Automotive Digital Marketing

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Website Chat Should Shoot for Quality First, Quantity Second

There's a disturbing trend I'm seeing in the automotive industry when I visit websites. Perhaps it's been like this for a while and I simply took my eye off the chat ball. When I see chat windows that instantly prompt for the customer's contact information, it makes me cry a little inside.

This isn't what chat is supposed to be about. I'd love to have that debate with anyone. Chat is an alternative means of instant information. In other words, it's more akin to phone calls than to anything else. If you believe in having a barrier of entry for your customers to chat, then you should have your receptionist answer the phone with, "Thank you for calling XYZ Motors. Can I have your name, phone number, and email address, please? No? Okay, thank you for calling."


I totally understand how this came about. Chat companies were pressured to generate leads and that became the only goal. If you, as a car dealer, believe this, then I would contend that you've either been misled or you've lost touch with what chat should really do. There are two parts: lead generation AND customer service. Some people call the dealership to find out when the parts department closes. You don't need their contact information in order to tell them a time over the phone just as you should not require their contact information to give them the time over chat.

Whether you believe it or not, here's a fact that common sense should tell you: you're making some of your website visitors unhappy by creating a barrier to inquiry. Some people (more than we all want to admit) will never give their contact information before coming in. Unless your leads have a 100% appointment ratio, a 100% show ratio, and your lead volume is at 90% of your total traffic to the dealership itself, this fact should be clear. Despite what the up-log says, your customers are not driving by randomly. They went online. They've probably been to your website.

With that understanding, why would a dealership want to put a bad taste in their customers' mouths before they even decide to come by the dealership?

Serve your customers the information they want online without prejudice. Don't force them to fill out a lead form first. A skilled operator should be trained to work with people during chat, determine if they're a valid prospect, and gather the information the dealership wants DURING the chat process, not before. Will volume decrease? Maybe. Maybe not. I am no expert but I would imagine that the people who come into chat that wouldn't have entered because of the lead information wall will be more likely to leave their information as their questions are being answered.

You don't just want leads. You want good leads. You want great leads. Chat should be the best of both worlds, combining the dialogue potential of the phone with the information gathering of a lead form. If you make them fill out the form ahead of time, you're pushing away many who want to have a dialogue first. This is a big mistake.

Some would say, "If they're serious, they'll fill out the form, first." BS. There are plenty of serious buyers who want information but who have had bad experiences when they fill out lead forms. There's a reason lead form submissions are on the decline. People have been burnt in the past. Get them into a conversation first, then pursue the lead when appropriate. That's the right way to handle it.

To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, "Mr. Chat Provider - tear down this wall."

Views: 624

Tags: chat, customers, leads


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Comment by Alexander Lau on March 21, 2014 at 8:47am

It's a matter of time, before groups like, allow for a chat embed. That can already pretty much be done in a hacked manner. Similar JS embed process. Seamless integration is what dealers should be going after with this stuff, not alien integration.

Comment by Alexander Lau on March 21, 2014 at 8:38am

Thanks, I think the concept behind having a live representative is a good one, however, I find most chat mechanisms to be intrusive. Not all of them, but some. I think it's smart to build the mechanism into the user interface, as to not disrupt the UX design.

I HATE it when a great looking and user tested website incorporate a clunky JS-based chat pop-up or roll-over effect unit. That's really my point, in general. Chat application groups cannot support this and until they do, you will find foreign objects (that don't necessarily) align with the original scope of the site floating where they shouldn't be, at least that has been my experience over the last 20 years.

I'm not pointing fingers, I'm just stating my opinion and I'm entitled to it.

Comment by Aaron Hassen on March 21, 2014 at 8:35am

Thank you.

