Too Expensive? Compared To What?

The last article was on the telephone receptionist, or the person answering the phone for your dealership. I talked about it being a $100 per hour job that is typically being paid $8-10 an hour. I would like to expand on the reason I think it is a $100 per hour job.

I know that a lot of people think of the phone receptionist as the "gatekeeper," meaning that this person filters the people who get through to the key people in the dealership. I would think of this person as more of an "opportunity snagger," whose job it is would be to snag every opportunity that comes into the switchboard and ensure that the opportunity is cared for and properly deposited into the proper account. Just directing a call to the right person is nowhere near enough.

What kind of calls come into a dealership? There are people who want more information from an ad in the paper, need to make an appointment in service, have car trouble and need help, want to see if you have a part in stock, want to see if you have a certain kind of used vehicle, personal calls, billing inquiries, sales prospecting calls, sales follow up calls, referral calls, supplier calls, lending institution calls, insurance agency calls, and on and on. Directing those calls efficiently and correctly to the proper party is the minimum expectation of a good phone receptionist. Having a pleasant and professional sounding voice is a minimum expectation. You might be able to find some good people for $8-10 per hour for these expectations, but the real key is snagging the sales and income opportunity calls and that is worth ten times that amount.

This person should be able to detect a potential sale call, gather the basic information quickly, ensure the call is returnable if somehow lost in transit to the proper party and follow through effectively to make sure the call is received--more like a good air traffic controller than a telephone answerer. Losing one sales call can pay for the receptionists salary for a whole month. In this economy, losing one sale is bad, but I think a typical dealer is losing many each month.

Here's a common call scenario: "Westway Motors, how may I direct your call?" ["I have a question about a vehicle in your ad."] "Thank you, one moment please." Page: "Sales call, line 1. Sales call, line 1." 30 seconds later, the telephone system sends the call back. "Has anyone answered your call yet?" ["Not yet."] "Let me try again for you. Just a moment." Page: "Sales call, line 1. Sales call, line 1." 30 seconds later, the telephone system sends the call back again. "They haven't answered yet?" ["No."] "I'm sorry, they must be with customers. Can I take a message and have one of them call you?" ["No, that's fine. I'll call back later."] "Okay. Thank you for calling Westway Motors."

How do I know this is a common call scenario? I've heard it over and over again in many, many places. I've actually heard far worse than this scenario. It has happened to me at many of these same dealerships when I would ask for a fleet manager or other person.

So, what is the problem with this call? First, the operator requested no information at all from the prospect. A name and call back number would be a goal. Second, 30 seconds on hold is a long time and having it go back to the switchboard is a clue that this is not working properly. Third, a specific person should be found immediately to take this call. The sales manager would be a good choice. Paging "Sales call, line 1" is not an effective method of dealing with a very valuable sales opportunity. Fourth, the call recycled again. Unbelievable. Fifth, don't ask if you can take a message, get the information! Sixth, get that information to someone who can make effective use of it.

A lot of dealerships have their sales staff answer the phone in the evening or on the weekends. I think this is a huge mistake. Sales people are focused on themselves and many, if not most, do not follow through on the call. I've experienced this so many times over the years. It is ineffective, inefficient and it is costing the dealership in lost business and ill will far more than a very expensive professional receptionist. I've called people so many times on a Saturday or an evening to talk to a commercial truck manager and have been left on hold and 4 minutes later, I am still waiting. I've even called back and got the same treatment twice. The person answering the phone did not know who I was or why I was called, they just knew that it wasn't for them.

Let's change this and realize that it is happening and deal with this very easy problem to fix. Get a great person(s) on the phone. Make sure they get the right training. Make sure that it is being done according to plan. Check on it regularly. Praise success. Measure it: Keep track of the kind of calls you get. Keep track of how many opportunities are seized now instead of the ones lost before. See how valuable this position truly is to your business. Pay what is fair and reasonable to get the talent you need to handle one of the most important jobs in the dealership, and then hang on to them. You will make a handsome profit.

If you are not the dealer and you know this problem is happening at your store, send this blog to your dealer. Get the problem recognized. That will be your part in helping to get this kind problem solved. Every moment spent with a prospect or customer is a moment of truth. Snag those opportunities with talent and direction on the phone.

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