guard and get that potential buyer to start thinking about how those specials can help them get that car. In the end it is all about making them feel comfortable not pressured.
All in all to maximize the dealer chat program you have to utilize it properly. Use it to learn about your customer, observe the traffic pattern on your site. It is just as important for gathering information as it is for selling your inventory. If you think of it as a customer driven tool and master the art of a customer-focused sale you will get more out of this one single program then you could have imagined.