Did you know that hundreds of prospects are leaving your dealership everyday without so much as a meet and greet? It’s true. But I’m not talking about your showroom, I’m talking about your website—your virtual dealership.

A great way to say hello to your website visitors and give them another way to connect with you is live chat. Effective live chat can eliminate a hole in your marketing plan that’s costing you money. The goal of your website is to convert site visitors to workable leads and ultimately showroom visitors. Live chat can increase your site’s conversion rate by as much as 50 percent at a relatively low cost.

Your site conversion rate is the number of leads you get per 100 unique visitors. Dealers generally have a conversion rate in the three- to seven-percent range. Live chat will increase the conversion rate by about four percent, on average, making a big impact on your lead volume and lowering the cost per sale in your Internet operation. I just talked to a dealer who sold nine vehicles from chat leads that produced over $21,000 in gross the previous month. He pays $450 a month for the chat tool. He said live chat represented the biggest ROI and lowest cost per sale of any lead source he has.

Chat leads will outperform email leads. The biggest problem with an email lead from your site is the customer disconnect. You get a prospect to your site shopping for a car, and they fill out a form then go away. You respond to the lead and spend the next few hours, days or weeks trying to reconnect with the prospect that was already there. Something is wrong with that picture.

Chat allows you to connect with the customer in real-time, build rapport, gather data, and convert the customer to an appointment and a sale. Here are five tips for using chat to increase leads, grow your database and realize incremental sales.

1. Be personable. Adding your picture, name and title to the chat window lets the prospect know who they are chatting with and serves as a good meet and greet. Make sure you are always online during normal business hours and have personnel dedicated to responding quickly to chat requests. What you type describes your role and intentions. Just be yourself and avoid jargon.

2. Phone skills work well in chat sessions. Like a phone conversation, chatting is a back-and-forth dialogue. Build rapport before asking for the customer’s name, phone number or email address. Just help them shop for a car. Guiding them to specials, incentives, trade-in tools or other shopping tools on your site builds value in the chat session. The consumer looks at you as an expert and an assistant. Don’t become a salesman to them. If they wanted to talk to a salesman, they would have called or come to the showroom.

3. Offer chat on every page of your website (near your phone number), but don’t wear site visitors out with the chat pop-up. Consumers find sites that have a pop-up chat window on every single page they visit annoying. One of the best practices I’ve seen is to offer the chat pop-up when the consumer lands on specified pages, such as a vehicle detail page or credit application.

4. Record and track your chat sessions. Measure impressions, chat requests, chats answered, chats unanswered, conversions and data collection. Like sales calls, a 90-percent three-point data collection of name, email and phone number is the benchmark. It’s a good idea to measure individuals on their chat results to make sure you have your best chatters operating the tool. Monitor the times of day you get chat requests to ensure adequate staffing is in place to handle chat requests at peak times. An overall 12.5-percent close ratio is an attainable goal for your chat leads.

5. When choosing a chat provider, consider the following points. Will the chat tool integrate to your CRM? Does the chat provider give you statistical data on your website visitors and their navigation habits? Does the chat tool give you real time data on where the customer is on the site and what pages they’ve visited? You also want to make sure the chat provider will train your staff and share the best practices they have for outstanding conversion rates.

The X factor. I was recently out with my 21-year-old son who I don’t see very often. We had about an hour in the car together and I was looking forward to talking with him. As I was trying to start up a conversation, he was distracted and pecking away on his smart phone. I said, “What are you doing on there,” with a little frustration in my voice.

“I’m texting a girl,” he replied.

I asked him, “Why don’t you man up and call her?”

He said, “Oh, texting is much better. There are no awkward pauses. I can think about what I’m going to say, and after I type it, I can look at it before I send it to make sure it sounds OK.”

I thought, “Wow, that’s brilliant.”

Sometimes your customers are not quite ready to call or come in. Chat allows them to keep a little anonymity and control until you can build some rapport and they see value in giving you their contact information. For your employees, it’s a chance to think before they respond and follow the carpenter’s rule—measure twice, cut once.

Good luck and happy chatting!

Vol. 8, Issue 6