This Thursday I’m throwing it way back to 2001 to share with you my AutoSuccess feature story, Guaranteed Phone Success. Even though the article was published over a decade ago, there’s still a lot of valuable information to help you discover and/or re-evaluate your dealership goals. Enjoy!

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Dealerships all over the country are continually looking for ways to improve the way they communicate with their customers. Even though this element of our business is extremely important, dealers continually struggle to retain any positive, long-term results. I suppose the big question is: why?

This question becomes even more pertinent if we factor in the amount of profitability that is riding on the capability of our personnel to handle phone ups, to follow-up with unsold traffic, to consistently contact our owner base in regard to customer satisfaction (CSI), and to promote the store on an ongoing basis. When we also consider how we manage our electronic inquiries and how proficient we are in the follow-up of all our service customers, we may decide that some re-evaluation is necessary.

Dealers have tried a multitude of different systems and processes from Business Development Centers (BDCs), which have salespeople rotating through a phone room environment to Customer Development Centers (CDCs), which have specialists handling all phone activity, to the more conventional method of having salespeople complete all responsibilities.

All of these methods can work, providing the right mechanics are in place. But, unfortunately, there are many times when dealerships are not prepared to make the necessary adjustments to guarantee the results. I suppose the question may be: why now? Well, we know that maximizing our opportunities should always be a priority, but there has never been a more appropriate time to assess and evaluate the process for guaranteed phone success. Let’s break it down.

Customer Development Center – Overview

A CDC is an innovative approach to help increase dealership profitability through in-house telephone specialists. Why use specialists? We have come to the conclusion that for most sales-people you cannot put a square peg in a round hold. What I mean is that it is unreasonable to expect our salespeople to be experts in all areas. What if we were able to concentrate the salespeople’s efforts on the areas that they enjoy, like road-to-sale, lease presentation, product presentation, etc. and have another team of people communicate with our customer base?  All this could be done on a cost-effective basis, without increasing current expenses.

Ask yourself this question: How many of your salespeople are currently capable of effectively taking incoming calls, efficiently following up with their unsold traffic and on a day-to-day basis consistently contact their owner base? If the answer to this question is less than half, then you have answered your own question as to whether a CDC is a viable proposition. The alternative is to “force feed” the salespeople these functions, only to find that the same small percentage will complete the calls and the rest of your people will continue to struggle. Unfortunately, only 10-15% of your sales force will ever master the technique of successfully using the phone, even with extensive training.

Customer Development Center – Implementation

The key to successful implementation of a CDC is to keep it simple. Unfortunately, most dealerships that have tried this without bringing in an expert have turned a very simple concept into something difficult. It might be challenging to find 12-car-a-month salespeople.  Communication and call center specialists are more readily available and have trained to effectively and professionally handle the phone aspect of a business. We must understand that there are two fundamentals in improving sales/service profitability:

  1. Increase the opportunity base available to the dealership by having a constant flow of proactive activity and handle the opportunities available more efficiently!
  2. Manage through total opportunity management the activity available to the dealership on a daily basis.

In other words, the car industry is a numbers game. Always has been. Always will be. If you can embrace this philosophy, you will understand the importance of a CDC.

Total Opportunity Management
No matter the process you choose to maximize your opportunities, the same fundamentals apply, which include:

Accountability: Without the accuracy of the data for both phone and floor, it is impossible for management to improve the abilities of their people and more importantly, increase sales and profitability.

Managing Accountability: As soon as we have the ability to evaluate your personnel, we then must be prepared to take the necessary action. There must be a consequence for non-performance. If we do not implement performance standards, then the chances of us improving our results will be very much restricted.

Education: As soon as we are aware of the strengths and weaknesses of our people, our responsibility is to give them the opportunity to improve their skills and then demand more from them.

Increase Phone Up Sales 50-500%

Dealerships need structure in order to maximize their phone up activity immediately, and more importantly, maintain a high level of results on a consistent, long-term basis. You should identify your levels of expectations on a month-to-month basis, clearly defining how to achieve these levels. It is possible to deliver 15% of your phone up sales; you must prepare yourself to take the necessary action to accomplish this level of result.

All Areas of Service

The importance of coordinating service and sales with follow-up has to be priority. If we are going to protect our owner base, it has to start with having more consistency in our communication, throughout all departments. Areas of service to coordinate include:

• 100% follow-up of all service repair orders (ROs)
• Scheduled maintenance follow-up
• Rejuvenating delinquent service customers
• Service scheduling at the highest level
• Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI)

The overall drive to provide consistent, professional and effective communication with our customers is as always top priority. And no matter the business structure, every dealership should implement a strategy that works best for them.