The early days of business development centers for car dealers focused on one goal and used two tools. The goal was to set an appointment and bring the potential customer to the store. The tools were phone calls and e-mails.

The goal hasn’t changed much. While it is possible to complete the details of a car deal through correspondence and ship it to the customer, for the most part a BDC is still shooting for the all-important kept appointment, whether for new customers or be-backs. The tools, however, have expanded tremendously. Every BDC should be taking advantage of the new ways to communicate, as well as other tools to enhance their current methods of communication.

Calls and E-mails
Even though the tools are the same, what happens during the interaction has changed. Many people want more information over the phone or through e-mail than they did before. Having the resources to offer the appropriate information is essential.

During phone calls, there is nothing more frustrating than reading off a long URL in an attempt to direct a customer to a specific page of the dealer Web site, only to have a slash missed or letter typed in wrong. URL shorteners such as or make it easier to get your customers to the right place without frustration on either end. Which would you rather read to a customer:


They both go to the exact same place.

When using e-mails, directing everyone to the Web site is important, but there should be other places you can send them as well. Do you have an easy-to-use credit application link available, a YouTube channel with videos of your vehicles (maybe even the vehicle they are currently considering) or testimonials on your blog? If not, your BDC is missing the boat.

Luckily, there’s help.

With technology today, it would take a semi-trained BDC representative less than five minutes to take a $129 flip camera out to a car, shoot a quick video of it inside and out, and have it up on the dealership’s YouTube channel, ready for a customer to see.

If you don’t have a video camera or a YouTube channel, it’s time to talk to your marketing company or Web site provider. In 2009, more time will be spent watching videos online than reading e-mail. People want to see real videos (not images turned into videos with voiceovers) of the vehicle they’re considering buying, especially if they have to drive a significant distance to come see you. A BDC that is willing to send videos to customers will be more likely to set appointments and make certain they are kept.

The video should be short but thorough. Walk around the vehicle. Point out any blemishes. Get into the car, film the dashboard, zoom in on the odometer, and show the floor and seating. End the film by getting out of the vehicle and saying, “And if this isn’t the exact Mustang for you, I’ve got a whole row of others.” Then, pan out and show a tight view of the rest of the lot. It works.

Live Chat
The dealers who are least likely to use live chat in their BDC are the ones who were using it a couple of years ago. Those who did not see success back then are reluctant to try it again. Times have changed, and live chat works well now, if monitored.

Where it failed before was in the interface. Many computers were unable to use live chat properly a few years ago. Some users had to download plugins; others got errors. It was too much of a hassle and few were effective.

Just about any computer built in the last year can handle live chats without issue. As more people migrate to faster Internet connections, the ability to answer direct questions in real time is appealing to a certain demographic who simply don’t want to make a call or wait for an e-mail.

A BDC that can direct a phone call or e-mail lead to the dealership blog has the advantage of showing the “face” of the dealership outside of sales and service. They can demonstrate the dealership’s wonderful testimonials, community engagement, and even introduce some of the team at the dealership.

First, of course, your dealership needs a blog. The problem is knowing how to blog, where to blog, what to blog about, and who is going to handle all of this. There are professional blogging services out there to help. More importantly, it isn’t difficult to have someone at the dealership manage it. Be warned; a poorly maintained blog is worse than having no blog at all.

Social Networks
Communication through Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites is getting bigger every day. People enjoy this form of open communication. Dealers and their BDCs need to not only have a presence but also the ability to “tweet” well. Just as with blogging, social networking is better left undone if it isn’t going to be handled properly.

I could write a book about how to properly manage and grow social networking accounts. Space doesn’t allow me to cover it all at once but you can  contact me through e-mail for tips and advice.

It’s a Lot, but It’s Worth It
This all sounds like BDC overload. In the past, equipping a BDC with this many tools (and these aren’t all of them) would seem to bring too much noise without the ROI. In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, most dealers cannot afford to miss an opportunity. By offering your customers the means to communicate with you the way they prefer, you’re opening your dealership up to opportunities to make a sale. Today, chances cannot be squandered.