A Quick Chat

New ways for dealers to manage uptick in inbound leads

The COVID-19-induced home improvement boom continues to bring historically high inquiry rates for spa retailers. During this fortunate sales increase period, industry business leaders have been searching for tools to help ensure quality customer service, and chatbot/web chat technology seems to be one of the trending answers.

Jennifer Gannon, owner of BonaVista LeisureScapes in Toronto, says weeding out the serious inquiries “is a full-time job right now.” Gannon uses chatbot technology for her businesses and has experienced several benefits with the tool.

Web Chat
A web chat feature allows customers to communicate with a retailer directly on its website in real time. A chat window pops up as an overlay on the website, the customer is asked to fill in basic information and a question, and a live person responds and guides through an answer.
A chatbot is an AI software application that simulates a conversation with customers through prefabricated responses to common questions. This is usually used with Facebook Messenger on business pages where customers can choose a question and an auto-generated response will appear. This software can work on many platforms, including websites, mobile apps and text streams. Simply put, it’s an FAQ system.

Ben Poggemiller, co-owner of Urban Life Pools & Hot Tubs in Manitoba, Canada, says customers who send inquiries usually want an answer quickly. “Being responsive can be a challenge, especially when people message you at all hours,” Poggemiller says. “People will move on and leave your site if they can’t get what they want.”

Poggemiller regularly uses the Facebook Messenger chatbot feature. “We always want people to engage with us so we can show our expertise,” he says, “so we needed a way for people to get answers right away.”

Gannon has used Podium since November 2019, a web chat platform that offers the capability to text with customers. She says chatbot marketing tactics are worth a try, as changing sales demographics means more digital inquiries versus phone conversations.

“Our sales demographics keep getting younger because we’re [now] catering to young families who are at home with kids,” Gannon says. “If this is a new way to talk to young people, we’ve got to do it.”

Gannon is now able to quickly answer common questions — like price ranges — and works from a concise messaging script to help capture sales leads’ contact information. If the prospective customer provides the information, she knows they’re serious.

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“I think what impressed me right away [with Podium] was it was easy for me to reply quickly to people without the formality of an email or a phone call,” Gannon says.

Karen Rodriguez, public relations coordinator at Podium, says companies like Hot Springs Spas and Pools of La Crosse use Podium’s webchat feature.

“The advantage of web chat over a chatbot is that your customers are able to access a widget on your website similar to a chatbot, but instead of getting generic responses, their message is immediately converted into a text conversation with a member of your team,” Rodriguez explains. “Customers love it because they talk to a real-life person without staying on their web browser. Retailers love it because they have flexibility in response times but are able to convert web traffic at a much higher rate.”

A text message sent to BonaVista through Podium with an automatically generated response until someone can answer the question directly.

Doug Robinson, owner of Virginia Leisure in Chesapeake, Virginia, uses Broadly, which also offers the text response feature. For his business, he says the technology has made a significant impact on customer service and sales.

“Less than a week into having [Broadly], a customer sent a text at approximately 7 a.m..; I replied [almost immediately], and she couldn’t believe the service,” Robinson says. “She drove to the store that day and bought a $9,000 hot tub.”

Broadly is also effective for increasing reviews, Robinson adds, because once a customer is added to the system, it auto-generates a review request over different platforms. “So far we love it,” he says. With no end in sight to COVID-19, Poggemiller says this technology is a must-try, even on a small scale. “With fewer people going out and physically shopping in stores, or at least limiting their time in stores, a lot of browsing and research is being done online,” Poggemiller says. “Even a simple chat option goes a long way.”