Live Chat Providing a Lifeline to Homebound Customers

By Alan Wolf and Andy Kriege, YSN

With many members’ showrooms either closed or limiting hours and traffic, websites in general and live chat in particular have become crucial conduits to the consumer.

As BrandSource Director of Merchandising Grant Hancock told members on a recent merchandising webinar, chat represents a critical touchpoint with customers during this shelter-in-place period by improving customer satisfaction and growing dealer revenue.

“It’s a smarter way to engage,” he said.

Tim Hillebrand, principal of Don’s Appliances in Pittsburgh, wholeheartedly agrees. With his 10 showrooms closed for three weeks by Pennsylvania edict, his real-time inventory e-commerce site, supported by live chat, became an indispensable lifeline.

Don’s implemented chat about a year ago, but the feature assumed a new urgency in the wake of the health crisis. Chat activity as of late April was up about 220 percent from February, he said, and one of his two full-time, dedicated chat operators had already doubled her best sales month since starting the job in June.

“A lot of people are working from home and they have time now to chat,” Hillebrand observed. “And the engagement is much more meaningful. We can copy-and-paste something from our website and send it to the customer. They can look at it and say, ‘I’ll take it,’ or we can direct them to our in-stock inventory and our virtual services.”

All told, he said, “We wouldn’t be open right now without the website,” which was upgraded at Summit with live chat and live inventory. “It’s 10 times better now.”

Other members are equally enthusiastic. Joe Legato, Chief Operating Officer of Bill & Rod’s Appliance & Grills serving Greater Detroit, said chat is off the charts. “We’ve had 36 chats since 12:30,” he shared on an afternoon Region Call-In. “Chat has translated into multiple sales and we’re excited to see the response. We may need to assign a full-time person online.”

Alex Cole of Cole’s Appliance said the simplicity of the set up is also a major plus. “It’s easy to add,” he told members on the same Michigan Region call. “We had it up in a few minutes and we’re able to operate it” during off hours at home.

Alison Carrico, Brand Manager at AVB Marketing, concurs. In a recent YSN column, she noted that “Chat is easy to set up on your website; all it takes is pasting a snippet of code.” And the payoff, she said, is exponential: as of early April, chat engagement was up 60 times on member websites from just a few weeks prior, and the easy-to-navigate dashboard lets members know how often customers are chatting and what time of day they are most likely to be online, so dealers can be prepared.

Not surprisingly, the number of members employing chat has doubled in recent weeks, Hancock reported on the webinar, and is expected to expand further still with the launch of a new vendor subsidy that renders the basic-level service cost-free through the end of the year. Members can visit the Backroom for details.

BrandSource and AVB Marketing are units of YSN publisher AVB Inc.