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Phone Calls: The Good, the Bad, and the Exceptional

Competition is heating up.  Shoppers are more informed than ever.  Margins are shrinking.

Amid the challenges and chaos of a modern dealership, one thing remains certain: the best opportunity for you to sell more cars is to do more with the leads you already have.

Why the phones?phone calls

Dealerships are losing millions of opportunities every day because of mishandled phone calls that leave shoppers stranded on hold, dumped into voice mailboxes, or vaguely promised a return call.

You already know the “customer experience” matters. But, did you know phone calls are three times more likely to convert than other types of leads?  That means your dealership’s customer experience over the phone matters. In fact, it matters a whole lot.

Remember – competition is increasing. Customers are more informed.  Margins are shrinking. It is crucial that your staff is trained to properly handle every inbound and outbound call. Without exceptional phone skill execution, your dealership’s bottom line will suffer.

I get it. It’s hard to grasp what is happening on every phone call. It’s even harder to seek clarity on how well your staff is performing with every lead calling into your dealership.

That’s why I want to share with you how to differentiate between good, bad and exceptional phone calls. Understanding the different qualities of calls will help you to confidently know what is truly happening on your phone lines.

Let’s break it down.

The bad…

“Can I put you on hold please?”

There are few customer service experiences worse than the immediate bump to hold.  The cheesy music doesn’t help. Neither does waiting…. and waiting …. and waiting… and waiting.

Maybe it’s not a rushed and poorly mannered receptionist. Instead, it could be a lovely greeting and quick transfer to the sales department as requested. Yet when that critical sales call is transferred to the sales team, everyone seems to be missing. It’s a ghost town as the phone rings and rings.

What about phone calls that actually do connect to someone who can help?  The “bad” phone calls are often more disguised than stranded callers or customers left on hold for too long.

Maybe you have a sales guy who always sounds pretty good on the phone.  He speaks confidently and appears to take great care of customers. It seems like he always answers the phone quickly and speaks with customers longer than anyone.

Every dealership has a salesperson like this.  You might be imagining your own version right now.  Unfortunately, he has one major flaw that kills your bottom line: He doesn’t ask customers to come visit the dealership. Requesting an appointment is critical which means the absence of an appointment request has the ability to turn good calls to bad, instantly.

You may think your agent is off the hook once the call is over. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it, does the tree make a noise? If the phone rings and the lead isn’t logged in CRM, did it actually happen? What good is a well executed phone call if there is no history of the lead?  Calls that go missing from CRM typically aren’t followed up with. Callers that aren’t followed up with typically buy somewhere else.

It’s simple.  A bad phone call, whether obvious or subtle, hurts your bottom line.  

The good…

What about the phone calls that seem to sound right and have no inherent red flags? I’m talking about calls that are answered quickly and have appointment requests. The calls where a sales agent is friendly and attentive to customer needs.

I know you’ve overheard these before. These calls give you a sense of relief when you hear agent Bob introducing himself at the beginning of every conversation and then immediately asking for the caller’s name to help build rapport.

“Thanks for calling ABC Nissan. This is Bob. Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

“Thanks Kristin, how can I help you today?”

You then feel a sense of confidence that the phone skill training recaps you give in your morning sales meetings are finally being put to practice. Score!

It’s music to your ears when you hear your best sales agent, Debbie, say, “Would you be interested in coming in for a test drive?”

These are definitely steps in the right direction.  You should feel excited because progress is happening. However, it might still feel like the results you want are missing.

Although Bob asked for the customer’s name (which is great!), that was the only rapport he attempted to build throughout the entire call. He did not gather additional information about the callers vehicle preferences or shopping status.

And even though Debbie invited the customer in for a test drive, she didn’t do her due diligence in securing the appointment. We already know that booking an appointment is the number one goal for every phone call. But, appointments that are not set with a firm date, time, and confirmation only result in a 25 percent show up rate.

So although these are all good habits that your sales agents should be exhibiting on the phone, they aren’t influential enough to move your bottom line.   

phone calls

The exceptional…

Exceptional may seem a little too ambitious, but it’s more attainable than you might think.

Exceptional calls start with a simplified routing and transfer procedures. We want to create a smooth customer experience the moment a phone rings.

Think of the example of our bad calls.  A lovely receptionist exhibited polite phone skills but dropped the ball when she transferred the customer to sales. Think how different the customer experience would have been if customer Sally simply selected the department she needed from a phone bridge versus being passed through a handful of people.  Or what if Sally was calling to specifically speak to sales agent Jim and was routed directly to him? What if your agents were trained to handle transfers like this:

“Sally, do you mind if I place you on a brief hold? I want to be sure Jim is available to take your call before I transfer you.”

It would make quite the difference, huh? These simple steps positively influence the customer’s first impression of the dealership while also increasing the likelihood of the customer getting properly serviced on their initial call.

We know it takes an average of five or more outgoing calls to reconnect with a customer. With that, it’s imperative to properly connect your customer on their first call into the dealership since it may be the only chance you get. Warm transferring helps ensure you are successfully connecting your customers to someone who can help while eliminating the extra step to reconnect with customers.

Another hack is making it a point to use the customer’s name throughout the conversation to help build rapport. You can even take building rapport a step further by finding out what the customer likes about the inventory they are calling about.

“Kristin, that is a great car! Let me ask you, what is it that you specifically like about it?”

This not only helps build a relationship between the sales agent and customer, but it also equips the agent with knowledge of what matters to the shopper. So in the cases when your dealership doesn’t have a specific piece of inventory available, your agent will know enough about the customers preferences to suggest an alternative vehicle that appeal to their interests.

Exceptional phone calls are also marked by agents going the extra mile to book and solidify firm appointment dates and times. This can be easily be accomplished by having your agents always offer customers an “either or” option, so they feel like they’re being given choices.

“I can’t wait for you to test drive this car, I know you’re going to love it! Does tomorrow at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m. work better for you?”

Additionally, by scheduling a firm appointment your caller feels more committed to showing up versus letting a customer skate by with “OK, I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon.” A firm commitment will go a long way in boosting your show up rates.

To top things off, exceptional calls are sealed with ensuring that lead is accurately logged in CRM. This ensures that all the work put into making the call exceptionally great is correctly tracked and followed up with to avoid valuable opportunities slipping through the cracks.

Exceptional phone performance requires more than mundanely practicing “good” phone skills and avoiding “bad” calls. Executing exceptional phone calls comes down to leveraging phone skills as a sales strategy to bring more phone ups through the doors of your dealership.

Ultimately, exceptional phone calls are what will keep your dealership ahead of the competition  in offering optimal customer service and preventing missed revenue opportunities.

Don’t settle for just “good”, strive for the “exceptional” and see how your team transforms into confident phone experts who never miss their chance to convert phone ups.  

Mike Haeg
Mike Haeg
Mike’s company produces the Car Wars automotive call-tracking program. He loves fusing technology with people to help dealerships “own the phone.”

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