Speed and quality vital components when responding to leads

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As the world changes all around us, dealers must embrace new approaches

In my last columnl, I discussed how we need to look to the U.S. auto industry and examine both the trends and potential pitfalls to set ourselves up for success here in Canada. 

I touched on the “less than honest” practices of some (and I stress “some”) U.S. third party lead providers who sell leads to more than one dealership (sometimes up to four), making money hand over fist on the backs of unsuspecting dealers. 

And I also examined the need for our industry to really scrutinize how we are measuring up to the “customer experience,” not only compared to the dealer across the street but compared to other non-auto verticals. 

Right now, we are at a crossroads. We have the advantage of looking to the U.S. to gain some lessons learned, and, if we position ourselves correctly, can heed the warnings, and pivot where needed.   

Early in September, Google Canada hosted its 12th annual ThinkAuto to a packed house at the North York Centre for the Performing Arts. 

In true Google fashion, the event was chock full of valuable data, focused not only on the customer journey, but this time, on the actual customer. 

They presented research regarding the “segmentation of customers” and examined what expectations each group has regarding how they shop for and eventually, purchase a vehicle. 

At one point, they posed a question to the audience: “How long do you think is a reasonable time for you to wait to respond to an online lead from a potential customer? Raise your hands if you think that anywhere between two and four hours is acceptable.”

It was shocking that a least a dozen people put up their hands. 

So I ask you — If someone were to walk into your dealership and ask you a question about a vehicle, would you stand there for two to four hours waiting to respond? 

I know that seems like a ridiculous comparison — I mean of course no one is going to stand there aimlessly while either waiting to give or receive a response. But think about it, isn’t it really the same thing? 

Google went on to ask additional questions: “How about one to two hours?” More hands.  “Under an hour?” Even more hands. Finally, they showed their research slide which, in all honesty, surprised no one on our team. 

For years now, we’ve been telling Google, Facebook, and our Canadian dealer and OEM partners that when a dealer responds to an online lead in less than 15 minutes, those leads have an 8 per cent higher close rate than leads responded to outside the 15 minute mark. 

Our research and the data have proven this, without a doubt. And now, in front of a packed house, Google Canada was reconfirming our findings with the same statistic — the average consumer, regardless of segmentation, expects a response in less than 15 minutes.   

Now, I’m certainly no mathematician, but an 8 per cent jump in anything is something that would catch my attention.

Back in 2015, SCI was awarded The DrivingSales Most Valuable Insight Award for our work on the Importance of an Initial Quality Response. 

For years now, we’ve been telling Google, Facebook, and our Canadian dealer and OEM partners that when a dealer responds to an online lead in less than 15 minutes, those leads have an 8 per cent higher close rate than leads responded to outside the 15 minute mark.

We had determined, through the 150,000,000 leads that we have processed, that when a dealer responded to an online lead and included five key elements of quality in his or her response, those leads had an almost 17 per cent higher close rate. 

Our findings also stressed that when you combined a quality respond with speed, the rate was even higher. 

In fact, and this really blew us away, our research showed that if you sent NO response, you’d close higher than if you sent a badly written response.

Surprisingly though, we still today see dealers who either send a poor response or send responses well past the 15 minute threshold. And while we absolutely don’t advocate NOT sending a response, if your team members are sending less than quality responses, you might want to reconsider your strategy.

Or even better, monitor their responses to ensure they meet your expectations. After all, those responses represent your brand in the marketplace. They need to be on point. 

Over the past three years, we’ve continued to conduct research, building on our original findings by examining leads, data, and key criteria that influence close rates.

We’ve discovered two very critical things that are directly correlated with increased close rate and thus increased revenue. One is a logical approach, a simple change in the way we conversed with our digital customer. The other thing — well, that will require a complete change in a behaviour mindset that, for many, will be challenging to say the least. 

Online customers are no different than in-dealership customers. The quicker you are to understanding that, the easier it will be for you to determine which behaviours in your dealership need to change when it comes to working with a digital customer. 

