Despite much hoopla about the internet replacing all personal communications, evidence shows otherwise. Call volume in most dealerships has increased significantly in the last few years, and not just because of the economy.

In 2015, more than half (51%) of all car shoppers used mobile devices to conduct research during the purchasing process, according to J.D. Power. And guess what these mobile shoppers do when they want information? They click to call.

Phone leads remain the lifeblood for most dealers, which is why I’m surprised when I visit a dealership and see how many customers are put on hold or calls are lost.

"Besides, you spend a lot of marketing dollars to bring those customers into your dealership. Don’t you think they should belong to you? If one of your salespeople goes to work for your competitor, do you really want your former employee to have a list of stored customer contacts in his or her cell phone?"

According to a recent study by mobile advertising analytics firm Marchex, 62% of callers will hang up within one minute when placed on hold. If your dealership routinely puts callers on hold, that’s a huge amount of potential leads and revenue you’re losing.

Many dealers recognize the importance of phone processes. What they don’t realize is their existing phone system is not technically capable of supporting a streamlined phone process. Here are the two biggest problems with phone systems in dealerships, along with simple solutions.

Problem No. 1: Calls Sent to Never-Never Land
Have you ever tried calling your own dealership? Try calling the sales department after hours. Try calling service during your busiest time. What happens to these calls? I’ve evaluated phone systems at hundreds of dealerships, and it’s very common to find that calls just ring and ring and nobody answers, or they get routed back into an operator mailbox.

Now dig deeper. How many times does the phone ring in service before the call is routed somewhere else? Four? Ten? Where does the call go after that? Into someone’s voice mailbox or back to the operator? People tend to hang up after five rings, and I have frequently found that calls ringing back to the operator will just ring endlessly if the operator is on another line.

Not knowing where your calls are going doesn’t have anything to do with phone practices or processes. It has everything to do with call flow. Hey, even the best phone process in the world can’t compensate for a bad call flow.

Solution: Review Your Call Flow
Call flow is a set of rules that define where every call goes, and how and when those calls get routed somewhere else.

Here’s a typical scenario: Customers are having a problem reaching the parts department, so the parts manager calls up the phone vendor and tells them to reroute all calls directly to his voice mailbox. Six months later, the parts manager quits and that extension goes away or gets reassigned. Now all parts department calls are going into a black hole or to the wrong person. So the new parts manager asks the vendor to create a new number that rings into his or her department. The problem is that number bypasses the operator and doesn’t get routed anywhere else if nobody answers the phone.

Your vendor should be able to provide you with a detailed call flow diagram. Call flow configurations should be reviewed, updated and tested every six months. It’s also important to have an internal process for how changes to call flow are made. For instance, don’t let any department heads make changes to call flow (like creating new numbers) without senior management approval.

Call flows should also be designed to keep the customer experience first and foremost in mind. What may seem intuitive and convenient to a manager may not be a sound practice.

Problem No. 2: Missed and Mishandled Sales Calls
Most dealerships realize how important it is to get sales calls answered, and have a process to do so. Some dealers have all sales calls ring into a business development center. Some have a single phone number that rings at a central desk so that anyone can pick up. Most salespeople have their own extension with a voice mailbox.

One problem with these scenarios is missed calls from customers. According to a 2016 report from call-managing solutions provider CallRevu, 32% of incoming calls to sales departments never get connected with an agent. To combat this, many salespeople give their personal cell phone numbers to customers, which creates a whole new set of issues.

I’m guessing that salespeople conduct more than half their business using their personal device. But if your salespeople are exchanging cell numbers with your customers, your customers belong to them and not to your dealership. Additionally, their communications could be noncompliant and you would never know it.

Besides, you spend a lot of marketing dollars to bring those customers into your dealership. Don’t you think they should belong to you? If one of your salespeople goes to work for your competitor, do you really want your former employee to have a list of stored customer contacts in his or her cell phone?

Fortunately, there is a simple solution that allows your salespeople to still use their personal cell phones at work while ensuring that all customers still belong to your dealership.

Solution: Single Number Number
Most modern VoIP phone systems (such as Shoretel or Cisco) have a feature called “single number reach” (SNR). This feature assigns a single phone number to every employee. When a customer calls the employee’s number, the employee’s phone rings regardless of where the employee is and what device he or she is using.

If the employee is out on the lot with a cell phone, his or her cell phone rings. If the employee is sitting at his desk, the desk phone rings. If the employee is unavailable, that phone number is assigned to someone else temporarily so the call can be handled. When that employee leaves, his or her phone number gets reassigned to the new salesperson. This ability to route calls to different devices greatly reduces the incidences of missed calls.

Most importantly, SNRs ensure that all calls to your salespeople get routed through your phone system and stored in your CRM, not on your sales team’s personal devices.

As the world continues to go mobile, dealers should be prepared for call volume to increase. Improving phone processes is critical, but so is making sure your current phone system offers the technical capabilities for these efforts.

Erik Nachbahr is the founder of Helion Automotive Technologies and has expertise in transforming dealer networks into vehicles for mission-critical applications. Email him at [email protected].