When the coronavirus pandemic swept into the U.S. this spring, the only people calling Shults Auto Group were customers who were ready to buy a vehicle.
The retailer's stores, in New York and Pennsylvania, were required to close early on under statewide restrictions to limit transmission of the virus. As business picked up, so did the number of callers who weren't so ready to transact, said Matthew Kahm, managing partner of two of the group's eight franchised dealerships.
Kahm said agents in the company's business development centers adapted to quickly moving serious prospects through the pipeline, but that process didn't work as well for customers who wanted to negotiate or needed more information. Calls were blindly transferred to sales reps without verifying whether those reps were available, or callers' names and contact information weren't taken down.
Phone contact often is the first impression a customer has of a dealership, several dealership phone services providers told me. If the experience doesn't go well, a customer could decide to buy a vehicle from a competitor.
That means dealerships without solid phone processes could mishandle customer calls and lose prospective sales.
That's not uncommon, said Anthony Giagnacovo, CEO of CallRevu, which sells call-tracking products to dealerships. Before COVID-19 hit, dealerships with the best phone management connected only about 60 percent of calls. That success rate dipped "quite significantly" during the pandemic, he said.
Vendors can track calls and alert dealerships when opportunities are being missed. But, Giagnacovo added, dealerships also have to focus on training.
Kahm said he revisited training during the pandemic with his BDC agents to slow down the transfer process and improve the customer experience.
"That's our last chance" to win over a customer, he said of the phone interaction. "Even with as much as I emphasize the phone, we're still learning and training our team on what to do and what not to do."