The Internet can be your best friend or your worst enemy. To effectively communicate and maintain strong relationships with Internet customers, responses to inquiries must be immediate and consistent and you must interact with customers on the latest Web 2.0 Internet avenues.

When handling e-mail inquiries, the dealership’s initial e-mail response should be made within five minutes. The e-mail needs to include a call to action, reason(s) the customer should buy from you, acknowledgement of the customer’s question, and question(s) for the customer to generate activity and continue dialogue. I suggest resisting the urge to use e-mail templates as responses. I also suggest only using auto-responders after hours. Also, all auto-responses must include a reasonable expectation for live follow-up.

Customers who engage in the live chat portion of your Web site expect an immediate answer. Dealers should strive to have their average chat response time under 10 seconds. While it may seem obvious, before responding, read what the customer said so you can answer appropriately as opposed to using a canned response. If a customer starts a chat with, “Hi. I’m looking at a new Sequoia,” you don’t want to respond with, “Hi. This is Glynn from ABC Motors. How may I assist you today?”

Instead, you want to develop a chat by saying something like, “Ooh, nice choice! Hi, my name is Glynn, and yours is?” Acknowledge what the customer said and share information with them, so they will be more likely to share information with you. It’s the law of reciprocation and you can use it to get valuable customer information.

Phone Calls
When the Internet drives phone calls to your dealership, I suggest and teach the “Four I’s”—Introduction, Interview, Initiate and Insinuate. While it’s a much more in-depth process, I’ll summarize the main points. In the introduction, it’s important to make a good first impression and establish rapport. During the interview, use the law of reciprocation to get the customer’s contact information. In the “initiate” stage, begin to close on the appointment by setting a time. The “insinuate” stage includes confirmation of the appointment and making sure the customer writes down all the important information about their appointment.

Social Networking

If you’re going to get serious and invest in social networking, you must have somebody committed to keep it up. With sites like Facebook, MySpace, and especially Twitter, you’ve got to be online almost non-stop (at least once an hour) to make updates, “tweet” and respond to “friends,” “fans” and “followers.” When it comes to sharing information on social media, dealers should share all the sizzle they can—lifetime warranties, tires for life, up to $7,500 cash back, links to take advantage of “today’s special,” etc.

Equally important to note is if your employees use social media for your dealership, it should be only as a representative of your dealership. Don’t allow employees to post their position at your company on their personal pages because any page with your dealership’s name on it becomes a representative of your business. There can be some pretty funky stuff on peoples’ personal pages that you don’t want associated with your business.

Customer Review Sites

If you’re seeing negative customer reviews on other sites, I absolutely suggest trying to contact these customers to fix the problem and, hopefully, get the negative review taken down if possible. When responding to a negative review, don’t over-apologize on behalf of the dealership or anybody in particular. Rather, become the person’s friend and create a solution.

However, I believe preventative medicine is the best, so I suggest calling customers immediately after appointments, both sold and unsold, to make sure their experience was a positive one. You can usually put out the fire before a customer goes online to post a negative review. In some cases, the customer may just need a little validation about their purchase to help avert any negative feelings they may have toward the dealership.
The Internet is a powerful tool. Used wisely, it will allow you to significantly enhance your dealership’s image. Increased business should follow. However, don’t think like a hammer so that everything you see looks like a nail. The Internet should remain a part of your overall marketing strategy. An important part, yes, but only a part.

Vol. 7, Issue 2