Article

Customer Service And Training: New Vehicle Lead Providers Stack Up

November 2006, Auto Dealer Today - WebXclusive

by Harlene Doane - Also by this author

Customer service is the most important aspect of the automotive industry. We value our customers, and if they are unhappy, we are unhappy. Customer service is king. These are all statements most dealers truly believe. Dealers know that without happy customers they won’t survive in this business. However, do providers of new vehicle Internet leads hold the same beliefs?

There are several definitions of customer service. A rather common definition of excellent customer service is: the ability of a company to continually and consistently exceed customers’ expectations. When the dealer is the customer, does the same definition apply? Certainly! Every dealer has a certain level of expectations when working with lead providers, and all services bought are measured against similar expectations.

As a dealer, you should be able to expect certain things from your new vehicle lead providers. Leads that fall into your chosen parameters or filters would be one obvious expectation. If you request customers searching for a Nissan and received leads from a customer interested in a Cadillac, you aren’t likely to want to pay for that lead. You should expect highly scrubbed leads. This means all leads containing what may be bogus names or numbers and other highly suspicious data need to be filtered to ensure legitimacy before being sent to your dealership or removed from the stack. Scrubbed and filtered leads help guarantee you get only quality leads – saving your staff time that might have wasted on bogus leads. You should also expect timely leads. No more than a few minutes should pass from the time a customer submits a potential lead and when you receive the scrubbed, filtered lead at your dealership. These are reasonable expectations for quality leads.

The following lead providers all claim to meet those expectations: Autobytel, AutoUSA, Cars.com, CarsDirect, CarSoup, DealerLink and Dealix.

If they all meet the basic dealer expectations, what differentiates these providers? Some will say its price, and as much as the mighty dollar drives some decisions, it is rarely the sole basis for a business decision. If you look at providers who have long-standing relationships with dealers, you will likely find that it is the customer service, support and training these different companies provide to dealers that cement their relationships.

There are various customer service models and training options in place among new vehicle lead providers. Each model claims to have it share of benefits, but it’s really a question of what the dealership needs and wants. If the lead provider doesn’t meet a dealership’s needs, the dealer will find another provider who does.

Autobytel
Account managers, or field representatives, at Autobytel provide in-dealership support and regularly review sales performance and management reports. A customer support team is available for other administrative questions, such as concerns about billing. There are also on-site representatives who focus on business development for the dealers. Account managers personally visit each dealership every 30 to 60 days with on-going interaction via e-mail or telephone between visits.

“Field training is used to introduce dealers to Internet sales and customer management techniques,” said Mike Garms, senior vice president of dealer operations.. Beyond that, Autobytel offers Performance Coaching Modules on each aspect of the Internet sales process and Custom Phone Surveys which measure dealership Internet sales performance.

AutoUSA
AutoUSA has a dedicated sales team and a separate service team. All are trained to support the dealer’s efforts. The sales team visits the dealership in person, while the service team conducts business entirely by phone and e-mail. AutoUSA has the largest group of dealers in their network who are managed by the fewest number of individuals. Because of this ratio, field members may only call on a dealer once per quarter.

“All of our staff are trained on our product and understand the various Web site properties that we partner with. They also have access to the best practices that our AutoNation stores have compiled,” said Phil Dupree, vice president and general manager. Beyond the team assistance, AutoUSA invests in sponsoring meetings and training seminars to help their dealers.

cars.com
The second youngest member of this group is cars.com. Although the company isn’t the youngest, their new vehicle lead product is young, having just entered the market in July 2005 when they purchased NewCars.com. Each dealer has a dedicated sales representative who is responsible for all aspects of service and training of the dealership for all products offered by cars.com. “Field reps meet with every dealership, in person, anywhere from once per week to once per month, depending on the size of the market,” said Mitch Golub, president.

Training is regularly offered three or four times per week to dealers within local markets. In addition, WebX training is now available for dealers who cannot make it to a local market training session. All cars.com training can be customized and is free to the dealer.

