The art of conversation

A high-tech Florida-based firm enables dealers to form successful Internet relationships with their customers via a time-honored form of communication — talking

ActivEngage 2

(Left to right) ActivEngage Executive team, Ted Rubin, Eric Schlesinger, Michael Third, Carol Marshall, Jeff Civilis and Andrew Shansky

As human beings, we are by nature social creatures. We like to engage with one another, take part in conversations, and form relationships or bonds, whether on a personal or professional level. The benefit of building bonds in business is that it can help build your business itself. That’s something that ActivEngage co-founders Todd Smith and Ted Rubin firmly believe. The company was formed in 2007 and specializes in helping dealers form relationships and generate business with their customers through online chat services.

Both Smith and Rubin have extensive backgrounds in the auto industry, having started out simply washing cars at dealerships. While
both were in sales, Smith gravitated towards the marketing side of the business, while Rubin focused on operations and technology.
Smith moved into consulting in the mid-1990s and got involved with eCommerce, helping develop sites such as, which provides information on pricing and features on every Toyota model. It was while consulting for dealer group AutoNation that he met Rubin, who was then the corporate Director of eCommerce and Field Operations. “We were kind of the same person,” says Rubin “and we became friends.”

Getting people talking
In 2000, Rubin founded a software company that grew into one of the leading CRM providers for dealers, while Smith, having developed leading edge eBusiness solutions for a variety of clients, including Ford, Mazda and ADP, later went back into the retail side, becoming a dealership owner and general manager.

Todd Smith

Todd Smith

When Rubin sold his firm six years later, they started talking about the idea of live chat. “We were seeing the movement of more and more people shopping online,” says Smith “but websites were like billboards. Brick and mortar stores offer a great venue for communication with the customer. I thought, why not translate this to the website?” So, he decided to experiment with live chat in his own store. “I came home one day and called to talk with Ted about it. We both now had tons of auto experience, including: BDC, Internet and operations.”

That’s when Smith and Rubin formed ActivEngage. “We felt consumers and the Internet needed a connectivity piece,” says Smith, “so the idea of live chat, which allowed them to reach over the Web and talk to businesses instantly, was appealing.” Today, ActivEngage has about 130 people on staff and continues to grow exponentially. “I could say that we’ve grown like a Hockey Stick,” says
Rubin. “In 2008-09 we were quite small, so the impact was negligible but we were able to get in with the right dealers at the right time, so when the market came back, we had a successful story to tell.”

ActivEngage works extensively with dealers across both the U.S. and Canada, helping them use live chat to build trust-based relationships with consumers and driving more of them into their stores. In terms of services, ActivEngage offers its dealer clients Managed Chat, relying on the firm’s Orlando-based chat experts to manage and engage with consumers to turn them into solid leads for the store, or Chat Software, where it supplies the chat and reporting software to dealers that prefer a do-it-yourself approach. Currently, 68 per cent of ActivEngage customers choose to have the chat service managed by ActivEngage staff.

In terms of culture, much like its approach to business, ActivEngage is rather unique. “Our employees are our priority,” says Rubin. “Every staff member starts out as a Virtual Sales Associate in order to understand how we do things from the ground up, even if they are hired for a completely different position. We have massively focused on our culture and try to help out our employees any way we can.” That includes, providing paid health insurance and giving staff one paid day a month to volunteer in the community. “We want them to be happy,” he says. “If they’re happy, they will be happy talking to the dealer’s customer.” Because of ActivEngage’s internal structure and management, the managed chat service has been able to consistently provide dealers with a 1-2 per cent chat conversion, while 80 per cent of chat conversations are converted into a lead which includes a phone number and email address. Additionally, 20 per cent of sales leads include an appointment for the shopper to visit the dealership. With results like these, ActivEngage has proven to be a trusted live chat provider for dealers across North America.

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