Industry News & Trends

Is Your Dealership Chat Used or Abused?

Chat can be a puzzle

Do you really know what your dealership website chat is doing for you?

Those of us with chat on our dealer sites know that chat is an amazing lead generator, but, do you really know what your chat is doing for you? Likewize, do you really know what chat is doing for your shoppers?

It’s been a while since I took a good long walk in our chat records, while reviewing them, I see the chats fall into common classes.

  1. Credit Questions
  2. Trade-in Questions
  3. Search Help Needed
  4. Purchase Intent
  5. Miscellaneous

Credit and trade-in questions are driven by what the shopper possesses. Examples like: “I have poor credit, or, “I have a 2003 Kia that I owe $8900…” These are chat questions that you can easily answer via a template.

Ok, so what’s ‘Search Help’ and what’s ‘Purchase Intent’?

  • ‘Search Help Needed’ chats are questions from people that need help hunting.
  • ‘Purchase Intent’ chats are from people that want to pull the trigger!

REAL CHAT EXAMPLES of a ‘Search Helper Needed’

  • “Interested in an suv with good mpg
  • “we would like also to look into all 3rd row seating SUV’s under 20k mi
  • “is there any way to search just for 7 passenger vehicles what other models besides minivans and dodge journeys seat 7 traverse is too pricey”
  • “I am looking for not sure what kind of car but around 2008 for around $12,000 if possible. In that type of ball park. Thank you.”

REAL CHAT EXAMPLES of ‘Purchase Intent’

  • “…Stock# W16242 is a lincoln where is it located , is price negotiable?”
  • “I like Stock# k35101, I am interested but need to know are your prices negotiable?”
  • “I have a $4,750 trade-in, $2,000 down payment. It shows the price is $35,990. Is there room for negotiation?”
  • “…I am buying with cash and will be looking to negotiate the best price I can get and purchase something from somewhere very soon.”

‘Purchase Intent’ or ‘Search Helper Needed’ both need 5 star treatment AND both need different sales techniques.  ‘Purchase Intent’ questions are an opportunity to aggressively ask for an appointment, whereas ‘Search Helper Needed’ questions are a great window for the sales team to ‘wow’ the shoppers by really understanding their needs.  I am not saying the Credit and Tradein questions are inferior, all I am saying is each chat question falls into 5 unique categories and they all need to be handled differently.

Here’s a breakout of the last 200+ chats on my site:

Topic Count Percent

Search Helper Needed



Purchase Intent














The chat topics above break into smaller sub-topics. For example, is the Credit question about bad credit, or, just general credit questions?  The ‘search helper’ question has many sub categories, the  most common question revolves around a complex search query like “I need this and it needs to have that, but, it can’t cost more than…”  Here’s an example, this chat that came in minutes ago “…do you have any extended caB or quad cab trucks, 4wheel drive under $15000? I want payments under $350”

Here are the sub categories I found FYI:

Topic Sub-topic Count Percent
Credit bad credit 27 13%
Credit 13 6%
Credit App Status? 8 4%
Search search helper (complex query) 47 23%
search helper (by $ or payment) 32 15%
search helper (wants details on car) 9 4%
search helper,  car has warranty? 3 1%
Purchase Purch Intent, has car picked out, wants Appt 4 2%
Purch Intent (“where is this car located?”) 3 1%
Purch Intent (“car in stock?”) 13 6%
Purch assist (make an offer) 6 3%
Trade-in Tradein 19 9%
Misc After store visit, follow up chat 5 2%
Translation 3 1%
Carfax request 2 1%
Deliver out of State? 4 2%
Offer Military Discount? 1 0%
Young, 1st time buyers 5 2%
transfer car to other store 1 0%
prep for purch questions 3 1%
Total 208

Is your chat being used or abused? Who’s running your chat? You or a 3rd party service?

Chat falls into 2 distinct classes. Dealer Chats and 3rd party chats.  These are 2 very different management problems with very different needs.  Every organization is different.

Self Hosted Chat:
No doubt about it,  if your not trained and prepared, chat can leave a good sales rep tired and bloody.  Chat shoppers can eat up 45 minutes, suck you dry, and after all that, refuse to give you any contact info.  Ugh, someone shoot me!  If this happens to you (or your team),  then most likely this has created another problem, chats get ignored!

