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It seems like phone skills have become a huge topic of conversation in our world again over the past 24 months or so. Frankly, I am not sure why they have not always been.

Vendors would have us believe the majority of the calls made to our dealerships are mishandled. They also want to convince us their “secret sauce” will add 10 to 20 deals’ worth of revenue to your bottom line. Meanwhile, your managers will tell you the sales and BDC teams are rocking it. Everyone is on their game and every call results in a wonderful conversation. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

Here are the first questions you need to ask to get a handle on your phone skills:

  • Does our CRM track calls?
  • Does our operator tracks calls?
  • Do we have tracking numbers in place?
  • How many sales calls are made on employee-owned mobile phones?

That last bullet is tricky. Most of us want our people to be constantly available to customers. But every call must be tracked to learn how their efforts translate to sales.

Incoming “switchboard” calls should be tracked as well. You need to know how many were for sales, F&I, service, general information (such as hours and directions) and personal matters. You will probably find that a huge percentage of your calls are for service — everything from appointments and pricing to “Is my car done yet?”

Let’s say you counted them all up and found you received a total of 100 calls yesterday. You need to know how many resulted in sales or service appointments and how accurately the information each customer relayed was transcribed. You also need to know your average hold time, the number of calls that were dropped, and whether your staffers were unfailingly polite.

How do you feel about the results? I’m guessing you feel your call-to-appointment ratio could be a bit higher, your customers could spend less time on hold, and they should have to repeat or correct their information less often.

Now that you have the numbers you need, it’s time to set new standards and enforce them among your managers and staff. If you are an expert on phones, then train them yourself. If not, get help. Find a trainer or a training company. This is entirely too valuable a commodity to ignore.

If a salesperson takes an up and does a mediocre job, a manager or another salesperson can jump in and save the deal. If someone screws up a call, chances are, you are already done. The responsibility for improvement is shared by everyone, from the receptionist to the title clerk, the BDC to the salesperson, the service advisor to the parts counterperson. Everyone is a source of customer satisfaction or customer heartburn.

Digital is growing fast, but we are going to be in the phone call business for a while. Embrace it, get good at it, and get help with it. Most importantly, just do it. Good luck and great selling!

Jason Heard is the general manager at Lee’s Summit (Mo.) Honda. He is a 20-year industry veteran with extensive sales and sales management experience. Contact him at [email protected].