It’s an exciting time to be part of the auto industry. We have enjoyed a period of sustained growth due to improving economic conditions and demographic shifts. According to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA), 2014 marked the fifth consecutive year of growth for automotive sales, with the average growth rate up 9% since 2010. Better buckle up — all signs indicate this growth will continue through the end of 2015 and beyond.
While this is positive news for the industry at large, this success brings heightened competition and greater expectations for both established dealers and new entrants to the field. Established dealers must focus on perfecting customer retention while expanding sales programs that increase bottom lines. New dealers must build customer relationships from the ground up while trying to offer competitive deals that are financially sustainable.
None of this can be achieved unless individual dealerships prove their superiority and consistency in customer service.
To be most effective, truly differentiated customer service requires much more than a good sales pitch and a genuine smile. Savvy managers equip their well-trained salespeople with technology that has the capability to keep pace with the demands of a successful business in a tech-obsessed society.
To illustrate the need for this technology, allow me to tell you a personal story. Not long ago, I was shopping for a car. I refuse to make uneducated buying decisions, so I spent weeks looking into the best vehicle for me. From safety features to interior accessories to gas mileage, you name it, I researched it!
I finally narrowed down my options to two very similar cars with similar reviews. I was ready to go to the lots to chat with sales reps to add some clarity to my decisionmaking process.
The dealership from which I ultimately purchased my new car provided me with exceptional service. The sales team was easily accessible via phone at various points during the day to answer my last-minute questions and clarify special features and financing options. When I visited the lot, the salespeople were attentive, knowledgeable and seemed to have easy access to information about every vehicle in their inventory — including one car that was at another location 100 miles away. It was an impressive display of customer service.
The other dealership was, well, just not quite up to par. Information was delivered slowly, different salespeople delivered different information about the same car and it was not easy to get the right person on the phone after my visit. I found myself calling the dealership’s main phone number only to be shuffled to a different salesperson each time and having to explain my background or context time and time again. Needless to say, I was a sales lead that they did not close.
It didn’t take long to realize that the key difference was purely technological. To unpack the situation a bit, there were a couple of issues at play:
Issue No. 1: Without streamlined communications technology, sales opportunities are missed. Long gone are the days when customers had no choice but to visit a dealership in person to research new models, inquire about pricing and compare different vehicles. Today’s car buyers are connected 24/7. From online car reviews to mobile apps, consumers can access materials that inform their buying decisions whenever and however they want without having to set foot in a dealership. As such, the “Aha!” moment could happen at anytime, anywhere, and the savvy salesman must be poised to quickly capitalize on that instance of interest to close the deal quickly and easily.
Enter cloud-driven, unified communications.
Unified communications, or “UC,” provides a seamless stream of connectivity — salespeople can be easily reached by customers and quickly exchange information with colleagues across dealership locations, providing both accessibility and agility.
With unified communications, sales representatives can share one contact number with prospective customers and feel confident knowing that calls will be routed right to them. With today’s UC solutions, one number can now ring a salesperson’s work phone, mobile phone, tablet, computer or laptop, greatly increasing the chance of engaging with a potential buyer at the height of their interest, even if the salesperson is out on the lot or working from home.
Customer service is greatly enhanced by the ability to access vehicle information from anywhere on the property, and even more so when that information can be shared between locations.
I have often met dealers who might have been apprehensive to let a salesperson promote their personal mobile number for fear that they might take their clients with them to a new dealership should they change sales jobs. Unlike traditional business phone systems, however, today’s voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) systems allow managers to create and assign new phone numbers in just a few clicks, meaning dealerships no longer have to risk losing revenue while promoting a mobile workforce.
Issue No. 2: Poor internal communications means poor external communications. Let’s not forget that internal communication is essential to customer service. It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s truly remarkable how disjointed internal processes can throw off even the most talented salespeople.
To be highly successful in a competitive field, auto dealers must provide technology that can perfect two internal processes: connecting coworkers across geographies and appropriately handling a high volume of inbound sales inquiries.
For dealers who operate multiple locations, geography presents a barrier to connecting coworkers. Yes, we are all connected by cell phones and emails and have been for some time. But truly successful communication goes further than delayed email communication and quick phone chats.
Modern cloud technology allows coworkers to work as a single unit by sharing information quickly and easily — no matter how far apart they may be. With online collaboration technology, coworkers across the country can collaborate in real time to trade inventory numbers, share documents, cultivate ideas, finalize schedules and trade best practices for high-quality customer service.
While cloud technology is wildly useful for organizing internal information, it is arguably even more important for organizing information coming from outside your organization.
With sales on the rise and successful marketing campaigns splashed across social channels, inbound sales inquiries are more frequent than in the past. Do not let these opportunities go unanswered because of poor internal organization and communication. Instead, use your VoIP system to manage an automatic call distribution (ACD).
For any organization that receives a large number of inbound calls, I usually recommend an ACD because it gives managers the ability to oversee queued calls and choose how they will be dispersed among sales reps. Supervisors can access features such as silent monitoring, call reporting and call prioritization.
Issue #3: Using different communications vendors takes capital away from perfecting the customer experience. Let’s face it: Installing, maintaining and using office communications can be very expensive and easily drive up substantial operational costs for any business. This is especially problematic for auto dealerships, where those costs could be better allocated to filling the top of your sales funnel by hosting events, creating new advertising campaigns or building a new website. Any money that unnecessarily detracts from your competitive advantage or driving awareness amongst potential customers is not money well spent.
Using one provider’s unified communications is cost-effective, streamlined and easy. Instead of having to tap numerous vendors to tailor and deploy each specific system, using an “all-in-one” provider can transform 10 quotes or monthly bills into one. More importantly, it provides the dealership with cohesive services across the organization, which speeds up the sales process and makes transactions easier for customers.
So there you have it: the technology behind my purchasing decision.
By harnessing modern telecommunications technology, general managers, CFOs and IT professionals can ensure that their salespeople perfect customer service interactions while capitalizing on the opportunities borne from extensive advertising efforts. Operating a successful business in an increasingly connected world requires the best, most streamlined unified communications and VoIP services that provide the agility and reliability to perfect client relationships and, ultimately, boost revenue.
Jim Rogers is chief marketing officer of iCore Networks, an Inc. 5000 network as a service (NaaS) provider. JRogers@AutoDealerMonthly.com