Again, back to the old adage — if a customer were standing in your dealership and asked you a question about a vehicle of choice, say “Is this available in all-wheel drive?” would you respond with: “Well, I’m not able to chat now. Leave me your number, and I’ll call you back.” No, you wouldn’t. 

You would give them the response, and most likely, would give them even more information about the vehicle, presenting benefits and features that most drivers would be looking for. It should be no different when communicating with an online customer. 

Their expectation is that if they ask a question, it will be answered. So, answer it. And even more so, their other expectation is that you will respond to their lead in the manner in which it was sent. 

So, if they email you, you should email them back. If they tell you to text them, don’t call them.  Text them. Communicate with them via the method they prefer. If you want to call them, ask them first if they would mind a call. Don’t just assume. 

The other key find in our research is that when price is requested, and you provide it, the close rates are even higher.

This is a sticky subject for dealerships as most are programmed to avoid discussing price, either over the phone or email or text, and instead encourage the customer to visit the dealership. For most, the belief is that it should be a face to face conversation and back in the day, it was. 

The auto industry is being forced to change to accommodate the expectation of the customer. It would have never even occurred to us, even a decade ago, that anyone would ever buy a car online.

But we no longer live “Back in the Day.” We live in today’s world where we are hyper-connected and where we can take a photo of a cheque and deposit it into our account without stepping foot into a bank or even near a bank machine. 

While not common practice, giving a price over email, especially when the customer is asking, is not only meeting the customer’s expectations but also positioning you well for future conversations. 

And, for the record, it doesn’t need to be the lowest price, just a competitive one. In any case, it’s pretty much plastered all over the vehicle or OEM website so they can easily find it somewhere. 

Remember, the “good” that you sell (meaning, the vehicle) is not unique to the marketplace. It can be bought at one of a hundred dealerships across your province. In order for you to stand out, you need to make it all about your customer’s experience. When the customer drives off your lot, it’s not just the car you want them to tell their friends about but that they need to buy that car at your dealership.  That’s a win-win. 

The customer’s expectation was born out of good customer experiences. Companies like Amazon, Southwest Airlines, Apple, Zappos are all designed to provide the optimal customer experience. In fact, Zappos goes by the motto that “We are a service company. We just happen to sell shoes.”

In essence, they’ve come to understand that they sell a product that their consumer can pretty much get anywhere else so in order for them to stand out, they had to elevate the customer’s experience to new heights, and, in doing so, set the gold standard. 

Ten years ago, I attended a conference in the U.S. During a question period, a dealer raised his hand to ask “Can you not send me leads at 2am? I don’t want leads sent to me at two o’clock in the morning. What’s the harm in having leads sent to us the next morning during business hours?” 

At which time, another dealer responded with “Hey, I’ll take your 2 a.m. leads. If I answer those leads at 2 a.m. I now become his friend and why wouldn’t you want to buy a car from your trusted friend.” A hard hitting point for any dealer who believes that he is in the business of selling cars. 

Still don’t believe me? Look at Starbucks. They have revolutionized the way people drink coffee.  Yes, you can grab a double-double at Tim Horton’s if you’re in a rush, but the experience at Starbucks is far more exceptional. They have Baristas. They call out your name when your customized drink is ready They have comfortable leather seats and free wi-fi. The Starbucks experience is so exclusive that people will just pay a higher price and not even blink. That’s the pinnacle of a great customer experience and one that is worth imitating. At Tim’s you’re an order — just look at the top of your cup.

The auto industry is being forced to change to accommodate the expectation of the customer. It would have never even occurred to us, even a decade ago, that anyone would ever buy a car online. 

And yet, it happens every day, all over North America. And yes, while many still enjoy the face to face interaction in the dealership, that segmentation continues to decrease in numbers.

Over the next decade we will see increases in ride-sharing, shared ownership and autonomous driving, all of which, by the way, still require vehicles to be sold and hopefully sold by you. Our challenge is to stay ahead of the curve, embrace the new and start looking at being prepared for the future that’s literally just around the corner. Probably beside a Starbucks.   

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Canadian auto dealer