The Bible says that “to everything there is a season”, and the season of automotive dealers using a live chat feature on their websites is over.

A recent Google study found that 95% of prospective customers said that when shopping for a vehicle, they would never use chat. Let’s face it — chat is dead. Its day has come and gone, and it is now time to remove it from all auto dealer websites.

When chat was initially introduced, it was billed as an innovative solution to deliver information, convert inquiries into sales leads, and process customer questions in a more efficient manner. Dealers soon realized that chat requests were not being responded to internally, so they began outsourcing that responsibility. However, customer service only continued to decrease from that point onward. Often, the outside customer service rep didn’t have the necessary information to answer to the prospect’s questions, and even worse, with some of the operators not based in the USA, there was a language barrier as well. Some dealerships moved on to artificial intelligence (AI), but that didn’t work either.

Customers want one thing — answers — and they want them quickly. Recent studies have confirmed that chat users, by and large, are young. The majority of them are under 30 years old. When questioned why they preferred utilizing chat over other forms of contact, they said they were hoping to receive information more quickly (without calling and being transferred to different phone extensions, or waiting for a return email), and they did not want to answer sales prospecting questions just to obtain the simple answer to their initial inquiry.

So what happened to chat? There are many reasons, but chat came with inherent issues, and, over the years, these issues have remained consistent and ultimately led to its death. These included such problems as:

  • Responsiveness — Sometimes chats are responded to promptly, and sometimes, they aren’t. Some auto dealers outsource chat response, and some rely on internal staff to respond. Due to this, the response rate continues to be appalling low.

  • Interruptions — Inevitably, the chat internet connection will drop, or the prospect will inadvertently open another browser window and lose the chat screen. When this happens, often times, the chat can’t be reconnected and it will result in losing a potential sale.

  • Delay — One of the reasons people utilized chat was for an immediate response. However, the delay in response time (often occurring while the chat agent was busy responding to another prospect), made chat not time-efficient, and, overall, a counter-productive strategy.

  • Fake Information — With chat really being used as a lead generator, too much emphasis was placed on immediately capturing the name, phone number, and email address of a prospect when they initiated a chat. Prospects are very smart — they don’t want to be hounded or harassed. They just want the necessary information too quickly solve their problem. Immediately collecting the prospect’s contact information before asking how they can be helped frustrated them even before the chat started. Savvy prospects responded by giving fake, inaccurate contact information so they could not be followed-up with once the chat was closed. Unfortunately, this misinformation only contributed to wasting valuable sales prospecting time.

So, if chat is dead, what are the alternatives? Technology has provided several new marketing tools which are already being used very successfully. Let’s take a moment to review some of these new options:

  1. SMS/Text — With 300 million cell phones active in the United States, almost every person shopping for a vehicle has the ability to send the dealership a text message. Nielsen has noted that Americans exchange twice as many texts as they do phone calls. A review of demographics for those using SMS/text is spread across all age groups. In contrast to chat users, which skewed very young, we are seeing SMS/text usage from users 18–75+ years old. Dealers are seeing a huge increase in the number of customer direct text messages, either from prospects on their Google My Business (GMB) pages, or from their own websites/marketing. Customers have realized that it is more time efficient to text the dealership, rather than call. For example, there is an uptick in customers texting the Service Department to request an appointment, to inquire if their vehicle is ready, as well as what time it can be picked up. Since 95% of text messages are read in under a minute, customers feel as if they are being informed of their car’s status in real time. More importantly, Velocify’s study shows that sales prospects who are sent texts instead of receiving phone calls are 40% more likely to make a purchase. Clearly, the most effective way of communicating with customers is by texting. Automotive dealers need to get ready to fully embrace this new way of doing business.

  2. Click-To-Call — With most car dealership’s websites receiving over 70% of their visitors via mobile, we are seeing less traditional form-fill leads and more Click-To-Call (CTC) actions. CTC allows prospects too easily connect to the dealership by clicking a “button” on their mobile phone. CTC buttons are becoming more and more popular as we see increased web traffic moving from desktop to mobile usage. CTC buttons can also be programmed to call or text, giving the user more than one option.

Some dealerships are already seeing the benefits of switching from chat to SMS/text. In speaking with Gerry Call, Digital Director for Premier Automotive (which has 23 dealerships across the country), Gerry explained that when he removed chat from all of their websites, they saw an immediate increase in lead conversions. Gerry attributes the increase to using SMS/text, a much better overall prospecting solution. It is more consumer-friendly, the stores get the prospect’s cell number immediately, and that information is automatically downloaded into their CRM for follow-up. Gerry is also seeing a significant amount of text traffic coming from his stores’ Google My Business boxes. Customers are searching for the dealership on their mobile device and utilizing the “Message” button to text the store’s Sales, Service, or Parts Departments for simple questions. Rather than clicking a Pay-Per-Click ad to just ask a simple question, when customers instead use SMS/text, it ultimately saves money on their paid search budget.

How your dealership goes about implementing this new SMS/text strategy is crucial. As in any form of marketing, when choosing a SMS/text provider, it is important to choose the proper partner. The leader in text-enabled phone numbers (wherein the same phone number can be used for voice and text) is CallSource. CallSource offers a web-based SMS/text platform that allows text messages to be forwarded seamlessly to different departments (Parts, Service, etc.) for more effective and efficient responses. I have personally used CallSource texting for the last two years and I’ve been very pleased. Their program is very user-friendly, making it easy to learn and operate, and their customer service has been very attentive to our needs.

Additionally, Google Ads is also allowing text extensions. Now, in the copy of a Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ad, you can embed a phone number that can be both called and/or texted. This is a strong and forward thinking strategy, as 84% of customers would prefer to text a business, as opposed to calling. Early data results from Google show more people are moving to texting a business, rather than calling, to ascertain the information they desire.

Furthermore, Digital Marketing Magazine reports that 75% of people prefer receiving promotional offers via text, so texting is also important for keeping the prospect informed of upcoming offers. By using SMS/text it ensures that you will automatically receive the prospect’s genuine cell phone number. With an accurate phone number, the dealer can then easily follow-up with the prospect in a timely manner. The salesperson can even effortlessly send vehicle pictures or videos to the prospect, a sales tactic which has rarely been used. In short, getting the accurate cell phone number of a customer so that that you can text them is a huge benefit in the sales process.

Action Plan

Auto dealers need to remove chat from their website as soon as possible. This will not only save money, but it will also increase sales conversion, and make customers more satisfied with their overall buying experience. When adding SMS/text to your mobile website, be sure to use text-enabled numbers, which will allow your prospects to either call or text you. However, it is important to remember, when people text, they expect a response sooner than when they email. Dealers need to be ready for the influx of text messages, because they will come. If handled properly, they can be converted into sales and happy customers.

When implementing SMS/text on your website, it is imperative to build the website with your customer in mind. I strongly suggest that you do not have a floating SMS/text icon, or for that matter, any other floating icons, on your website. Remember, real estate on a mobile device, (the available display space), is precious. Do not clutter your website with too many icons. The research is clear on this — less is more! People do not like floating icons, or anything else, obstructing their view. The SMS/text icon should be static on the bottom of the website page, listed in the Google My Business box as “Message,” and used on Google Paid Search ads.

New customer communication avenues are rapidly emerging and your business needs to keep up with technology to stay competitive. Chat is dead, so it is time to remove it from your websites. Add SMS/text to your mobile website, GMB, and Google ad extensions, and you will be happy you did in the long run.

Ray Reggie

www.RReggie.com

Chat is DEAD