CarsDirect
At CarsDirect.com, one group of employees focuses on sales and service, while an account management group is solely dedicated to the service of each account. Both groups are dedicated to ensuring that the dealer’s online efforts are successful.

A monthly training call for dealers is hosted by CarsDirect. According to Josh Evans, vice president of dealer relations, “Best practices and personalized training are offered every time dealer interaction occurs.” Monthly newsletters are sent to all dealers which contain best practices, company updates and articles from industry experts. This is all included at no cost to the dealer.

CarSoup
“Every dealer who joins CarSoup is assigned a full, dedicated team of professionals,” said Larry Cueno, president of CarSoup. That team consists of a sales representative, Dealer Service Specialist (DSS) and group of individuals who keep an eye on market promotions, development and IT issues for the dealer. The sales professional is the in-dealership contact, visiting as regularly as the dealer requests. The DSS focuses on telephone contact with each dealer and is the first point of contact for any questions or concerns with the account.

The sales representative is responsible for tracking the progress of the account and communicating with the general manager or sales manager of a dealership. The DSS handles the on-going, one-on-one product and process training necessary to consistently turn leads into sales. For larger dealer groups the DSS can conduct training via Web based conference calls. A key component of their training is on-going audits of dealer accounts. Included in the audit are items such as the condition of inventory photos and prices, as well as how often inventory is updated.

Dealerlink
As the newest company to enter the new vehicle lead market, Dealerlink has been utilizing the same customer sales and support model for years with their special finance leads. Their model is Internet and telephone based minus traditional field representatives. “When we expanded to the new vehicle leads, we saw no reason to change a customer service and support model that worked. Our account managers follow up with their dealers on a 10 day basis via the telephone,” said Tim Parker, president. They also follow up with e-mails as needed. No in-person dealership visits are made unless the dealership request on-site training. In business relationships, distance is not the same obstacle it once was thanks to the Internet and telephone.

With DealerLink, dealer training is an on-going effort via telephone interaction. The cost of the optional on-site dealer training is based on a per-day fee, plus expenses. This can include training or complete department setup and implementation.

Dealix
Dealix, a division of Cobalt, has Regional Sales Managers (RSM) and Regional Account Representatives (RAR) who communicate with the dealers from the beginning of the sales cycle while continuing to service the account. “We have listened to our customers over the years, and they have said time and time again, ‘It is important that the person I buy the product from sticks around and is my personal advocate anytime I need service,’” said Dean Evans, vice president of marketing. These field representatives are then supported by a staff of technical engineers and sales operations personnel whose responsibility is to support the RSMs and RARs in meeting the needs of their customers.

No-cost training is available to dealers through the RARs and RSMs who can present best practice techniques to the dealer. The Dealix Dealer Newsletter provides relevant content and training information. Through their parent company, Cobalt, dealers have access to Cobalt University which regularly hosts online training and a recently launched education series called “Breakfast of Champions.” This is an intense half-day Internet marketing and sales workshop.

Which one should you choose to work with? Your answer would rely on which customer service model fits your needs. How much service and support does your dealership need? Seasoned employees obviously need much less support than new hires. It is also somewhat dependent on the skills and personalities of the dealership personnel involved. A computer savvy Internet manager who has been on the job for six months and works for a small dealership may want to be the one to initiate necessary contact, forgoing the constant intrusion of sales representatives. Another Internet manager may welcome the visits to learn more about products, services and training opportunities.

In the new vehicle lead market, it’s no longer just about lead quality; it’s about the service, support and training. Dealership personnel training is the largest differentiation among lead providers and should be carefully considered before choosing the lead provider that best suits you needs. Not all training is free, and not all training is a perfect fit for everyone. Just as you adapt to the needs of your customers, new vehicle lead providers will adapt to the demands of dealers. If you believe your dealership isn’t getting the most from your new vehicle leads provider talk to your provider first. See if they can meet your needs. If not, there are several choices available to you and one of them is bound to have the right combination of quality leads, outstanding support and excellent training to bring out the best in your dealership.

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