Live chat is like driving a Porsche Turbo – it must be done right

...the 930 had “turbo lag as long as a coffee break. Mash the throttle at 3000 rpm, and the boost gauge plays dead until the tach reaches 4000.” - Car and Driver

During the dark ages of the auto industry in the 1970’s, emissions regulations and an epic disregard for quality automotive products choked engine power down to embarrassing levels. In 1978, the venerable 350-cubic inch, Chevy 5.7-liter L48 V8 engine in a Corvette cranked out an embarrassing 175 horsepower. In comparison, that’s 10 fewer horsepower than a base 2016 Toyota Highlander 4-cylinder with less than half the displacement (2.7 liters).

And so it was with dealership websites until the mid 2000’s. They were often as weak as an underpowered Corvette when it came to lead generation. They looked good enough, but performance depended on lame contact forms that were often poorly designed and even hard to find. Inventory and photos displayed on the website was still relatively new and even considered eccentric and unnecessary by many managers and principals. CRM systems were a fantasy or extravagance for most stores. Even more radical a decade ago was the concept of a shopper having a live chat conversation with a dealer representative online in real time.

Porsche engineering was one of the few bright spots during the dreadful era of crappy cars in the 70’s and 80’s. Their venerable 911 with its legendary 3.0-liter air-cooled flat-6 engine had about the same output as the Vette. But the crafty carmaker in Stuttgart, Germany, bolted on a Turbo beginning in 1974, and by 1978 their 3.3-liter Turbo boosted power all the way to 300 horsepower. A passe figure today, but in automotive evolution, it’s the equivalent of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel – legendary. Epic performance and impressive reliability propelled the 930 variant to showroom and racing success, including an eventual win in the 24 Hours of LeMans.

But as much as the legendary Porsche Turbo was revered for performance, it was equally reputed as the ‘Widowmaker’ because a driver ill-prepared for its temperamental handling could quickly end up on the obituary pages. The car was renowned for its scary rear weight bias. When this was combined with epic turbo lag that created a delayed blast of power that often arrived with enough force to quickly have the back end of the car leading the way. This created loads of broken dreams and often broken bones – or worse. Only the most skilled race drivers (Hurley Haywood being the most famous) could artfully feather the throttle enough to maintain boost through the apex of a turn and survive the delayed blast of power without kissing a guardrail.

Car and Driver said the 930 had “turbo lag as long as a coffee break. Mash the throttle at 3000 rpm, and the boost gauge plays dead until the tach reaches 4000. Then you enjoy a chiropractic neck adjustment until the wham peters out at 6000 rpm.”


This tale of potential and peril echoes the conversations we often have with car dealers regarding live chat. Their tale of woe starts out with hope for a big boost in website lead performance and ends with broken dreams and a bad taste. Slow and unpredictable software performance combined with massive staffing challenges have often created more stress than success with chat.

Fast forward to the modern era and Porsche’s Widowmaker (now GT2) has evolved into a supercar with vastly improved handling dynamics. Similarly, live chat today gives auto website shoppers a much more interactive experience, at the same time boosting website lead counts by as much as 50 percent or more.

Making the Porsche Turbo more user-friendly (and survivable) involves massive engineering feats in traction and stability control, computer turbo management, and all-wheel-drive, as well as advances in suspension and a more-balanced chassis design. All this mechanical progress means the performance of the car depends less on the skill of the driver and more on technology.

While technology is a key factor in live chat success (especially on mobile devices), the human element is more important than ever. Website icons and popup invite code, the operator software console, server performance, and communication protocols all play a part in a quality interaction between the shopper and chat operator. But the most critical piece of the chat puzzle is people.

While technology is a key factor in live chat success (especially on mobile devices), the human element is more important than ever. 

In an era with people shopping online from planes and trains during early morning commutes, and shift workers visiting dealer websites through the night, 24-hour chat operator staffing is a must. In addition to being available 24/7, operators must be set up as virtual receptionists (not managers or salespeople), have extremely quick response to chat requests (six seconds or shorter is best), be well-trained on their console, and exceptionally skilled at answering questions and collecting quality contact information. These factors are typically what has caused chat in the past to be akin to a car wreck.

More than half of all dealers in the U.S. have some form of chat on their websites now, and more add it every week. There are a number of managed chat providers that serve the auto industry, and the quality of chat vendors runs the gamut from dollar store-level service to Nordstrom premium care. In many cases dealers who choose chat at the lowest price points regret their choice. After all, the goal is to sell more cars, as well as boost fixed ops business and safeguard CSI.

If you’re thinking about shopping for chat, there are a few things to keep in mind. Dealer staff can’t really ‘mystery chat’ objectively, so one of the best ways to evaluate quality and performance is to have the website provider show current examples of chat transcripts of all types: sales, service, and general inquiries like questions about hours or vehicle settings. Another acid test is to talk to dealer website providers to find out which have an effect on page load speeds or cannibalize form leads. Third-party consultants and analytics companies will typically have quantitative insight into chat company performance, as well.

Modern-day Porsche Turbos are much more user-friendly and easier to drive without a massive wreck threatening at every turn. Similarly, live chat has evolved into a powerful website add-on that can give dealers a measurable boost in leads, and (most-importantly) sold units.

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