DETROIT - The Chrysler group wanted to convert more browsers on its Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brand Web sites into buyers.
So it turned to eStara Inc. for a Click to Talk button that connects the online shopper with a Chrysler group call center here. The shopper talks to a call center agent by land-line phone, cell phone or voice-equipped personal computer. The Click to Talk button is a convenient marriage of Web site shopping and the traditional telephone call center.
While Chrysler is using the eStara technology on its brand Web sites, a similar technology called Live Chat is being deployed by automotive dealerships on their own Web sites.
Live Chat, provided bys Outsell Inc., allows a Web site visitor to ask the dealership questions by using text messages.
The Chrysler group began using Click to Talk technology in late 2004.
"It's been very effective for us," says Michael Morton, senior manager of interactive communications for the Chrysler group. "We try to give different types of customers their own path that they are comfortable with. And for many customers, the phone is still the comfort zone."
The Click to Talk button has been placed on portions of the brand Web sites where help often is needed, Morton says. For example, a shopper using the Build and Price page on the Dodge brand Web site will find a Click to Talk button.
The automaker found that some truck shoppers were getting frustrated with the process of selecting a model and preferences.
"In general, it's an intuitive process, but when you get to some pickup trucks it can be very complicated," Morton says. "We noticed that we were having some abandonment where a customer would start but might not complete the configuration."
They might not understand certain terminology or may not know how to determine the towing capacity that they need, he said.
"They can click on the icon and talk to an expert at our call center who can help them answer those types of questions," Morton says.
The Chrysler group is pleased with the results. Up to 20 percent of the customers using Click to Talk have purchased a vehicle, compared with just 10 percent of callers who contact the Chrysler group through traditional marketing materials.
eStara, which was founded in 1999, is a privately held company in Reston, Va.
It also is used on the GM BuyPower Web site, and on other Web sites from such companies as Dell Inc., Continental Airlines Inc. and J. Crew Inc.
Talk by phone or computer
Here's how it works. After clicking on the Click to Talk icon, the user is asked whether he or she wants to talk by land line, cell phone or computer.
"We automatically detect whether or not you have the capability to use your computer as a phone device, if your speakers are connected and whether your microphone is on," says Brad Timchuk, senior vice president of sales and business development at eStara.
If the customer wants to talk by phone, he or she enters a phone number. The eStara system places the call to that number, and then connects the customer to the Chrysler group call center.
The Web site user pays nothing to use Click to Talk. The Chrysler group pays a technology license fee and a usage fee. Live Chat works a little differently, linking a customer with a call center by text-based messaging.
More than 300 dealers offer Live Chat on Web sites. Live Chat offers Web site visitors the opportunity to ask questions by text. The questions are addressed by an Outsell LLC employee in a Minneapolis call center and trained in the dealership's operations.
The inquiries can be about anything related to that dealership, be it sales, parts or service, says Mike Wethington, CEO of Minneapolis-based Outsell. Outsell provides interactive sales and marketing services to dealerships. The typical text conversation lasts seven to eight minutes.