If you self-manage your chats, you need great templates and a trained staff to “work” that chat shopper.

3rd Party Chat:
There are many 3rd party chat companies to choose from, and many are regulars here.  One of the best threads in our forum is run by Shereef Moawad President & CEO of CarChat24. Shereef ran multiple case studies where he clearly demonstrated his team’s ability to sell cars. It’s a great read!

Chat Vendors, drop a comment here and put a flag in the sand! Dealers, tell us how your chat is doing these days!

In my organization, we started self-managing our chat and got OK results. I felt we were leaving cash on the table, we took the leap and employed ActivEngage to manage our chats. The lead counts and sales exploded! It was nice to read the chat records and watch the ActivEngage chat team consistently recognize a shopper with ‘purchase intent’ and each time they aggressively go for the appointment! For us, 3rd party chat service is our highest ROI vendor.

Lastly, to our web site vendors, when you build a site for your clients, you’re really building a site for their clients, I can’t think of a better tool to satisfying shopper needs than listening to phone calls and reading chats. You can watch me dig to find more gems in our DealerRefresh forums: The Used Car King Make Over Diary

--Self Employed for decades. Co-Founder 3 successful start-ups. Professional Stock Trader. Marketing Dir. at Dealerships in NY for a decade, Recently ...
Almost 50% of all Chats are from shoppers looking for a 'Search Helper'.  This is IMPORTANT on so many levels.

To our web site builders, its a hallmark of INFORMATION DEMAND. Shoppers WANT more query tools.

Almost 50% of all Chats are from shoppers looking for a 'Search Helper'.  This is IMPORTANT on so many levels.

To our dealers that are using self hosted chat. 

Your web visitor is getting frustrated trying to find "that
special car" (i.e. low mile, 7 passngr SUV with DVD and fold flat
seats).  WEB SHOPPING IS A TASK and Chat is a shopping tool.

Car shopping is a 19hour, multi-week shopping journey, help them shop, give them the easiest
shopping experience, I can promise you, they'll not find it any where else. This is the best incentive to come back
to your site.   Impatient sales reps (aka lot lizzards) should NOT be

Next, if your team is un-trained,  chat is a time sucker. 
Your reps will avoid chat because it's low ROI. Low ROI creates un-staffed chat & that is
costing you sales. Chat done right, should be one of your top3 lead

This is a fantastic doorway into the shoppers world. Finding
a low mile, 7 passngr SUV with DVD and fold flat seats is HARD TO FIND
and clearly this a family that plans on hauling stuff.  Avoid template
communications with this shopper. If someone hits you with "I'm looking
for a low mile, 7 passngr SUV with DVD and fold flat seats", always
reply with more questions. Keep layering on the questions to build a
great picture of their needs and deliver your answer by email.  If
you're not getting emails in 90% of these chats and phone numbers in 70% of your chats, then YOU are doing
something wrong (my 3rd party chat vendor, Activengage, gets emails in 99% of all chats).

Joe - Once again you put together a dynamite post that has some real data and first hand experiences from a REAL LIFE CAR DEALER.  

I have read thousands of chats (our operators took) and it still amazes me how comfortable visitors are with a chat operator.  There are many instances where I have witnessed a shopper volunteer the entire quote, trade in value, and Salesperson's name at the competitor down the road. It also can act as a pretty good monitoring tool for you dealership.   Visitors are not afraid to rant to the operator that service forgot to book them an appointment OR Jimmy in sales didn't respond to their Trade - In Evaluation.

Self Managed Chat - I have a love hate relationship with a dealer managing their own chats.  It can be done, and there are dealers all across North America that have turned into chat warriors for their dealership and are seeing big results.  Chat is not at all like dealing with a live person on your lot and it can be quite frustrating.  When you put a fully commissioned sales staff member behind the chat wheel and his first 5 chats of the day are service related or "Does Joe still work there?? I only deal with him" it can quickly turn into a karate chop through the monitor.  In a perfect chat world we would have staff that can handle their own chats (effectively) and 3rd party doing the back up when dealer is unavailable or after hours.

