It can sometimes be difficult for a dealership to find the right balance between handling leads efficiently and maintaining that personal touch that builds and maintains relationships with new and returning customers. At Germain BMW of Naples in Naples, Fla., the store’s customer relationship management strategy was built around maintaining this balance.

According to General Sales Manager Larry Oblinger, the dealership has taken a number of steps to manage customer calls and Internet leads more efficiently without sacrificing the personal touch that he believes can sometimes be lost when too many functions are automated or handled by a separate BDC or call center.

That doesn’t mean the dealership shies away from automating tasks in areas where it can be particularly helpful. Oblinger said the store utilizes ResponseLogix auto-responders and price quotes to immediately respond to customers who submit Internet leads; automated emails are also utilized for Internet leads assigned to long-term follow-up.

Most of the dealership’s focus is on phone contact with customers and improving the process for handling both outbound and inbound calls. “We still believe that our business’s success is based on relationships,” he said. “We automate what we have to [in order] to stay in touch with the clients, but … in terms of customer follow-up before and after the sale, even though we’re in a high-tech world, I still believe in picking up the phone and talking to people.”

Germain BMW
In Naples, Fla., the management staff at Germain BMW recently took on the task of better managing phone traffic. The answer was enlisting a call monitoring company, hiring a customer relations manager to handle some BDC-type functions and improving processes.

Despite their focus on better managing phone traffic and Internet leads, he said he did not believe a full-blown business development center is the best solution right now for the store, which sells a combined average of 130 new and used vehicles per month. “We’re a pretty good-sized store, but we haven’t found the need [for a complete BDC],” he stated. Instead, Germain BMW of Naples employs a few different tactics.

In terms of managing incoming phone traffic, the dealership enlisted the aid of call monitoring company CallRevu to better monitor and manage calls. Oblinger said that when the company began monitoring the dealership’s incoming calls not quite a year ago, he discovered over 50 percent of incoming calls “were not getting to a real person.” He said CallRevu helps management track the calls coming in from any of their vanity numbers and closely monitor which calls were answered by a live person and which went to voicemail.

While they have reduced the number going to voicemail, he said there are still times when a customer calls in and is unable to connect with someone immediately. He said CallRevu’s services have been extremely helpful in this respect. Someone at the company monitors the content of the missed calls and updates the dealership’s call monitoring dashboard every five minutes, so managers are able to see missed calls quickly and have an idea of what the caller wanted. Oblinger said that when it comes to returning these missed calls, he or one of the new- or used-car managers will return customers’ calls, apologize that no one was able to take their initial call, get some information from them and try to set an appointment.

Oblinger felt very strongly that these calls be returned by a manager rather than a salesperson. He stated, “We’re going to hand them off to a salesman eventually, but … I think the customer feels more important [getting a call back from a manager]. When they get shoved into voicemail and a manager calls them back, it tells them that we actually care about their business.”

Even though Oblinger did not believe a full-blown BDC was the best solution for the store, he was encouraged by several people to try hiring someone to handle a few BDC-type functions and over a year ago brought Dee Phommaseng on board to serve as the dealership’s customer relations manager. He described her as “a one-person BDC” and is very happy with how the customer relations manager position has worked for the dealership. “I’m not a big believer in having a large BDC where clients are … speaking to people that don’t really know much about the cars,” he said, but Phommaseng’s position strikes the right balance between mere appointment-setting and individualized service.

Initially, customers who’ve submitted Internet leads receive auto-responders. Then, calls and sets appointments with those customers who’ve indicated their willingness to be contacted by phone, which Oblinger said is about 80 percent of all Internet leads received by the dealership. “From what we can tell, about 20 percent of them just don’t want to talk to anybody; they just want all the information emailed to them,” he noted.

In the case of a customer who has submitted an Internet lead and indicated interest in a specific vehicle, Phommaseng will assign that lead to a salesperson who is able to answer any questions the customer might have about that model. The salesperson then reaches out by phone, answers any questions the customer might have and sets an appointment for the customer to visit the dealership.

Phommaseng also calls customers to confirm their appointments and is responsible for rescheduling any missed appointments. Additionally, she helps to handle the dealership website’s chat function and also performs some periodic long-term follow-up on Internet leads for which appointments could not be set.

Germain BMW
While the dealership's customer relations manager handles some of the dealership's phone traffic, many of the salespeople handle their customers cradle-to-grave. Management wants to keep it this way as much as possible so customers deal with the same person through the whole process.

Although she handles multiple customer-contact-related functions, Oblinger prefers that salespeople handle customers with a “cradle-to-grave” approach as much as possible and stresses to his salespeople the importance of phone contact with customers. “I don’t like handing customers off too many times,” he stated. Once a customer has visited the dealership, it is the responsibility of the salesperson to continue to follow up with them. Salespeople are required to make 15 phone contacts daily, meaning that the salesperson must actually reach the customer and engage in conversation, not simply reach their voicemail or answering machine and leave a message. He said it may take 30 or 40 actual phone calls to accomplish this daily goal. He also requires the new- and used-car sales managers to call every customer who visited the dealership the previous day to make certain their visit went well.

The need for making customer contact goals each day is emphasized in short training meetings Oblinger holds every morning, which he tries not to let exceed 15 or 20 minutes. He also mentioned that Phommaseng and the other managers monitor the outbound calls being made each day, so if a certain salesman is getting a little overwhelmed and is not able to keep up with returning calls, they can address that and make certain the customers are being contacted as they should be.

Another potential touchpoint with customers has been established by the dealership’s use of equity alerts, a service offered by their CRM system provider, Dominion Dealer Solutions. Oblinger said the store has been utilizing the equity alerts for at least a year, which have created great opportunities for customer retention and repeat business. As soon as a customer makes a service appointment, the dealership’s CRM system will send the salesperson and Oblinger an equity alert if that customer is in a position to get into a newer vehicle at a lower monthly payment. The salesman has the opportunity to contact the customer ahead of the service appointment to advise them of their equity position. Oblinger said he prefers that the appropriate salesperson make this call within two days of the triggered alert; however, to catch any missed opportunities, he has another individual who monitors the alerts and calls the customer if the assigned salesperson was unable to do so within an acceptable time frame. He said the dealership gets about 50 equity alerts a month, resulting in an extra six to eight vehicle sales each month.

Oblinger said that while he is not in favor of having a complete BDC, he is not against the idea of expanding it if the store’s sales volume dictates such a change. “As our business grows, if we need to have another person that does what [Phommaseng] does, we’re not opposed to that. That’ll probably happen,” he said, and added that what he is opposed to is the idea of creating a separately-staffed department “to do nothing but make outgoing calls and handle all the incoming calls … because when you do that, you’re essentially taking all the phone traffic away from your salespeople.” He believed it is important for salespeople to maintain connections with their customers on a personal level. “We’re relationship-driven here, and it’s worked well for us.”

Vol. 9, Issue 6