MONTEREY, Calif. – Lexus, Infiniti and Acura dealerships topped Pied Piper annual review of dealer response times to Internet leads. The report, issued earlier this month, also showed an industrywide improvement from 2011 to 2012, with two-thirds of the 34 auto brands recording higher scores.

The mystery shopper consultant, however, said dealers still have plenty room for improvement, with dealerships, on average, responding to customer inquiries within 24 hours 64 percent of time. While this was a 78 percent improvement from the firm’s last review, the data suggest that nearly one-in-four Internet inquiries remain unanswered after 24 hours.

Ford Motor Company and Chrysler Group LLC brands showed the biggest improvement from the previous year, with Ford, Lincoln, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram dealerships improving the most. Kia dealerships also fared well in the study.

The firm also noted that performance varied considerably from brand to brand, as well as from year to year. For example, Mercedes-Benz dealerships climbed to the top of the category of telephone follow-up, with salespeople attempting to follow-up by telephone 74 percent of the time, compared to the industry average of 55 percent of the time. Another example shows that Infiniti, Volvo and Mini dealerships answered specific customer questions more than 50 percent of the time, compared to the industry average of 27 percent of the time.

Pied Piper also noted that auto responder software was used to reply to customer inquiries 72 percent of the time, while personal e-mails were sent 18 percent of the time. Ten percent of customer inquiries didn’t receive a response of any kind.

In all, the firm measured 37 different combinations of dealership replies. The most common, occurring 16 percent of the time, was a simple auto response promising that a salesperson would be in touch, followed by a personal e-mail from a salesperson. Dealerships that follow that process, on average, achieved a score of 66 on the firm’s Prospect Satisfaction Index (PSI), which was higher than any other current brand average score.

Other effective dealership processes included both a “rich” auto response promoting the dealership and specific vehicles, as well as a personal response to answer questions and encourage next steps. In contrast, dealerships that sent only a single auto response averaged a PSI score of only 26, while dealerships relying solely on one personal email averaged a PSI score of 59.

“Simply responding to all customer internet inquiries is the first step,” said Fran O’Hagan, president and CEO of Pied Piper Management Company LLC. “Include an auto response to promote the dealership and add a salesperson’s personal touch, and today a dealership will outperform three out of four competitors.”

The 2012 Pied Piper PSI® Internet Lead Effectiveness Benchmarking Study (U.S.A.) was conducted between September 2011 and March 2012, with Internet inquires submitted to a sample of 4,331 dealerships nationwide.

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