Phone providers say dealerships also need to improve their processes to make sure customers are well-serviced on the telephone to avoid a bad experience that sends shoppers to another store.

Lonestar Toyota in Lewisville, Texas, near Dallas, ensures sales consultants are knowledgeable about the brand’s vehicles so they can answer every question a caller might have, said General Manager Ronald Bowie.

More customers are interested in working an entire car deal over the phone prior to going into the store, something Bowie said is relatively new during the pandemic. If a customer wants to transact by phone, the deal is sent to a manager who will follow the deal through closing and work with a customer to finish the paperwork either in-store or off-site.

“If I’m talking to you, I have more of a connection with you over the phone than I do over an email,” Bowie said. “I can send something to you in an email, and then you go and you can shop me to 10 other dealerships. This is just more of a one-on-one: ‘Hey, let’s figure out a way to make you happy.’ ”

As the pandemic continues, dealerships can enhance their phone capabilities by turning voice calls into video chats, experts said. For instance, Barnett said, a sales employee could take a customer for a virtual ride from inside the vehicle he or she is interested in buying. Instead of focusing on getting a customer to go into the store, he said, sales consultants should use the phone to build rapport in whichever way a customer wants to engage.

“Treat the phone as the most valuable technology that they have,” Barnett said. “That phone will give you more return on investment than any other piece of technology that you invested in in your store if you just pay a little attention to it.”

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