Are Call Management Strategies Still Working?

By Desiree Homer

The digital subscription, add to cart world of today is much different than it was ten or twenty years ago. Before the internet, everyone relied on phones as primary methods of communication. As the age of websites, SEO, and Amazon retail took hold, and how customers preferred to be engaged changed with it. Dealerships rushed to launch digital platforms that even now offer almost entirely screen-based sales processes. So, what happened to the phone call and the traditional voice conversation? We dove into this very topic back in 2018, and the tech-based communication methods have continued to evolve. Call management is not as obsolete as you might think, even today.

What We Learned in 2018

We learned in 2018 that businesses not tending to phone interactions are more than likely leaving money on the table. We shared Forrester Research that found phone-based leads were still outperforming other sources. In 2018, marketers reported that customers who initiate a phone call to the dealership did so 30% quicker and spent 28% more. Even a few years ago, the customer journey was diverse, consisting of multiple touchpoints during the sales process. However, Forrester’s disclosed, “customers who initiate an inbound call at some point in the customer journey comprise an average of 27% of their overall sales.” We also learned, according to a study by Cox Automotive, that phone call inquiries made up 26% of customers’ initial contacts with dealers. Yet, IHS Automotive reported that 84% of incoming customer sales calls were not converted to sales.

Here are a few other statistics every dealer should know based on that previously conducted Cox Automotive study for 2018:

  • Your potential customers are performing 60% of their shopping and buying process online. This means the other 40% of their journey isn’t digital.
  • These same buyers spend their online browsing in two areas, 78% are surfing third-party sites, and 53% are hitting up the dealership websites in their area directly.
  • The first point of contact with a dealer today is in person and on the showroom for 49% of buyers.
  • Customers are still craving a better car buying experience, with 46% saying they’re satisfied with the length of the process, and another 54% would buy from a dealer providing an experience, versus vehicle price.

How Are Dealers Managing Calls in 2020?

Exploring the latest trends and customer engagement strategies of today, we have found that many inbound calls are not being nurtured to fruition. In fact, one source indicates 16% of calls into the dealership go unanswered altogether. Another alarming stat that might have you scrambling, 63% of calls that are answered initially are not asked for an appointment. Some studies suggest addressing these two core issues, answering the calls and asking for the appointment, can increase customer conversions by up to 20%.

A New Approach to Sales Today

The vehicle information available with a scroll of the phone or click of the mouse is only the beginning. They are looking for a more substantial, trust-building conversation to seal the deal. Back in 2018, we highlighted the old ways of getting people in the door, that involved phone conversations keeping relevant information cryptic. There was a shift that used to be about getting them to the desk first, then talking to them about the vehicle. Today, people get all the information they need, whenever they want to consume it, about every vehicle on the market. A sales approach today might be one that is more willing to offer additional details about models and inspiring incentives for potential customers to migrate to your showroom floor for a test drive.

Another key benefit of call management is data gathering. During a conversation with an inbound lead, your teams can gather relevant information about the buyer, including demographics and vehicle interests. Many dealerships today are data mining with their call efforts to help them strategically target their digital strategies. Some are focusing on collecting vehicle data, like trade-ins and customer interests. Then using this data, they are structuring their text and email campaigns with more individualized messages. Others are targeting more demographic-related details, including age, occupation, and address. The nature of a phone conversation allows for the sharing of relevant information. People naturally offer details; only the personal touch of a phone call can inspire.

Lead management strategies are also greatly impacted by the increased flow of customer information. Dealers today can leverage third-party vendors for real-time management. Others are bringing those data collection efforts in house and creating subsequent marketing campaigns to meet those potential buyers in their preferred methods of communication. Those exploring more enhanced data are gathering critical points of interest, including estimated incomes, lifestyle interests, and VIN for current household vehicles. 

You’re Leveraging Outbound Calls, But Not Seeing Results

You may have implemented a call management strategy in the last two years. But, maybe you’re not seeing the results you predicted. Low conversion rates in phone calls don’t necessarily indicate there’s a misstep in your sales staff. As we highlighted in 2018, some managers, born and raised in the days of old school industry, want to play their cards close to the chest, and often advise the front lines to do the same. In yesterday’s sale approach, it was about dangling the carrot but not showing your entire hand. Today’s consumers need to see every ace you have, or you risk losing them. You’re not holding back anything they can’t find somewhere else, and usually a click or two away. If your teams are struggling to reach conversion goals, you might want to review your strategy, and any management personnel responsible for driving it.

The invitation is still your critical point of conversation. Ask for the appointment and entice the customer to come to visit your facility for the experience. Your selling point is why visiting your showroom will help them celebrate this purchasing decision. Test driving is still just as powerful today as it was in years past. A person can fall in love with the feeling behind the wheel, and that’s something they can’t get from online and digital surfing. Engage them with suggestive language that evokes an emotional response, like the feel of the leather steering wheel or the convertible top experience. Relieve the pressure to buy by reminding them a test drive is just that – a test. Only the consumer can decide if the car fits. And, just like that, you’ve created a personalized invitation, without commitment, to visit your showroom.

Here are a few tips from today’s experts for improving your call system management results.

  • Know how many phone calls go unanswered or mishandled. Establish a checks and balances, so every ring is met with a friendly voice, and every potential car buyer is being asked for an appointment.
  • Only about half of your inbound calls are those interested in potentially buying a car. Every conversation should be enthusiastic and welcoming as if that individual had just walked through the door.
  • If you’re using automated or routed phone systems, make sure you’re monitoring the analytics to ensure each call is being routed correctly, and no calls are being lost or dropped in transit.
  • Test it out! Call your own dealership at various points throughout the day. Ask for sales and service. If you aren’t impressed with how you were handled, you know some of your potential customers probably aren’t either.
  • After hours inquiries need a strict process for follow up. Make sure you aren’t missing opportunities to connect with customers leaving general mailbox messages.

Incentivizing Your Teams for Ongoing Healthy Competition

Many of the experts we found two years ago suggested using call metric incentives for your call management teams. Instead of limiting your sales teams to sales only results, consider expanding the pay-per-performance platform to include incentives for other customer steps. Some dealers offer bonuses based on the number of appointments scheduled, customer appointments kept, and percentage objectives. For example, setting a 60% appointment ratio as a benchmark can equal rewards and recognition. Identify key metrics around test drives, too. It doesn’t have to be outrageous money or unsustainable amounts. But, enough of an incentive can foster an environment of friendly competition and goal achievement.

The One More Call Theory Still Works

It’s easy to set up call metrics for your teams, whether it be a daily benchmark or weekly total. But, it’s just as easy for people to lose momentum in making the calls. Instead, encourage and support the sales staff throughout the day or week of calling. Remind them that just when they’ve had their last ‘no’ of the day, make just one more call. Often that extra step ends in results. After all, sales is a numbers game and so is hitting the phones. It may take eight or nine calls to one customer to finally make the appointment. It might be timing throughout the day to catch customers at the best times. Get creative and nurture your appointment setters through their processes. It’s sound advice from 2018 that continues to produce results, even today.

It’s a digital landscape out there, but the phone isn’t dead. While some of the customer buying preferences have shifted since we last took a deeper dive in 2018, digital options married with conversation and personalization seems to be the magic wand. It’s a crowded and noisy space online, and buyers will still buy where they have the best experience. Those dealers who can leverage a healthy mix of convenient click-through options in conjunction with some old fashion phone calling and relationship building are winning, today more than ever.