If you are going to go the Self Managed chat route all I can say is make sure you deal with a company that has a Pro Active Greeting (pop up / drop down).  This is where a huge portion of the chats come from.  Not too long ago I had a dealer ask me to disable our Pro - Active greeting as he felt it was "intrusive" on their visitors.  What was the results?? The lead train came to a quick stop and we turned it back on a week later.

I have met some super smart people here on DealerRefresh, and can tell you that the main players in the chat arena have some talented employees and we are always thinking of ways to get your dealership more leads!!!! 

"I would have got those leads anyway!!!" - Chat will not hurt your original website conversion, it will turn "just looking" into a name, email , and phone number. I promise :) 

It would be great to hear what Ryan Lucia from Contact at Once had to say, that guy is super smart.

"Am I really missing out on leads by not having chat on my website????" - The answer is yes.

Ryan Thompson
  • J
  • August 12, 2011
Joe -- you're amazing.  Where do you hide the red cape??  Alas, we've had two forays into the chat world, several years apart, both with prominent, leading-edge companies, and both complete failures -- the last trial ending earlier this year.   Par for the course in our particular e-commerce-less-driven marketplace - no interest whatsoever from the customer-base. Like 25K-30K uniques a month, 6 chat sessions.  Pop-ups, pop-unders, pretty-girls peeking around corners, Big Green buttons, rovian-like "Hey, Look at me!!" stuff -- no interest.  I'm sure well try again in a couple of years, see if how much the rest of the world has caught-on in our neck of the woods.
I remember the conversations via text and live with good Ol Uncle Joe about chat...... "Do you need to monitor it if a 3rd party runs it?" asks Joe
"You need to monitor it all if you expect results, don't you?" replies this young jedi

Another great post from Uncle Joe....way to share the knowledge my friend!
I remember the conversations via text and live with good Ol Uncle Joe about chat...... "Do you need to monitor it if a 3rd party runs it?" asks Joe
"You need to monitor it all if you expect results, don't you?" replies this young jedi

Another great post from Uncle Joe....way to share the knowledge my friend!
  • R
    Ryan lucia
  • August 13, 2011
Very interesting post with excellent information!  I have been called out by mr Thompson so I figure I will drop my two cents. I have been lurking and haven't posted in a while, so hear I am.

When it comes to dealer answer "online percent" is important.  If chat isn't available it certainly can't "explode", right?  As many of you will see with the top chat providers if you are online majority of the day or 24/7 you will see a great amount of chats if implemented properly.  

I personally have never been a fan of outsourced until a few weeks ago.  I evaluated what dealers tell us and my expectations for the dealer being ran like I ran them and its just not the same.  I have been converted!  I believe!  EVERY dealership should have some sort of answering service either back up or full time.  

I have pulled reports and taken a look at our chat answering service and the results are amazing.  Their are 3 primary spikes that you MUST have chat available for.

Mon - Friday 10am to 4pm
Mon - Thursday 8pm to 11pm
Saturday 9am to 1pm (these seem to be your buyers chatting before they head out to buy)

Math for you: Online more = more chats! VERY SIMPLE

The problem is when you leave dealership personell to answer chats they may go take a smoke break or go to lunch.  They go offline automatically and now what?  You lose conversions during those hours.  Same with dealerships who choose to only have chat answered by the answering service during business hours.  If chat is a conversion tool why would you take it down after hours or on the weekend when people are still shopping?  We believe but just not 100% i guess.  If numbers are numbers, more chats = more sold cars.  I mean if we are having your sales staff chasing chat leads from an hour ago than we should get them as many as we can right? I kind of think its funny we can trust our sales people with the chat customer after they have the information but not before.  

So to wrap up my very long comment......I agree with your post and think you did an amazing job putting this together for everyone as usual.  Chat is a huge hit right now and everyone has their own way of doing it.  You found what works best for you and your stores.  That is half the battle and one less thing for you to worry about.  The company you chose does a great job and I am glad you are 100% bought in with chat.  99%, wow that has to be some sort of record.
  • E
    Eley Duke
  • August 13, 2011
Joe, is your chat with Active Engage managed 24/7 and on weekends? We just signed with A/E through the GM dealer co-op program, and they are only managing chat 8am - 12am, and not on Sat or Sun. Am I missing the boat?
  • B
  • August 14, 2011
Great post Joe and perfect timing.  