Comment by Alexander Lau on March 21, 2014 at 8:29am

If they are bogging down a site and destroying the user experience and load times, abso-freaking-lutely. I'm not stating it's a bad concept to try and convert. However, there are apps that I see being much less intrusive than others. I've deleted that comment BTW. You're right, no need to attack another vendor. :-)

Comment by Aaron Hassen on March 21, 2014 at 8:23am

Dealers use photos and videos and buyers respond to them. Would you suggest taking photos and videos off of websites as well since there is a potential load time involved? I am guessing you wouldn't because those have also proven to increase conversions. Your load time argument is valid, but there are right ways and wrong ways to address load time issues.  Many things on a page can cause higher load times. Chat code is one or two lines of java script, which is like focusing on one a hair out of place when you are going bald. I would sooner deal with updating poorly written templates, excess tracking code, unnecessary widgets and add-ons, unecessary toolbars and the like before I would (in essence) make the decision to remove the ability to contact me from the website.


Comment by Alexander Lau on March 21, 2014 at 8:11am

Have seen load times increase, which cause the user experience to be ruined and Googlebot penalizes sites with slow load times. Definitely, part of their algorithm.

I'm not one for awards, that is subjective. It's pay to play in that world.

Comment by Aaron Hassen on March 21, 2014 at 8:06am

I'm not sure where you are coming from here, but someone from our team would be happy to personally address any issues you might be having with Contact At Once!. 

Our live chat and mobile text platform currently hosts 13,000 dealers (including sites), OEM websites and all the major third-party search sites (,,, etc). We're the leader in the automotive industry with the largest marketshare ( by far and the highest rated platform 4 years in a row ( We know a thing or two about helping dealers implement chat and text for the highest return possible.

When deciding what is "best" for a dealer website and their customers, that is determined by the website owner/webmaster themselves who may take into consideration our recommendations. These are based on years of experience and actual conversion data representing 10s of millions of chats. All I would say is that having personally seen some of the third-party pilot testing results, you'd be surprised as to which type of implementation actually produces the best results. It's the revelation of real testing over subjectivity. A/B testing often has this effect, and its why the best do it (and we support it).

Polk and Dataium studied Contact At Once! live chat. The results included:

  • 1 in 3 shoppers who initiated a Contact At Once! live chat, purchased a vehicle within 60 days.
  • Online shoppers were nearly 4x more likely to submit a lead after using Contact At Once!

These studies are available to download here:

Look, I understand that it's just vendors talking here and that I'm never going to win over someone who may already be friends with another chat venfor.  I just feel like there is no need to get negative on one vendor or another under the guise of objectivity.


Comment by Alexander Lau on March 20, 2014 at 8:10am

@Louie Baur. They creep most people out and they bust up / break the user experience. At least most of the automotive-based apps do, but it's pointless, you can get great ones that are non-automotive. We definitely use a bad one, so I'll not sit here and be a hypocrite about it. Not a fan just in general. No big deal, there are no dealers reading these blogs. :-)

Comment by Stephen Jackson on March 20, 2014 at 8:06am

Hey J.D.,

Just wanted to let you know that this post got a lot of folks talking down here in our Orlando offices. It was amazing and refreshing to hear you articulate so clearly some of the same philosophies that we discuss every day. I think we are in complete agreement about what chat should be. You can't sacrifice user experience just to mine data - it won't do anyone any good.

We have discovered that chat can be a gamble. If you're actually engaging people about the cars they want to buy, chat is an amazing tool that can deliver the very best kinds of leads (ready-to-buy shoppers) on a silver plate. But if you're frustrating web visitors, chances are you won't even know it

I'll save the rest for a more complete response. Thanks so much for writing this!

Comment by Aaron Hassen on March 18, 2014 at 6:26am

Hi JD,

Great post. Right up front, I represent the largest (by marketshare) chat vendor in the automotive industry, Contact At Once!. We have been saying for years that chat and text are best viewed as typed out phone calls.  For years dealers have tried to treat chat conversations like lead forms: collect information, send through the CRM and get back with them later.  So, they basically take a live person and turn it into a follow-up situation (4-6 calls to get back in touch with them). But, chat is an instant conversation just like a phone call. It's a live person with a question, and an opportunity for the dealership to influence and build rapport. Google and mobile apps have taught us all to expect instant answers. Chat is an instant medium.  I hope dealers will take to heart what you've said here.  I didn't include a bunch of stats here, but if you want the data behind these truths, we offer it on our blog:


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