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It goes without saying that training is essential for your call center and all employees who handle your inbound phone calls. While some dealerships have chosen to use third-party companies for this function, I am not a big fan of outsourcing your call center for several reasons:

• It is only a short-term solution (if you consider it a solution at all).
• The team that you outsource to does not have the same allegiance as a traditional in-house solution.
• Outsource teams do not understand and appreciate the true value of your dealership; therefore, it is not realistic for them to convey your unique value proposition to a prospect.

I can understand outsourcing if there were an internal crisis or business was so good your in-house staff could not handle the volume; likewise if you want assistance with your long-term follow-up, leads and or aged prospects. In those cases, it might be a necessity. Outsourcing is a great way of gaining incremental business without tying up your front-line people with long-term (lower-closing) opportunities. I sincerely do not think it is wise for a dealer to simply hand over all of their incoming phone calls or leads to an outside team.

I believe taking that route treats the symptom but doesn’t address the problem. You need well-trained professionals on your team handling these calls. We all know that almost any solution can show improvement. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

So, while you may see improvement with an outsourced solution, I truly believe that you will create greater value and do much better with a trained in-house team. Remember, your internal folks have more skin in the game. Investing in your own people almost always pays big dividends in the long run for your store.

Many stores are very busy and dealerships just don’t invest time, energy or money in training. The average dealership spends about $50,000 in advertising every month and the average store has 10 sales consultants. That’s $5,000 per salesperson in advertising with little or no training whatsoever. Does that make sense to you? On behalf of our dealer clients, our company conducts thousands of mystery shopper calls and performs call monitoring for inbound calls. Here are some highlights of what we have observed:

• The phone call goes to multiple places before it reaches the right person. The receptionist answers (sometimes after way too many rings) then it goes to this person, then that person. This is especially true if a floor salesperson gets the call from the receptionist, then it has to go the special finance manager or Internet manager. If a prospect phones in and is excited about buying a car or improving their credit, we need to make it extremely easy for that person to get in touch with someone who can fulfill their needs immediately and keep that excitement alive.

• The initial greeting is often botched. Most of the phone calls start off horribly wrong, and guess what—they end the same way. Oftentimes, sales consultants, BDC representatives or call center staff members answer the phone or make the outgoing call without any level of enthusiasm.

It sometimes sounds like they are tired, angry, bored and sometimes like they are being inconvenienced. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. The strongest form of communication is visual perception and body language, but you don’t have that luxury over the phone. You must maximize what you have: your voice, your energy and your passion.

• There seems to be no strategy, no process and no control. Too often the prospect dictates the pace and direction of the call. The problem is that, for the most part, the people within the call center or dealership are all working from different scripts. If you have a dealership that has 10 different sales consultants or a BDC/call center with 10 representatives, you are going to have 10 different ways the phones are being answered and 10 different ways prospects are going to be called.

Inconsistency is not good. You need one standard operating procedure for incoming and outgoing calls. This will ensure integrity to your process and bring you closer to your goal of building value in your dealership. The sole purpose of the phone call is to sell the appointment, not the car!

• Prospects aren’t qualified the right way (if at all). Some reps ask the prospect what kind of car are they looking for, and that is the extent of their qualifying tactics. There are a lot of important questions you can ask the prospect like, what is important to them in deciding where to buy a vehicle. Most people on the phones try to sell the vehicle. The sole goal of your team should be to sell the appointment, so build value in the appointment. To do that, the consultant or call center rep must qualify the prospect thoroughly and identify their wants, wishes and expectations. Once that’s done, the dealership can meet the customer’s expectations and then exceed them. How do you know what the prospect wants if you don’t simply ask?

• A major flaw in call handling is failing to obtain the customer’s information. That’s right; many people on the phones at dealerships do not ask for or get the prospect’s information--basic stuff like their name or phone number. What happens is that they have a conversation on the phone and then simply hang up and hope the prospect comes into the dealership.

If you think the odds are in your favor that the prospect will waltz into your dealership, then I’d like to talk to you about a trip to Las Vegas and a visit to the craps table. Your team must always ask for the caller’s name, phone number and any other information you can obtain, like an e-mail address or Instant Messenger address, and their preferred method to be contacted. Get the picture? To paraphrase one of my favorite books: you don’t ask, you don’t get.

• Sales consultants aren’t building value in your dealership. Again, it comes down to conveying that level of enthusiasm people love to hear on the phone. Sales are about transference of energy! If you are excited about your dealership, a particular vehicle or a particular sale, then let your prospect feel that genuine excitement. You need to be able to articulate why your dealership is the best on the planet and why they really need to come in for an appointment.

• There is a lack of preparation. It often seems too many representatives are playing checkers, not chess. You need to have a complete library of objections and rebuttals in order to be prepared. Your team needs to have a clear understanding of how the phone call needs to go. Typically, for example, the prospect might throw out several objections to coming in for an appointment. If you are not prepared to respond and overcome these objections, prospects are never going to come in.

• Many folks never ask for the appointment. They go through the entire phone call process and never even ask for the appointment. Even worse, they might ask for the appointment and the prospect objects or says no, and they succumb to the rejection, let the prospect go and move on to the next phone call. Always ask for the appointment. Sometimes you might have to ask for it three or four times throughout the conversation. Identify why they are objecting, handle that objection and try again for the appointment. If the customer gives another objection, isolate that one, meet that expectation and go for the appointment again.

Let me leave you with the bottom line. People are always looking for the easy way to do things. The reason people don’t lift weights is because they are heavy. Just remember that if you want the things most people don’t have, you must do the things most people aren’t willing to do to get them.

Train your people to be professionals. 
Special Finance Insider Vol. 2, Issue 1