It’s not a new problem. In fact, it’s been plaguing dealerships everywhere for as long as I’ve been kicking around the car business. And no matter how many times I call attention to it, I continue to see it happening in dealerships everywhere: Most deals that are blown and lost forever in a car dealership are lost because someone mishandled the initial phone call.

Keep in mind that effectively marketing a car dealership today costs most dealers upward of $500 a unit. Then there is the $300 or more some lead sources charge just to deliver a low-profit deal. But I’ll give it to dealers. They do measure closes and conversions to appointments. What they don’t do, however, is measure deals lost on the phone. How many potential customers call in and can’t get connected? How many are mishandled by a salesperson or the receptionist?

I don’t have the stats to back it up, but I believe today’s menu-answering options are blowing a lot of deals. That’s why the first thing I do at every dealership I work with is examine how complicated or confusing their phone system’s menu options are. My advice to dealers is to simplify the menu options and allow callers to press zero for a live operator at any point.

Personally, I believe callers should be greeted by a live receptionist who is trained on how to handle them. I’ve never seen a training program for receptionists, but I know they are responsible for more lost business than any other dealership employee. The receptionist is your customers’ first contact. Unfortunately, that individual is often the reason customers become frustrated.

We know that most incoming calls are for the service department, but few callers get connected with a service advisor on the initial call. See, too many receptionists believe their job is to get the customer into voicemail and off the phone as quickly as possible. Excuse me, but how many customers do you honestly think are leaving voicemails for dealers? The reality is they hang up and move on. 

It’s time to measure, examine and correct the problem, because you need to be sure callers are getting connected to the person or department they are trying to reach. More importantly, you need to make sure they’re getting the information they are calling to get.

But before you go off on the receptionist, you must first ask yourself whether that person gets overwhelmed with call volume at peak times. I have walked into countless dealerships in which seven incoming lines are ringing simultaneously and the poor receptionist is agitated, frustrated and irritable. The problem might just be that the dealer is trying to save nickels when he’s really losing big money because of it. Is there such a thing as an overflow receptionist during periods of predictably high volume?

If I was the general sales manager or the service director at your dealership — or even the sales manager — I would demand as much administrative help as it took to get the phones answered. I would also have systems, processes and training in place to ensure that someone answers every call and that every caller is directed promptly to someone who can help. This, unfortunately, doesn’t happen in most stores. In fact, I’d bet your people are not taking their calls.

The only thing worse than callers not being able to reach anyone are employees who blow them off and fail to get an appointment or the caller’s contact information. That happens because of a lack of training on how to handle calls. Hey, we’ve all listened in horror to the mystery-shopper recordings of what our employees really say to our customers, right?

Folks, you need to train your employees on phone skills and appointment setting. You also need to monitor incoming calls, evaluate your staff’s performance and insist they get better. If you can’t handle it internally, hire a training provider to help. Hey, continuous training is just as important for the person who answers the phone as it is for employees who sell and deliver your vehicles.

The other option is do nothing. In fact, if you’re satisfied with your current phone processes, please invite me over to the dealership. We can fire up the grill and watch your money burn.

That’s my rant for this month. Until next time, keep those emails and messages coming.

Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems. Contact him at [email protected].

About the author
Jim Ziegler

Jim Ziegler

President and CEO of Ziegler SuperSystems

Jim Ziegler ranks among the industry's most recognized and honored trainers, consultants, authors, speakers, and forecasters.

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