Make a good impression over the phone

The saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” however, we’re all human, and we make judgments by first impressions every day. Knowing this, many dealers work hard to make the exterior of their dealership, their showroom, their employees, their websites and their social media sites presentable, but some miss one key component — the phone.

I call a lot of dealerships to gather sources for stories, and I’m surprised at how many dealerships clearly don’t have phone-answering policies. Many do, and for those who have one in place, give yourselves a pat on the back — you’re probably on the right track with customer service. If you’re a dealer who doesn’t have a policy, don’t panic, but do take the time to create one.

There’s nothing worse than calling a dealership and, after eight rings, someone picks up the phone and doesn’t identify him or herself. The first point of contact with the dealership makes it sound like a burden that you’re calling. That says to me that the dealership isn’t interested in earning new customers or taking care of its regulars. Whereas a dealership that pays close attention to its phone etiquette sounds welcoming and ready to help, no matter what the caller needs.

Though I’m no expert on phone etiquette, here are a few pet peeves when I call a retailer:

  1. The employee sounds irritated or rushed. Customers don’t want to feel like they’re burdening your staff when they call. A calm, friendly tone lets customers know their calls are appreciated.
  2. The person on the line doesn’t identify him or herself or their dealership. Most dealers thrive on personal relationships with their customers, and giving a name over the phone allows customers to immediately feel they “know” someone at the dealership. Also, identifying the dealership by name tells the customer they’ve called the right number.
  3. The person answering the phone talks too fast. I’ve called a number of dealerships at which the person answering the phone speaks so quickly that I’m not sure I’ve even dialed the right number. Slow down, so customers can clearly understand who you are and how you can help them.
  4. Inconsistency. Some dealers have a receptionist who answers phone calls 75 percent of the time, and he or she is friendly and has great phone etiquette. However, everyone takes days off or gets sick, so one person can’t always be the voice of the dealership. Train anyone who may be answering the phones how to do so correctly, so your customers don’t hear a personable voice the first time they call and a rude greeting the next.
  5. Not having a voicemail system. On Monday, we called a dealership that was closed. There was a message reminding the caller of the store hours, but after a pause, we were instructed to hang up the phone. It doesn’t bode well if you want customers to drop more than a few thousand dollars at your dealership, but they can’t even leave a message requesting a time to come check out a new unit. Those customers are probably calling your competitor after they hang up the phone.

Making small changes to fix these big mistakes can help any dealer come off as friendlier and more helpful in the long run. Some dealers may try writing a script for their employees, as one big retailer where I formerly worked did. Or you can create a checklist and use role-playing to help train your staff. The etiquette blog available here also has some great tips.

Good luck in creating this policy. I look forward to calling you!

Liz Hochstedler is the associate editor of Powersports Business, a trade magazine for the powersports industry. She reports on the powersports industry through Powersports Business’ varied media, including in the magazine and online. She assembles the brand’s twice-a-week e-news and handles a variety of assignments for the magazine. Powersports Business is known for its exclusive national dealer surveys, in-depth industry analysis and dealership conference, Profit Xcelerator.



One comment

  1. Liz, you touched on a very, very important topic. This is a critical, yet often invisible part of every company that is in business to make a profit. We provide clients with the technology to track and listen to their phone calls. It is common that new clients are often shocked by what they hear when they first start listening to their calls. Almost every business improve on their phone skills. We have clients that provide phone training for businesses and it is amazing to compare the “before and after” results.

    There was also a study conducted that called about 3000 car dealers after-hours. The results showed that 38% of them either had no voicemail or a voice mailbox that was full. That is essentially like slamming the door in the face of 40% of people that wanted something from your business.

    The other challenge with voicemail is that even when people DO reach your voicemail, 80% of them simply hang up without leaving a message. Utilizing call tracking technology, companies can capture that caller’s information regardless of whether they leave a message or not, giving you the opportunity to call them back.

    Missed Calls are another “profit leak” for companies. These are people that call your company, maybe wait through six rings, and hang up before anyone picks up. Again, with call tracking these calls are also captured and companies are instantly alerted that they missed a call.

    Thanks for shining some light on this crucial topic!

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