I've been blessed in the past 3 months to have a number of industry chat companies open my eyes to the importance of chat and handling chat, where in the past, I let my own prejudice cloud my judgement.  Since I wasn't a chat user, I didn't consider it important.  Duh!Now that my eyes have been opened, it still amazes me that only 20% of dealer websites have chat!   Opportunity is knockin'!!The other key point is that there is a huge difference between having a chat button in the header of your website where a consumer has to click it to start chat vs having the chat pop-up over the screen. Anyone who is dismayed with chat often has chat setup passively, which is not what I would recommend to maximize the channel.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • August 14, 2011
As always Joe - great stuff. You've collected some very actionable items here. I hope the chat services are reading this and figuring out how they can not only implement this data to better serve the customer experience but also base some training about this for dealers or their BDC/Chat employees.

  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • August 14, 2011
John, do you think this is due to your location?

You hit the nail on the head.  My biggest pet peeve is when a website (any industry) has a chat button and I have to give my full name and email before we can proceed.  Doesn't fly in 2011 in my opinion.

You hit the nail on the head.  My biggest pet peeve is when a website (any industry) has a chat button and I have to give my full name and email before we can proceed.  Doesn't fly in 2011 in my opinion.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • August 15, 2011
"Impatient sales reps, or those un-technical reps (aka lot lizzards) should NOT be chatting.  -- if your team is un-trained,  chat is a time sucker. Your reps will avoid
chat because it's low ROI. Low ROI creates un-staffed chat & that
is costing you sales. Chat done right, should be one of your top3 lead systems."

Joe - you're 100% my friend.

It's rare to find someone on the showroom floor that will have the patience and knowledge to chat. And of you suck on the phone, it's most likely you'll suck on chat. I've had chat rolled out to the sales floor as a beta test and it of course failed as I predicted. This was with several courses of training to go along with it.

There are a few exceptions of course. I've had a hand full of sales people (internet sales) that understood chat and did a well job with it.

Chat IMO - In the dealer world, chat is better off being outsourced to the professional chatters. Again, there are exceptions. I have a 1-2 employees in our on dealers BDC that do a great job with chat. If I could I would have chat on the dealer sites and allow them to take all the chat sessions while allowing an outsourced chat provider come in from behind. 

for reference - I started a thread a while back in the forums titled Chat Tracks where I post chat transcripts for all to critique.

Your comment reminds me of a teaching from an old sales mentor.

"A good Doctor never let's his patient see the knife"

Think about it...  ;-)
  • G
  • September 13, 2011
were you putting the chat on your primary website?
  • C
  • September 13, 2011
JQ, I have no clue about all the things you have used but I can tell you this......I have dealers in rural parts of the country getting around 100 chats a month.  I wouldn't call your destination a "e-commerce-less-driven-marketplace" because they are obviously going to your site with that many unique visitors.  Many of my metro dealers don't get that many.  You should get no less than 250 chats a month.  This is not a science it is a basic conversion tool and if done properly it will convert that many.  I have seen websites with 400 unique site visitors get 12 chats a month so your numbers are way off.  I believe the "pretty girl" gives an impression you aren't speaking to someone at the dealer.  If it is an "Industrial" town or a die hard "Amercian" town than you may be putting them off with a stock image of someone who is on a million different websites.  If deployed on all sales related pages you should have huge success.  Don't give up my friend.  Keep trying no matter what company you use.  I promise success is there you just have to find it.  Maybe some A/B testing will be good.  
Uncle Joe - the growth of CarChat24 and other chat vendors proves this is more valuable today than it was 30 months ago. Live Chat is like many dealer vendors - it can be done in-house (like dent repair or paint touch-up), but because there are specialized tools and processes involved, sometimes it is best to use a pro, and sometimes a combination is best. Many of our dealers have their own in-house chat, but use us as backup if their reps are tied up or after hours.