Are You Listening to Your Customers?

How Your BDC Can Hurt You by Not Answering Your Customers’ Questions

By Brian Brown, COO, Dave Cantin Group

Have you ever told a white lie to get a customer into the dealership? You’d hardly be alone. While it’s a common practice, in 2020, it needs to change. It’s time for the automotive industry to let customers shop the way they want to shop and not the way dealers want them to shop. The resistance to digital retailing tools, answering customers’ questions and full transparency are coming to an end. It’s about time.

Customers have more options than ever. There are dealerships everywhere. There’s Carvana with its drop-off service and giant vehicle “vending machines.” There are subscription services, car sharing and more. Customers are increasingly choosing not to shop in places that don’t give them what they want.

Evaluate Your Customer Interactions

When a customer asks your BDC agent a question, what response does he or she give the customer? The truth? Anything to get the customer in the door? Whatever will get that customer off the phone the fastest?

Customers are used to getting the runaround from dealerships, so being the dealer that tells the truth is a competitive advantage. Answer your customers’ questions and they’ll appreciate it. Answer them honestly and they’ll really appreciate it. Seems simple, right?  Too often, however, a BDC operates under the “say whatever you have to say to get them in the door” set of rules. The thinking goes like this: tell the caller whatever they want to hear to get them in the door and we’ll worry about it when they get here. In some cases, BDC agents might flatly refuse to answer a customer’s question because it’s “against our policy” and “We only discuss that in person.”

In 2020, you might as well be telling customers “get lost” to their faces.

Lying Erodes Trust

Telling a customer whatever it takes to get them in the door can be problematic for a variety of reasons. For starters, if customers catch you lying to them, they won’t buy a car from you. You’re not trustworthy. Secondly, that customer might choose to write a negative review about you on social media for hundreds of potential future customers to see with a simple search. Finally, lying to someone is not a great way to start a business relationship. It makes customers angry. It should make you squirm.

Following are some common BDC questions that are often handled incorrectly, together with an analysis. If you or your BDC operate like this, it may be time to rethink your strategy.

Q: I’m calling about the 2014 Honda Civic on your website – is it still available?

A: Yes, we have that car in stock. (Even though the car is sold.)

Analysis: Some BDCs operate under the “everything is available rule.” Though the car is sold, the BDC agent tells them it’s available to lure the customer in the door. What this approach does is put you in damage control mode from the start. When the customer arrives and discovers that the car is sold – particularly if that customer drove a good distance — a sales person or sales manager will be required to calm an (understandably) upset potential buyer. If you were hoping to have a future relationship with this shopper, you can probably forget about it.

The best policy is to inform the customer, “I’m sorry, that car is sold, however, we have a few more just like it. Can I tell you about them?” Sure, it might not get them in the door immediately, but you’re not risking alienating the shopper with tricks.

Q: What’s the best lease price you can give me on that vehicle?

A: I’m sorry, we only negotiate in person, not over the phone. When you come in, you can discuss that with a manager.

Analysis: There are several problems with this strategy. Customers want honest answers, and the first dealership that gives them the price will have the upper hand in a future sale. Imagine that the customer has been making multiple phone calls to find the best price on a vehicle and two out of three dealerships give them a price. Is the customer even going to consider the dealership that refused? It’s unlikely. The next problem is that the word “negotiate” tends to put people on the defensive and make them uncomfortable.

In the next scenario, a customer asks about a vehicle by email, not leaving their phone number in the lead form.

Q: (Submitted by a customer via email) Can you please tell me if that vehicle is still available, and tell me a little more about it?

A: Do you have a number that I can call you at?

Analysis: This customer clearly wants to communicate via email. The BDC agent prefers to communicate over the phone and tries to get the customer’s phone number. If the customer wanted to speak on the phone, he or she would have left a phone number. It should be the customer choosing how to communicate, not the BDC manager. It may be frustrating when customers don’t leave phone numbers, but dealerships need to adapt and learn to communicate properly via email, chat, social media or via whatever channel customers use to reach out.

The bottom line is that BDCs need to adapt to the changing marketplace. Customers have more choices than ever before, and the dealership that wins the customer is going to be the one that adapts to the way the customer shops, not the one that tries to dictate how the customer should shop.