Chat and the CRM

Over the past few months, this column has been used to point out how to leverage live chat in the automotive space to connect with car shoppers online. While it is certainly important to be available to shoppers and to be able to respond to their questions and concerns in real-time, it begs the question: What happens next?

While one might quibble over the semantics, let’s agree that when a shopper starts a chat conversation with your dealership there is a pretty good chance that they are interested in buying a new or pre-owned vehicle. In that sense then, a chat can be viewed as a true lead—just like when a potential customer calls in, completes a lead form, or otherwise expresses a sincere interest in your inventory. Call it a lead or call it an “up,” either way, we’re talking about a prospective customer.

The question shouldn’t be what to call this person. Instead the question should be, how do I keep a record of these potential customers and how can my salespeople best track, maintain, and work these prospects to sell them that next vehicle? More and more that answer is to leverage the CRM.

CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management, but most people think of it as a database designed to keep all relevant customer and prospect data. A CRM solution is used to track potential customers via a dashboard feature where the sales team can view a list of the hottest prospects: those who have expressed an interest in the past or who may be ready to trade in an older vehicle for a new one. Email messages can be set so they are sent automatically, and alerts can be set to remind your team to follow up at appropriate times.

Still, as automotive chat solutions are a relatively new addition to the mix, with only about 20 percent of dealers having adopted chat, many wonder how they can get the relevant pieces of a chat conversation into a CRM for that crucial follow up.

Fortunately, there is an industry standard intended to share data from an application like ContactAtOnce! live chat and the dealership’s CRM. The Auto-lead Data Format (ADF) is an XML-based standard specifically developed to communicate consumer purchase requests to automotive dealerships.

XML, or Extensible Markup Language, is a markup language found across the internet which defines a set of rules for sharing information in a format that is both machine and human readable. By building upon this base, the ADF format is one that allows for automotive-specific CRM solutions to extract the relevant information from a compatible chat solution.

To fully take advantage of this information sharing, be sure that your CRM and your live chat solution both support the ADF format, and that both are configured to send and receive this data. Do this, and your sales team can follow up as needed to turn that lead into a customer.

Bill Sengstacken is director of marketing at dealer chat provider, Contact At Once! For more information, email

Bill Sengstacken


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