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Atul Patel

Atul Patel Co-Founder and COO

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How Effective Are Your Automotive Dealership's Call Operations?

In reviewing phone call operations at automotive dealerships through call tracking platforms and through personal experiences, I see that it takes far too long to finally reach and engage with the right person or department. In today’s online car research experience, quick response times are imperative in retaining interested prospects. Consumers are still slow to pick up digital retailing where they perform the entire car buying process online, and if you don’t get your call processes in order, you’re dropping the ball.

The problem most automotive dealerships have when it comes to their call operations isn’t only how long it takes for them to engage a shopper on the phone, but it is also the difficulty in reducing the amount of time it takes for them to follow-up on prospective leads.

It doesn’t matter if your display, video, search, social, or email campaigns are bringing in an abundant amount of leads into your system. What matters is that your dealership follows through right away. The key point that most auto dealerships are missing here is the fact that responding to leads as soon as possible and supplying them with the information they are looking for within an appropriate time frame of when they send in a lead form submission, make an inbound phone call, or respond to another call to action is crucial in moving them down the sales funnel.

I’ve spent hours listening to recorded phone conversations through platforms such as Car Wars, and it is unfortunate that even with these systems in place, car dealerships are still unable to adapt their business processes to maximize shopper engagement and most certainly aren’t utilizing the data they have amassed about the buyer to streamline the customer’s experience. In listening to these sales calls, even the best dealerships struggle with this problem today.

Other industries are benefiting from having robust call centers

At LeadROI, one of my previous startups, consumers were receiving calls within one minute of filling out a lead form from sites like NexTag or LowerMyBills.com. We helped our mortgage broker and credit union customers with automated lead distribution to the right person based on lead criteria, rerouted leads when a salesperson doesn’t respond fast enough, and even used predictive dialers so the loan officers didn’t have to press any buttons to dial. Compared to this, it seems like the dealership systems, even in some BDCs, are fairly primitive.

In fact, just look at your day-to-day lives. Customer service representatives at credit card companies including American Express know that you are calling about a recent transaction that got declined while you’re vacationing at some new city; health care organizations offer you digital care coordination to confirm health care appointments; and airlines (at least sometimes) know you’re probably pissed right now when you call. The point is that call centers in other industries are far more progressive and efficient compared to the automotive industry. And then dealers complain that they don’t sell enough cars.

BDC departments at your dealership should take note on how effective timely calls to new leads can be. The key takeaways for automotive dealerships are that other industries are streamlining customer service through call centers by 1) following up with leads as soon as they submit a form (and we’re talking in minutes), 2) utilizing accessible declared, inferred, or observed data to make the calls more personalized to each caller, 3) use more intelligent dynamic number insertions (DNI), robust routing of callers, eliminating repetitive messages like saying “this call may be recorded” three times at each transfer, 4) use more machine learning to improve operations using historical transcripts, and 5) analyze the data from the call systems to understand what’s really happening with leads and not what the salesperson is claiming.

So how can technology help auto dealerships optimize their BDC department?

For one, the data needs to be accurate. Through some of the current call tracking solutions used at dealerships, it seems like what number called is all that matters. It isn’t. If the user changes the context from a sales call to a service call, the reporting should reflect that. This disconnect is because the analytics platform, CRM, DNI and call tracking, and in-house phone systems do not speak to each other, leaving GMs and Sales Managers clueless as to what’s really happening on their phone lines.

Even when there are features to help dealerships update data that they discover from phone calls or from looking up information in their CRM, it just seems too hard and sales professionals at these dealerships don’t have the patience. Data should just be updated automatically in all systems everywhere so that no matter where you look, the information is updated and relevant. You shouldn’t have to look at a phone number again in any UI if that person has become identified – it should be the entire profile of that shopper or customer.

Furthermore, the website can play an important role in suggesting to the visitor the right number to call. We all know that one of the biggest problems for dealerships is that consumers call the sales line to get to service. Bombarding your consumer with too many numbers on your website can be confusing. I’d argue that you should use a generic number on the home page and route the user with IVR and then update the analytics according to that routing.

If the shopper has viewed VDPs or looked at specials, suggest the sales number. If the shopper has visited service coupons and other fixed-ops related services, suggest a different number. Using more intelligence in the DNI is critical. This would help the receptionists answering 100s of calls a day, the salespeople trying to close a deal, and even the business analysts in the back office.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the biggest solution to having an improved call center is to have all your systems integrated by using a system that can connect the dots between your CRM system, website, phone systems, and so on. The shoppers or customers that are calling you have already given you a wealth of information including their interests based on the cars they look at, the emails they’ve responded to, the ads they’ve interacted with and so much more. Everything you need to know about the current caller is there without you having to ask the caller what they are calling about – you just have to integrate everything together.

And while this sounds nearly impossible for an industry that is behind in utilizing state of the art technology to make their businesses more streamlined, it is imperative for dealerships to take the jump and improve their phone-related systems now. It doesn’t matter if your dealership website’s SEO puts you at the top of a Google search or if your marketing campaigns have a high click-through rate. If your dealership doesn’t have an optimized call center, you could potentially be losing sales.

Jim Rathmann

"Ultimately, the biggest solution to having an improved call center is to have all your systems integrated by using a system that can connect the dots between your CRM system, website, phone systems, and so on."

Any suggestions of providers?

Derrick Woolfson

You hit the nail on the head, Atul! This is an excellent article. One of the other issues at play - beyond response times - is the overall quality of the initial response. Wherein, more often than not the dealer does not take the time to read the customers lead; as a result, the response is irrelevant. 

I will, however, offer you that while there are very robust platforms available for call tracking there are some issues that can have an impact on the dealer's response times. One of the biggest *consistent* issues I have seen with several call platforms is their overall inability to categorize phone calls. For example, if customer A calls into the dealer, and then calls in again - the call is often seen as two individual customers. At which point, the call is then sent to the wrong category - if the customer's second call was perhaps to 'confirm' an appt and/or answer a question (but they already had secured an appt) then the call counts as "opportunity" missed. If this was better managed on the vendor side then it would make it that much easier for the dealers to view the *correct* calls. 

I do also agree with using the click-to-call feature! However, not all CRM's are truly capable of integrating that feature effectively. For those that do use click-to-call, it saves them invaluable time, and better yet - they have real-time access to how their customers are being handled. 

Derrick Woolfson

@Jim, Dominion Vision CRM is a new CRM. However, this CRM is a powerhouse. It has the click-to-call integrated into the CRM along with call-tracking. Giving you real-time insight as to how your calls are being handled. Other than that, there are solid call tracking platforms one of them being CarWars, but if it does not integrate into the CRM effectively it becomes yet another tool for the dealership to manage, and as mentioned above - if the calls are not categorized correctly, it can waste valuable time that could have been spent calling a customer who was a missed opportunity. 

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