Update 6/24/19

Here's a blog post from way back in 2013 — and the comments still hold true 6 years later. In this day of emails, texts and Facebook messaging, the way your dealership handles phone calls should still be one of its most critical sales strategies. I also wanted to send a shout-out to those dealers who are making it easy and enjoyable to do business over the phone. One of the best ideas I've heard is simple: Every phone call must be answered by the third ring. 

The best part of what I do at Rural Lifestyle Dealer is talk with dealers. As I celebrate my first anniversary as managing editor, I wanted to thank the many dealers who have shared insights and strategies. This culture of information sharing only makes the industry better.

Unfortunately, though, I have to admit I have cringed a few times during my first encounter with some dealerships — that initial phone call. How the phone was answered and what happened next didn’t reflect the expertise of the dealership and that’s too bad. I know there is a whole science behind how to best answer the phone. Should it be a real person or directory? Should you include a promotional message? Voice mail or no voice mail?

I’m not a phone interaction expert, but here are some practices that slow me down as a customer.

1. A long introductory message that lists locations, hours or an extensive directory.

Online industry experts say that nearly all consumers (97%) use online media to research products and services in their local areas. That means customers most likely already know about your location, which is the number they have dialed. Don’t make them wait and lose their enthusiasm. Also, keep in mind that rural lifestylers may be calling from work and don’t have time to listen to a long listing of departments or people.

2. A receptionist who doesn’t really want to take a message.

I enjoy being greeted by a real person and don’t mind if the receptionist takes messages as opposed to transferring to voice mail. It’s a real talent to answer the phone all day and still make each caller feel welcome. However, I really, really need to leave a message, not just my name and phone number. That message helps the salesperson be prepared when they call back and gets me closer to purchasing equipment.

3. Anonymous voice mail greetings.

Voice mail saves time and gets things done. However, it’s important that the voice mail account is customized. If I’m transferred to a voice mail with the automated message, I do not feel confident that the person I’m trying to reach is getting my message. And, if you’re out of the office, let me know who I talk to instead.

4. Leaving me stranded.

Please don’t leave me in limbo after a transfer. I understand that salespeople and service techs may be busy and can’t come to the phone right away, but don’t put me on hold indefinitely. If the call isn’t picked up, please check back on me in a few minutes and ask if I would rather leave a message.

Heritage Tractor, the subject of our “Dealer to Dealer” feature this year, took a similar look into how customers interacted with its website.

“We looked at how long customers were staying on the site, where they were exiting and how many ‘clicks’ to get to where they wanted to be. When they wanted to shop for a lawn mower, it was taking 10 clicks to find a used mower,” says David Stockwood, marketing manager.

A major change on the new site is tabs for “pre-owned inventory” and “new model showroom.” A scrolling slide show highlights specials.

Learn more about how they streamlined the web experience in our spring issue,

The takeaway for any customer interaction, whether it’s by phone or online, is to make it quick and easy for customers to talk equipment with you. Don’t make them take an obstacle course. They may choose to drop out instead.

Do you have thoughts on the subject? Share your comments in the section below.