The growth of chatbots in the auto industry is undeniable. They have flooded the industry and are being used in multiple ways. Some of the uses are positive and others are negative. One of the negative, and most controversial, ways these chatbots are being used is occurring at the dealership level. Almost every dealer has implemented a chatbot on the homepage of their dealership website sometime over the past few years. As I said, these dealers have seen positive impacts, and some not so positive impacts. This “leads” me to my next point, no pun intended. Well….maybe a little bit.
Why Are My Leads Declining?
Chatbots are driving down the volume of leads coming from auto dealer website form submissions. Chatbots do help save time for dealers and their staff, both sales and service. However, they can keep a consumer or website visitor from filling out the form and submitting a lead. Those who are pro-chatbot will argue that these bots are actually weeding-out unqualified leads. This would be leads coming from consumers who aren’t actually going to purchase, or even visit your dealership. While that seems logical, and may be true, it ignores the fact that the consumers’ data and contact info is not being captured.
These consumers may not be interested in your products or services immediately, but they may be enticed weeks or months later through an email from the dealers CRM system. Even if the consumer isn’t currently in-market, you would still want to collect their contact info, and any other info they are willing to give you. Some companies pay big bucks to purchase contact lists of potential customers, so why would any business, including auto dealers, be willing to give that info up?
Changing the Definition of a Lead
Some dealers are categorizing chatbot engagements as leads, essentially equating them to a form submission. Which, in my opinion, they are not equivalent. A form submission collects set fields of data to be used in a CRM campaign and other marketing activities. A chatbot engagement could be about various topics, and the info (dialogue) captured is not structured for easy use in marketing services. I’m sure many of these dealers aren’t collecting any of the info being entered into the chat box from consumers, and those that are, probably aren’t analyzing the data and restructuring it in meaningful ways.
To be honest, this process of lumping chat engagements with form submissions is being driven by tier 2 and 3 marketing service providers. These marketing service providers are being evaluated by their clients (dealers) based on the volume of leads they are driving from website traffic. If chatbots cause less lead submissions, the analytics reports these providers are showing their clients (dealers) are basically showing that the same monetary investment is now driving less leads. To an auto dealer, leads mean money, and a loss of leads means a loss of money. So, if these providers can lump-in chat engagements, they can actually show leads going up, instead of reality, which is that leads are going down.
So, to answer the question “should dealers use chatbots on their websites?” I would have to say no, when it comes to the vehicle sales side of the business, for the reasoning I already provided. Leads are declining and dealers are getting less contact info from the consumer. I will say, however, that chatbots can be useful in the auto industry in other ways. For example, allowing a chatbot to converse with a customer, already in your CRM database, to schedule a service appointment is a great thing. This saves time for the service staff and provides a quick and positive experience for the customer. I’m just not a fan of giving up the capture of customer info, of those truly in-market for a new used vehicle, in the name of convenience through chatbots.