I’ve been away on two media drives last week, so forgive me for the slowdown in updates. It will definitely pick up in the evening today. For the moment, I’ve gotten one of my friends Kenneth Fong to detail his experience with PROTON>>LIVE!, which is that little pop-up thing that you get on Proton Edar’s site. It’s an interesting experience – moving some of the sales transaction of the car to the web. Even Mazda has started doing it lately.

Read more after the jump.

I like doing transactions online. I occasionally buy from online stores such as MPH or flowers.com. I find it immensely convenient to pay my utility and credit card bills online and on occasion try to “convert” people around me by telling them how convenient it is to do these things via the net. So when I wanted to buy a car and heard about PROTON>>LIVE! I was intrigued. I just had to find out more.

In the beginning I did not really know much about PROTON>>LIVE! (PL). Before making a purchase its my habit to search online for reviews of books, movies and computer parts. I especially go to the manufacturers website and check out stats. After all, Google is your friend and the more information you can get, the better. I got to the Proton Edar homepage (www.proton-edar.com.my) and browsed to the car I wanted – the Proton Satria Neo.

Then a pop-up appeared. “Hi”, it read, “I am online agent assisting visitors to know more about Proton cars, promotions & incentives.” It went on to mention about a Live Buyers Incentive program entitling me to a holiday and seminar worth RM3,690 if I bought a car after interacting with them on the channel. Sign me up!

After filling in the buyers interest registration form, the pop-up changed to a screen where I could choose which agent to speak to. It also informed me of a language preference with the online agents – something pretty handy, as you would no doubt want to make sure the both of you are speaking the same language. There was only one agent at the time, named Vivian, so I selected her (later, though, when I reconnected due to my internet being iffy, and there were other agents available).

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I was then brought to the chat screen, where I waited a few short moments for Vivian to initiate the chat. There was also a statement at the top of the chat window informing me my place in the queue; I didnt need to wait too long before the chat session started.

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Let me say this. I have had some experience with companies using online chat as a means of technical support or sales inquiry, and they havent been good. I remember at one time when a hosting companys technical representative got me to go on MSN, and it wasnt very pleasant as she was “talking” in what I call typical Ah Lian casual English. While that might be cute at certain times, on that occasion it didnt help in making our communication any clearer, nor did it make her company sound very professional.

My online agent for that day with PROTON>>LIVE however was a pleasant contrast to that experience. She was clear and concise in the explanations, informing me of the incentives and promotions, the prices. It was obvious she was in control of the direction of that online conversation – this is important as some users might overwhelm the online agent with questions, irrelevant remarks or even nonsense.

She did not use overly complicated language which could intimidate some users. I did not have to wait overly long for her to answer my questions, and there was also that useful ‘typing symbol at the bottom of the window that would inform me that she was currently typing a message. A nice touch.

I decided to test this service a wee bit by asking her a technical question. I wondered if she would type out the explanations in the window – in which case, it would be a really long bit to type out and read – or would she “tai-chi” my question away to someone else to answer?

Vivian did neither. A few seconds after I entered my question, she sent me a file containing a diagram that answered my question perfectly. I did not have to wait overly long for it apart from having to first turn off Firefoxs pop-up blocker. This gave me the impression that she was definitely ready for any question that a user might have ask, and that she had the information ready for any eventuality. Pretty good.

The only complaint I might have is that I would have wished for a bigger chat space. One more thing, I suspect many users might wish for an easy way to save the chatlog for future reference. You have gathered useful information and you dont want to lose it. (Note: I have since learned the agent can email the chat transcript to the user upon request).

Next up, the online agent booked me for an appointment with a Proton sales branch near me. I was also given the option of choosing whichever branch I wanted.

