Q&A with Donna Sechrist of Edmunds.com

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It wasn’t too long ago that if a customer wanted to contact your dealership they had two options: call or walk in. Today, many customers choose to communicate with the dealership through email, but email lacks the immediate communication that you have with the customer on the phone. Fortunately, online chat has emerged as a way to bridge that gap.

With online chat salespeople are able to communicate with customers in real time, in a text-based format. This allows dealers to talk to their potential customers at the moment of peak interest, while they’re online searching for vehicles, and answer any questions they may have and get them excited about a new car. Online chat for dealers has advanced a lot recently, both in terms of technology and best practices. We wanted to learn more, so we spoke with Donna Sechrist, senior vice president of dealer initiatives at Edmunds.com about the best ways for dealers to take advantage of this new technology.

Q: How does chat help dealers connect with online consumers?

Chat gives dealers another avenue to connect with consumers and since there’s no lag in response, its efficiency is beneficial to both consumers and dealers. We also find that consumers like to engage in online chat, because the anonymity of the experience makes them feel empowered to ask the questions that are most important to them, no matter how simple or basic they might be.

Q: Where should dealers make chat available to their customers?

There are examples of chat put to good use at almost every point that users interact with dealer content. The implementation of chat on Edmunds.com is focused on inventory pages where users can ask specific questions about specific vehicles that dealers have in stock. This is the point where dealers can also most likely engage users on options and pricing.

Q: What skills do dealers and salespeople need to learn before they implement online chat?

Dealers and salespeople need to learn that chat can be just as much of a personal and intimate experience as a face-to-face conversation. Most times, users are looking for direct answers to very direct questions. This is not an opportunity for dealers to provide vague responses to rush customers into the showroom.

Dealers also need to learn to anticipate frequently asked questions and have that information readily available. Some general questions—like dealership location, showroom hours, and service inquiries—could even be answered with pre-packaged responses.

Q: What are the biggest misconceptions that dealers have about online chat?

Dealers sometimes think that chat takes up too much time and that the customers are not serious buyers, when it’s often quicker than interactions over the phone. They might also think that chat will replace emails and other direct leads. In fact, the pilot program on Edmunds.com showed that chat only increased engagement with the customers and did not cannibalize other forms of customer contact.

Q: What features are most important for a dealer chat solution to have?

As a sales manager you can go back into saved threads and isolate points for improving customer interaction or for identifying successful responses and practices. It’s also helpful to integrate chat into the CRM system so that dealers can effectively manage and follow up with the prospect



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