Calling from a business phone

6 Do’s and Don’ts For Handling Calls to Your Dealership

Written By Eric Schlesinger

Incoming calls are some of the hottest leads for a car dealership.

However, if best practices aren’t in place, these calls can turn from a blessing to a tragic mess. Bad phone practices will negatively affect your dealership reputation, your customer loyalty, and the acquisition of new customers.

In today’s blog, we’ll discuss some Do’s and Don’ts your call dealership staff needs to keep in mind when they receive incoming calls.

#1: DO – Please, please, please – Answer the Car Dealership Phone!

According to a recent study by Marchex, when shoppers search for cars, services, or parts on their mobile phones and then call a dealership, 1 in 6 calls are not picked up. That’s about 16% of mobile shoppers who, right off the bat, are indirectly told to try another dealer, because “we’re too busy to answer the phone.”

I know it may sound harsh, but that’s exactly what your customer thinks when car dealers don’t pick up the phone. “You don’t have time for me.” There are so many car dealers out there, and whoever can offer the assistance needed first often wins.

No one wants to make this wrong impression and lose so many opportunities, especially if you get a commission on selling vehicles.

So what can you do about it?

Step 1: Measure your team’s phone performance to see how many incoming calls you are missing. Each call missed is a potential sale squandered.

Step 2: If you find that a lot of calls go unanswered, it may be time to segment your team so that you have a dedicated group answering the phones and setting up appointments. Then, you can have another team that closes the sale or takes care of the service when the customer comes in.

#2: DON’T Transfer the Shopper to the Wrong Rep, Whether it's For Sales or The Service Department

Sometimes, customers expect to speak to a particular person but end up getting transferred to someone else.

For example, a friend of mine called the service department of a dealership that was part of an auto group the other day. She asked for the Service Manager and was instead transferred to the primary auto group number.

This is not helpful to the customer and can create frustration and feelings of abandonment. It's here that the distrust can start to bubble. To the customer, a simple transfer is a given with any established business contact.

To prevent abandonment during transfers, make sure to double-check your processes for transferring:

  • Are the numbers correct?
  • Are they routing properly?
  • Have you accounted for any recent terminations or additions to your team and adjusted your internal phone list accordingly?

You want to ensure the shopper has a seamless and stressless customer experience on the phone talking to the right rep, and the only way this can happen is if your processes are functioning correctly. 

#3: DO – Pay Attention to Your Tone

Unlike chat where word choice and punctuation imply tone, phone calls rely on the inflection of your voice.

It’s important to pay attention to how your tone, and word choice, affect your shopper’s experience. And one way to do this is to listen first to how the shopper sounds when they speak.

If your shopper seems excited, mirror that excitement in your voice.

If your shopper seems upset, take a more concerned and business-ready tone.

Manipulating your tone is an art that all of your phone-suing staff should know. However, some people have more practice than others, and it’s important to find any weaknesses in your methods and fix them.

One way to manipulate your tone to be positive is to smile while you speak to customers. A neutral or tired face can actively influence your voice to sound uncaring and aloof.

If you’re a manager: In the case of tone, this is an issue that sometimes needs an outsider’s ears to confirm that corrective measures must be taken. Like any attempt at improvement, a 3rd party observation is crucial to note what you need to work on. Unfortunately, we are not always the best self-proctors.

For example, if you see you’re getting comments about your car dealership phone staff’s tone in reviews, consider setting up a surprise evaluation of your staff’s phone performance.

And better yet – you should have a process in place to monthly check your staff’s phone calls for quality. Don’t tell them when it will be, just let them know that you’ll be checking in on them from time to time. You can use these as formative coaching sessions to gradually build up to higher professionalism and self-awareness in tone and candor.

be mindful to have a positive tone when someone calls the dealership

#4: DON’T Forget to Put the Customer on Hold

Sometimes you must put customers on hold to look something up for them or transfer them to another rep (see Tip #2!).

However, sometimes your staff forgets to put the shopper on hold, and then they tell another employee something like, “I have no idea what this person is saying!”

First of all, you should NEVER talk about your customers in a negative way. Ears are everywhere. And it could seriously hurt your business. Even if you feel like you are safe to do so, you never know who will relay trash talk to managers or overhear you. (Yes, this kind of thing still happens in the business world).

Second, if you can prevent shoppers from being put on hold in the first place by answering their questions immediately, that is ALWAYS the best option.

However, if you NEED to put someone on hold to check on something, you should follow three rules of thumb:

-It needs to be done. Put the shopper on hold if you tell them you are going to do so. Always communicate this action, and if the hold takes too long, keep them updated by chiming in and thanking them for their patience.

-It needs to be brief. Make sure the shopper doesn’t wait very long. Just like in chat, shoppers who wait too long to receive information will hang up on you. Keep the wait time to 30 seconds max if possible.

Or, follow Century Interactive’s advice, and ask if it would be okay to call the shopper back once you’ve found the answer to their question. This is a good last resort and can reassure the customer that you are actively looking into something that may not be able to answered right then and there.

-It needs to be helpful. If you’re going to put the customer on hold, let them know what other options they can use to contact you. For example – instead of the usual elevator music, have a recording telling your phone shoppers they can also get their questions answered via chat on your website.

Also, if you put a customer on hold, and prefer to include some music – make sure it is not a Top 40 radio station. Sometimes these stations have unsavory music that might be insulting to your customers. Keep the music wordless – it’s a safer choice.

#5: DO Ask the Shopper to Set an Appointment

The same Marchex study shows that 63% of mobile shoppers were never asked to schedule an appointment. That’s quite a bit more than half!

Shoppers call to get their questions answered. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to move shoppers down the sales funnel by asking them to set up an appointment for test drives.

To get the most out of your communication channels, you need to proactively ask shoppers to visit your store. Car shopping isn’t entirely online yet, and maybe it never will be, so we still have to worry about our sales approach during phone calls.

Tip: The best method for setting appointments combines asking for an appointment with giving shoppers a reason why they should come into YOUR dealership:

  • If they call about service, ask them what time they want to come in to get their vehicle repaired. AND tell them about your unique specials, and your awesome amenities, or your free loaner vehicle services.

  • If they call to see if a vehicle is available, ask them if they’d like to stop by for a test drive. You should also mention if you have any incentives for why they should come by today, such as $100 off their purchase or a vehicle special that will be ending soon.

When you do set an appointment, don’t forget to ask for contact information! Incoming phone calls aren’t just for customer service – you need to make sure they are a valuable lead source as well.

#6: DON’T Hang Up Before Saying Goodbye

Just like during a chat, the shopper should be the one to end the conversation over the phone. You should never hang up the phone after just answering one question.

The shopper might have many questions not yet answered, or you might have questions you can ask them to make the shopper more decisive – or to help better understand their needs.

However, when you have no additional questions to ask, and the shopper isn’t speaking up, always ask a closing question like, “Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”

DO NOT hang up on the customer without making sure they’re done talking. If you do, they’ll probably think you were rude, and you might have a nasty review coming your way.

Instead, wait for the shopper to indicate that they don’t need any more information. Then tell them to have a great day and that you look forward to (hopefully) seeing them when they come in for their appointment!

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