Your dealerships are buzzing again with rural lifestylers coming in, new displays being arranged and open houses being hosted. As you’re attending to all those details, don’t lose track of this basic customer service rule: Pick up the phone.

According to a recent survey on customer service by Consumer Reports magazine, 75% of people said that not being able to reach someone by phone is their biggest customer service complaint — tied with having a rude or condescending salesperson. (The complete list is below.)

I’ve seen a wide gamut of customer service practices in my many calls to dealers. For instance, one dealer has a company-wide rule that every phone call is picked up by the third ring. At the other end of the spectrum, another dealer not only didn’t answer the phone, but didn't have voice mail. Yet, another dealer had a very capable receptionist. However, she didn’t want to take a message because she said the owner was not very good at returning phone calls.

My personal gripe is hearing a recording of a long list of departments and trying to remember which extension I want as I listen to the whole message. I always tend to hit “0” and go back to the receptionist — someone who I had intended to talk to when I placed the call.

Consider this: Many rural lifestylers may be calling your dealership during their own work hours. How much more frustrating is it when they have a limited time to reach you and are unsuccessful?

Here are some more statistics from the survey: 57% were so mad about their customer service experience on the phone that they hung up without a resolution. Half of the people reported leaving a store without making their intended purchase because of poor service.

So, do you want an easy way to increase revenues this spring? Make sure no one leaves your dealership because of poor service. Assign someone to monitor the phone and voice mails for every minute that you’re open. And, don’t let your team excessively delay responding to customers because of meetings or being off site. Customers don’t care about you staff’s schedules, only how they can get what they need.

Set goals for response time in terms of how many rings, how long a person is on hold and how quickly voice mails are returned. This is not complicated business ethics, but basic courtesy. That kind of courtesy — and the underlying respect — will speak volumes to your customers.

Biggest Customer Service Complaints (Consumer Reports magazine)

  • Can’t get a person on the phone: 75%
  • Rude or condescending salesperson: 75%
  • Got disconnected: 74%
  • Got disconnected and could not reach same representative: 71%
  • Transferred to representative who can’t help or is wrong: 70%
  • Company doesn’t provide customer service phone number or makes it difficult to find: 68%
  • Long wait on hold: 66%
  • Many phone steps needed: 66%
  • Repeatedly asked for same information: 66%
  • Proposed solution was useless: 65%
  • Unsure whether on hold or disconnected: 62%
  • Can’t speak with a supervisor: 62%
  • Phone menu doesn’t offer needed option: 61%
  • Voice-recognition system works poorly: 61%
  • Salesperson is too pushy/makes sales pitch for unrelated products or service: 60%