Vehicle availability, pricing and financing are what auto shoppers ask about most during online chat sessions, says Outsell, a digital marketing firm.

The company offers tips on how dealers can keep Internet customers engaged, unfrustrated and more likely to buy.

Dealers should keep online inventory as up to date as possible, especially if listings appear on more than just the dealership website, says Andres Perez, a customer interaction specialist for Outsell’s live chat center.

The firm says it knows inventory listings aren’t always perfect, and its chat crew tells customers a sales manager always needs to confirm availability. But being able to offer simple peace of mind is an important step in securing a sales lead, Perez says.

“Along with availability, customers want basic specifics about the vehicle to be easily accessible on the website, like exterior and interior color, transmission type, mileage, what packages are included, etc.,” he says.

In the absence of such basic information, customers can resist offering information for a sales lead.

Most customers understand chat agents cannot confirm pricing or finalize a deal, but shoppers still expect a starting point. They particularly are turned off if pricing is withheld from an online listing.

Outsell says dealers should make it easy for customers to navigate websites, especially as they search for inventory.

And online specials and coupons need to be current.

“Service coupons, even the ones mentioned in email notifications sent to customers, are often complained about in the chat room as being out of date,” says Outsell’s Sarah Thorson.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com