Not Just Dealer Chat
Contact At Once! Provides Instant Engagement … Everywhere Car Shoppers Browse
The replies weren’t from computer-generated messages with no one behind them. Or, even from anonymous call-center employees who knew nothing of Kuni BMW’s inventory. Rather, the replies came—instantly—from the actual Beaverton, OR sales associates pictured in the pop-up invitations.
“Our customers were like, ‘Oh, you’re actually there,” says Jole McMurdie, Kuni BMW’s e-commerce director. “They were pleasantly surprised, and I could see why. When I click on my bank’s online chat invitations, which has some model pictured, I often don’t get a reply. With Contact At Once!, our customers were getting immediate interaction with real people—without exposing their personal information.”
Jole McMurdie, Kuni BMW ecommerce director and Contact At Once! auto dealer chat customer.
When looking at technologies to increase online leads and customer engagement, McMurdie had three must-haves in
- It had to be really easy to set up and use, as associates didn’t want to waste time learning new technologies.
- It had to be cost effective, as the tighter market was forcing more due diligence on marketing costs.
- It had to increase lead volume and offer measurable chat-related results.
McMurdie came across several online chat providers in her search, but she says Contact At Once! was not only the easiest to use, and cost substantially less than what Kuni BMW was paying for advertising, it also was the only solution compatible with third-party sites.
In March, Contact At Once! became the chat provider for AutoTrader.com. When an AutoTrader user is looking at a car being sold by a dealership connected with Contact At Once!, a chat window pops up. Only available associates are shown, allowing for instant engagement.
That meant salespeople could engage shoppers looking at Kuni BMW vehicles on Cars.com, CarsDirect.com, CarSoup.com, Craigslist and Facebook. The following year, Contact At Once! became the sole chat provider for AutoTrader.com, which attracts more than 15 million unique visitors every month.
Other plusses? Contact At Once! offered dealers powerful mobile-chat apps for the iPad as well as iPhone, Android and Blackberry smartphones. That meant associates didn’t have to be tied to their desks to answer queries.
For someone in charge of managing a dealer’s web site, McMurdie says she also found value in Contact At Once!’s analytics tool, which automatically tracks all chat-related metrics.
In addition, her service and parts department was interested in Contact At Once!’s ability to help existing customers get answers to quick questions without having to call or come in.
“Now, there are so many ways you can connect with people in addition to phone, email and text,” McMurdie says. “We just wanted to be as accessible as we possibly could. Now, we’re discovering that customers who are engaged with us early on the buying process are substantially more apt to take the trip to our showroom floor.”
Bringing online chat to new levels
Even when Atlanta-based Contact At Once! was established in 2005, chat was hardly a novel technology. It had been mainstream since at least AOL’s dominance in the mid 1990s. But what was novel was what Contact At Once! co-founder Marc F. Hayes did with chat for the auto industry.
Hayes, now executive vice president, who left an 18-year career at IT consultancy Accenture as a CRM expert to start Contact At Once!, saw four trends that paved the way for the industry’s first complete auto-dealer-chat solution:
- More than 90 percent of car buyers started the purchase process with a visit to a third-party auto site, and yet they weren’t being engaged.
- While online chat did exist for sales, it was mostly dedicated to prevent shopping-cart desertion.
- Very few auto dealers had chat on their web sites, and it was operated by outsourced call centers—not the dealers themselves.
- Existing chat solutions did not offer the ability to determine whether a particular person was actually there.
With the help of John Hanger, now CEO, Hayes developed the Contact At Once! technology, applied for a patent for the real-time presence feature, and reached out to auto manufacturers and online automotive classified providers.
Then came evangelizing the benefits of chat.
CEO John Hanger, whose 20 years of technology leadership spans companies including Flamenco Networks, Atlas Commerce, Mercator and SCT/Adage Systems.
“Between Google AdWords and traditional advertising, dealers are spending a lot of money to get people to visit their websites, but most visitors just browse and move on without contacting the dealership,” Hanger says.
With most online shoppers performing research at work, Hanger says, dealers were missing key engagement opportunities because these potential customers were unable to talk on the phone during job hours. Chat, he explains, started offering dealers a more discrete way to build rapport with these prospects without them getting turned off by filling out intrusive forms or picking up phones.
Then, the economic downturn hit. Hanger says the more challenging marketplace encouraged dealers to look even more seriously at chat, as they were forced to make changes to their marketing strategies.
Making the case for Contact At Once! even stronger was its unique third-party compatibility.
“Other chat solutions can work on dealerships’ web sites but are incompatible with classified sites such as Cars.com and AutoTrader.com, where most shoppers visit first,” Hanger says. “We’re getting dealers in front of anyone looking at their inventory, including the most popular websites where shoppers commonly start their searches, with just one easy-to-use chat solution.”
“Chat helps dealers sell more cars even though few have dedicated staff to answer the chats, thanks to the presence-aware features of our service. Some of our dealers really wanted to maximize the benefits, though.” Hanger says. That is why the company began offering “rollover” functionality where fully-trained call-center employees in Houston—not India or the Phillipines—answer inquiries during off or busy hours.
“Most of our competition outsources all interaction,” Hanger says. “We offer automatic connectivity with dealers and outsourced interaction.”
The Contact At Once! dealer interface, which offers intuitive chat analysis.
But having full connectivity in the modern world mandates mobility, Hanger says. In addition to building chat capability for common smartphones, Contact At Once!’s iPad app, introduced in 2010, offered dealers the ability to engage prospects in real-time chat, map their locations, see which Google search terms were used, and view relevant Carfax histories—in the office, or on the go.
With the combination of market conditions and technological advances, industry-wide adoption of chat increased.
As of May, 16.8 percent of U.S. dealerships had chat on their websites, according to DealerChatMarketShare.com. Contact At Once! owns the largest share of this market.
16.8 percent of dealers evangelized, 83.2 percent to go
Contact At Once!’s biggest challenge is getting dealers to embrace new technologies. However, due to the company’s recent integration with AutoTrader.com, experts see more aggressive adoption of dealer chat in the near future.
“Given AutoTrader.com’s status as one of the most popular automotive websites, we believe this move will likely accelerate overall dealer chat adoption,” DealerChatMarketShare.com says. “After all—if a dealer is using chat to handle customer inquiries from sites like AutoTrader.com, why not begin using chat on one’s own website as well?”
To help make this adoption even easier, the company plans ongoing technology upgrades, including building out its mobile offerings with more apps on different platforms.
The company also plans on further touting the benefits of chat.
Sometimes, however, the data speaks for itse
- Industry-wide, consumer-to-dealer chat conversions skyrocketed to 1.9 million in 2010, according to internal data.
- Typical Contact At Once! customers interact with at least 25 percent more shoppers daily.
- Typical customers see 50 percent of chats resulting in received contact information.
- Typical dealers experience 20 percent to 25 percent close rates with chat, which is similar to close rates for phone leads.
Sometimes, Contact At Once! reps only have to get one concept across to a dealer.
“One thing dealers often ask us is, ‘It only costs me $199 a month to get my face and name to appear on every listing on all these websites, and all I have to do is be accessible?’ ” Hanger says. “After that, we often don’t have to say another word.”