Kiffer says :
Okay. I was thinking of having the test drive at the crystal showroom this weekend
vivian says :
Sure. I will get our agents to call you by today or tomorrow to make it happen for you :)
Kiffer says :
sounds goods. but before that… i heard about this VIP sales experience thingy? what’s that actually?
vivian says :
Glad that you asked :) PROTON >> LIVE! provides you with complete pre-sales assistance, when and how you need it. Step by step we guide you through the buying process.
vivian says :
Along the way, our agents will explain all that you need to know
vivian says :
You can get back to us if you have any needs or questions and we will do our best to help you.
vivian says :
Our aim is to help you make the right decision by providing you with the latest information on Proton cars ;)

(actual chatlog excerpt)

Toward the end of our conversation, agent Vivian pointed me to a link on what recent Satria Neo buyers are saying about the car once they own it, as well as the online experiences of the many customers using this channel. Testimonials are a useful guide these days as it cuts right through all the marketing blurb. You might be surprised to read some of the things being said by those happy Proton owners. I know I was…

You can check out some of these Buyer Comments for yourself: www.proton-live.com

There were some other nifty things as well, such as the AutoCompare feature, where I was shown the differences between the car I was interested in to a competitor for a quick shoot-out analysis. Useful to compare.

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I can see some advantages that this channel would have, over going to a dealership when buying a car. For one thing, it has the advantage that all online transactions share: it is convenient. I did all this at my office, during lunch hour. Everything else would be done for me: the branchs agent would then call me up to arrange a time; and when I got there they would know what car I want to drive and be ready for me.

About half a year ago, I was semi-interested in the Savvy. I did some dealership hopping, and I think Im not alone when I say that this is not exactly the most pleasant experience. Some of those dealers were helpful. One, however, just sat there, and when I asked what the price was, he just said “Heres the flyer”, and pushed the said flyer to me. Another dealer was even worse; it felt like I had to drag the information out of him about promotions and incentives.

I have read on the net of the many bad experiences buyers encounter when it comes to dealerships, and this is not just Proton. Some dealers promise free gifts, only to withhold them when the time comes to deliver. Others assure you that it will definitely not take long for them to get the car for you, only to have you wait much longer than you expected. These sorts of things happen because of the over-eagerness of some dealers to get a sale. I can see how these negative brand-experiences can be eliminated via this PROTON >> LIVE! channel. Being part of Proton itself, it would definitely be more trustworthy. Else the subsequent bad reviews would definitely bury them alive.

To a buyer who wants to get a car with as little hassle as possible, PROTON>>LIVE! certainly shows promise. I am sure its the way the auto industry is headed its because this is what buyers really want. Nice to know something is working well at Proton and kudos to them for recognising the importance of the web to buyers. At least in this area they just might be ahead of the pack.

Can this be extended further?
I can see other possibilities that this sort of live system might have for owners. Imagine for a moment, if every part of Protons information network were to be integrated. Then we can take a big step further in the information-flow from dealer/distributor/maker to users.

Here is a typical scenario. Lets say you have booked your car with a deposit, and a few weeks later you need an update about the status of your loan application, stock availability, and car delivery time. If most buyers are anything like me, theyd probably like to check daily for this info. So it would be handy if you could get this fulfillment info from the agents if and when you need to.

Next up, you finally receive the car (as I just did the other week). And after driving around a bit and having fun, you soon find it is time for the first 1000km service. So you wonder where you can locate the nearest reputable service centre. With PROTON >> LIVE! in place and providing this service, they could easily point you to one. Convenience.

Of course much later, your car might have issues, or you might want to check out something about your free service agreement or your service centre foreman just told you something you are not too sure about (is this reliable information?).

So in each case, PROTON >> LIVE! should be able to facilitate you. By simply asking the agents – people who you might trust much more to give you the correct information as they are directly contracted by the makers of the car – you should be able to achieve that peace of mind. In these days where the car industry seems almost a buyers market, the reputation and trustworthiness of the car maker is paramount.

Of course, not all these services are available at this time at PROTON >> LIVE! and I dont know when it might be expanded because I can understand that putting this together requires some serious planning about information sharing and workflows. But I believe it would be a very useful after-sales service that all Proton car buyers would be grateful for and seems a smart follow next move now they have the pre-sales program running so well.

So, go check it out. Create an account, ask some questions and test out their unique offering. PROTON>>LIVE! is still in its infancy, but augers well for the future. In the meantime, full credit to Proton for this inspired effort and good luck to Electric Angels – the organisation behind the scenes that works with the Proton i.care to provide this complete LiveMarketing service.