Incoming! Why Every Phone Call Should Be Treated as Mission Critical

When was the last time you tried calling into your own--or another--dealership? Chances are high that the phone went unanswered, you were put on hold, routed into voicemail or were told that the sales or service person you're trying to reach is out to lunch.

 

The latest data collected from our call center agents is overwhelming: car dealers are missing way too many sales and service opportunities from lost phone leads. Behind showroom ups, these are the highest value inquiries with high close rates and fast turnaround times. 

 

Here are the facts:

 

  • Only one in six incoming calls to dealerships is handled properly; that is, the customer connects with a person who can help them with their inquiry

 

  • Seventy percent of inbound calls to the service department are directed into voicemail or result in customer hang-ups due to long hold times

 

Don't blame the receptionist. Many receptionists become jacks-of-all-trades in dealerships; in addition to answering phones they are expected to greet showroom customers, make coffee and run miscellaneous errands. Who would you rather neglect: a customer in the showroom or a customer on the phone? The answer should be neither, but unfortunately in most dealerships it's the latter. Besides, a receptionist can't track down every sales and service employee and force them to answer the phone. And most receptionists don't have the training, authority or access to set sales and service appointments.

 

I get it. In dealerships, there are plenty of those crazy days when everyone seems to be putting out fires. As a result, the customer who is calling to inquire whether a piece of inventory is still available, or who wants a quote for a service repair, ends up being ignored.

 

So the customer calls your competitor down the street.

 

Dealers spend thousands of dollars a month to get their phones to ring. Spending time and effort to come up with a solution for missed phone lead opportunities is as important a part of your marketing strategy as posting pictures of your inventory on your website.

 

Consider implementing some, if not all, of these best practices:

 

  • Answer every incoming phone call and ensure that every customer connects with an employee instead of voicemail

  • Ask customers if they want to set an appointment - then make sure they connect with someone who can set the appointment
  • If the vehicle of interest has been sold, suggest an alternative
  • Ensure that all voice mailboxes are functioning and not full
  • Return all voicemails within one hour
  • Set up alerts that are triggered every time a sales or service employee gets a voice mail
  • Use call analytics to measure how many calls go to voicemail or are unanswered. Analytics will help identify the times and days missed opportunities are most likely to happen. During those peak times, make sure someone is answering the phone!
  • Consider call forwarding, which routes calls to a second phone number after a certain number of rings

 

When the above best practices aren't possible or viable, another option is to outsource all calls to an off-site call center. A good call center will improve sales and service revenue with more appointments and be-backs, higher showroom closing ratios, and increased customer satisfaction and CSI scores.

 

Missing just several phone opportunities every day can add up to thousands of dollars in missed revenue every month. So treat every incoming phone call like its mission-critical! By properly handling phone leads, your dealership will reap the rewards of increased sales and increased customer loyalty.

 

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Comment by Patrick Kelly on October 24, 2014 at 12:09pm

Thanks for the comments!

Comment by steven chessin on October 19, 2014 at 6:20pm

Patrick

Nobody questions the importance of proper sales call management.Expect trainers to favor training and vendors to favor managed. I like a hybrid of all that begins with a receptionist sending calls to trained salesmen - then to in-house bdc and out-sourced managed as a safety-nets when salesmen are unavailable. And I do not like any automation here. The phone is so deep enough in the sales funnel customers deserve real people at all times -- Saturday morning or 3AM Tues night.  

Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on October 19, 2014 at 12:12am

These arguments apply to implementation of live chat software and managed chat vendors, as this is often one of the first customer experiences with a store.

Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on October 18, 2014 at 11:39pm

This is golden - well put and 100% accurate. Calling in as a vendor to hundreds of stores, I hear a multitude of responses, and you have to wonder how it is for a customer sometimes

Comment by steven chessin on October 18, 2014 at 5:36pm

 "dealers are making a lot of money and thinking they are smarter than they are"  ha ha

Comment by David Ruggles on October 17, 2014 at 1:35pm

Excellent piece, Patrick.  Almost makes one wonder why dealerships don't answer their phones with real humans, doesn't it.  The rationale?  Everyone else uses an IVR, so at least I'm no worse than my competitors.  What genius decided IVRs are better than real humans  Penny wise and pound foolish, IMHO.

From my personal experience of "shopping hundreds of dealerships by phone and in person, I completely agree with you that the opportunities wasted in dealerships on the most basic part of initiating and maintaining customer relationships is about as bad as it can be.  But in this day and age the people running dealerships think, "You can't manage what you can't measure."  Well, there is such a thing as "opportunity cost."  What you should have gotten, but didn't, is hard to quantify.  But it doesn't make it real.  Some dealers will wake up.  Most won't.  After all, dealers are making a lot of money and thinking they are smarter than they are.  Auto retail is booming.  There is still incredible pent up demand left over from the Great Recession.  AND there are many fewer new car dealers left to do that business.  Let's see what happens when the pent up demand is exhausted and interest rates have risen to historical norms.  Wasting opportunities might receive more attention.

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