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Recently, Op2ma did a phone audit on 12 leading automotive brands covering more than 60 dealerships in Australia. The purpose was to discover how dealerships, in general, handled the phone enquiry. Based on our experience, the phone enquiry is usually not regarded as important as the walk-in enquiry merely because the opportunity of a sale is more apparent in a walk-in customer than in someone who called to ask about a vehicle.

Yet, although customers might not buy a vehicle directly over the phone, the buying process usually starts there. The enquiry is an expression of interest, and properly handled enquiries create a positive impression of the dealership in the mind of the customers. When a customer enquires, they are also short listing the products as well as the dealerships. Mishandling the phone enquiry often extinguishes all hope of the customer ever walking into the showroom. That is why it is important for dealerships to see the phone call as a precursor of an opportunity, and ensure that prospective customers do not fall through the gaps of a poorly managed sales process or phone system.

Shocking Statistics

For the audit, we created an ideal process as a benchmark to measure how dealerships respond to our Mystery Phone Shopping-type calls. We then hired a professional shopper to call these dealerships over 5 months, recording the call and the experience. Here are some statistics that you probably would not know about the automotive industry:

DO YOU KNOW WHY 50% OF ALL PHONE ENQUIRIES NEVER MADE IT TO THE SALES DEPARTMENT?

First impressions

This part of the audit measures the first impression when a call is made to the dealership. Against a checklist of about a dozen items, the shopper measures how long it took the dealership to answer the call, was the call managed through an automated system, was the call successfully transferred to the sales department, and how did the sales department receive the call if the transfer was successful.

Most calls were answered successfully by the receptionist, though occasionally calls are directed to the sales department through an automated system. Most receptionists did a good job answering the phone; the disappointment usually occurs when the call reaches the sales team.

  • Only 62% of the dealerships could answer the call in the sales department within 3 rings.
  • Close to 50% of phone enquiries did not reach the sales department – they were either dropped or the customer was told to call back because all the sales staff were too busy to handle the enquiry.
  • 70% of calls that do make it were handled professionally and in a friendly manner.
  • Dealerships with dedicated call centres or telemarketers able to answer enquiries were more successful and consistent in recording the information of the customer for subsequent follow-up.

Core Process

This measures a key process of how the salesperson answers the enquiry. Each call is recorded and checked to see whether the salesperson did the following:

Did they introduce themselves?

Did they get the name of the customer right?

Did they answer the enquiry?

Did they ask for a contact number to follow up?

Did they give the customer a good reason to visit the showroom?

Did they attempt to close for an appointment?

The Findings

  • 80% of sales people never ask the customer for an appointment to visit the showroom. Considering this was the key purpose of answering a phone enquiry, merely asking the customer to visit the showroom would have increased opportunities significantly.
  • Almost 100% of sales people did not mention the benefits of buying from their dealership or confirm if the customer knew the location of the dealership. By first not asking the customer to visit the dealership, there is no occasion to mention why they should buy from your dealership.
  • About 65% do a fairly good job of introducing and answering the enquiry but only 45% asked for the customer contact details to follow up. The impression was that most sales people are courteous and helpful, and able to provide the answers to the questions asked. However, the interaction stops there, and for most customers, it would just be confirming the details of the vehicle that they found on the website first. The phone call failed to bring the customer closer to the sale.
  • For rapport building, only 54% were rated as having successfully built rapport over the phone with the caller. This means they were pleasant and friendly enough to create a positive impression on the caller, and considering that each customer will make more calls than visits to the showroom, the appointments naturally go to those able to build rapport over the phone.

Our research showed that most calls were handled as enquiries rather than as opportunities to invite prospects to the showroom, therefore, moving the customer up the sales process.

We believe that most sales employees are not ready for the phone enquiry when it comes through because, in many dealerships, all calls were transferred to the same line regardless of the caller.

Closing for an appointment

This was the most important sign of a successful outcome. Dealerships made the effort to generate enquiries so these can be converted to a walk-in appointment. Dealerships are not running information hotlines; they are setting up opportunities to make initial contact with prospective customers.

What we discovered was Only 26% of all phone enquiries that made it through to the sales department ended with a confirmed appointment. This means that for every 100 phones enquiries, only 50 make it to the sales department. 50 calls were either dropped, not answered, or customers were asked to call back because there were no salespeople available to answer the enquiry. 22 of the 50 customers were asked for their contact details for follow up. And of the 50, only 12 ended with an appointment.

Follow-up

This final part measures the effectiveness of the process after the appointment is made. Did the salesperson call to confirm the appointment because we know from experience that a follow-up call increases the odds of the customer showing up significantly? Did the salesperson call when the shopper did not show up?

This again increases the odds of a customer coming into the showroom if the salesperson can get the customer to commit to an appointment. The shopper then rates the quality of the follow-up on a scale of 1 to 10.

We discovered that only 14% of appointments made were followed up before the appointment. That is just a mere 3 out of the initial 100 phone enquiries!

The Phone or internet enquiry is the start of the buying process

Properly handled enquiries create a positive impression of the product in the mind of the customers, setting the stage for a sales opportunity. It is the start of the buying process and should be given the same care as a walk-in customer.

Our audit suggests that most sales employees do not regard the phone enquiry to be as important as the walk-in enquiry because the latter is usually more advanced in the buying process, and therefore more ready to buy. This mind-set misplaces potential sales enquiries that comes through the dealership phone each day into time-wasting distractions.

More is not always a good thing

Advertising can only be effective if a company responds quickly and professionally to the enquiries that it generates. Often, companies focus too much on generating volume in enquiries without putting in place a system of managing these enquiries effectively. It is such a waste that when the customer eventually calls or visits the showroom, there are not enough trained sales employees to engage with these customers. This leads to extensive wastage as prospective customers get lost in a poorly designed sales process, creating the equivalent of “bailing water out of a sinking boat.”

A dedicated line for sales enquiries

Having a dedicated phone line for customer enquiries means that when the phone rings, the salesperson is at least psychologically prepared for the call. Usually, we discovered that when a salesperson knows in advance that the call coming through is a customer, the quality of engagement improves significantly. At the same time, sales people will not be interrupted by internal or external calls not relating to sales.

In dealerships where there is a dedicated team answering phone enquiries, we realised that not only were these calls answered well, the call centres are usually trained to provide information and more important, convert the enquiry into an appointment for the sales team. These calls are recorded in to a system and managed systematically.

The importance of a well-managed sales process

Customer enquiries play a crucial role in the development of business and accelerating sales performance. They constitute a return on investment from the advertising invested to generate awareness. Unless a dealership has put in place the mechanism to process and manage these enquiries, most can get lost in the day-to-day running of the business, leading to wastage and inefficiencies.

Although our research features only phone enquiries, a dealership that does not have a proven sales process in place will lose not just call-in customers but walk-in customers as well. Our experience tells us that walk-in customers not acknowledged or attended to is one of the biggest challenges for automotive dealerships everywhere. A busy weekend or a bored sales employee and the prospective customer is lost. Given that it costs the typical dealership up to $535 to generate a walk-in enquiry, can anyone afford to be careless about managing the sales process?

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