Almost all auto dealers know that it pays to respond to customer inquiries online promptly, says Fran O’Hagan, CEO of consulting firm Pied Piper.
But that doesn’t mean all merchants are fast enough to draw, as evidenced by the 2022 Pied Piper PSI online lead efficacy study. It measures a brand’s response to online mystery shopping leads to merchant websites.
“I don’t think there is a car dealer who says, ‘No, it’s not important to respond to Internet customers,'” O’Hagan (Pictured, bottom left) Wards says. “Everyone thinks it’s important, but not all agents are able to do it.”
This is because it is easy to be consumed by in-store activities. For many agent employees, “you go to work, and all of a sudden your hair is burning” dealing with this and that, including an exciting prospect sitting in front of you, he says.
Day-to-day duties can delay responding to online leads, unless the agent has a dedicated business development center to handle phone calls and emails. “If there is a BDC, there is no excuse for delaying the response,” O’Hagan says. “It’s theirs job. “
Slow online responses — or worse, no responses at all — hurt business. O’Hagan says that in an age when so many auto shoppers are beginning to connect with an online dealer, a lack of response is a missed sale.
“Web clients should not be allowed to blow up because you are busy,” says O’Hagan.
In an annual effectiveness study dating back to 2011, mystery shoppers at Pied Piper submitted inquiries to 3,628 merchant locations. They asked specific questions about the vehicles in stock, but never ventured to ask, “What’s the best price?” Give contact names, email addresses, and phone numbers.
Monterey, California-based Piper then assessed how agents responded within 24 hours via email, phone and text messages.
For the second year in a row, Infiniti dealers scored the highest overall, despite the Nissan luxury brand dropping four index points from last year. Competing luxury panels Cadillac and Lexus rose, ranking second and third, respectively.
Mazda (No. 4) and Subaru (No. 5) ranked highest among the major brands. (See the chart below for all brand rankings.)
Twelve brands rose in the ranking from 2021 to 2022. Fifteen brands declined.
“Most dealers had less inventory in 2021, but dealers’ treatment of sales prospects was still critical, because it determines not only sales today, but dealer success tomorrow,” says O’Hagan.
“Dealers who respond quickly, personally and completely to customer inquiries via the website sell on average 50% more cars for the same amount of website customers than merchants who don’t respond.”
Twenty measurements factor into the score on a scale that tops at 100.
On the bell curve, 26% of agents nationwide scored above 80 (providing a quick and comprehensive personalized response), while 35% scored below 40 (fail to respond in person to website customers).
In a trend discovered, “more merchants are using text messages and emails to answer specific web customer questions, while making fewer phone calls,” says O’Hagan. “However, we have found that the only way to reach customers effectively is to use both email and phone, not one or the other.”
He notes that the smoothness of back-and-forth telephone conversation takes precedence over email as a form of communication.
Sometimes, traders’ lack of response isn’t their fault. O’Hagan says customer spam filters are the proxy’s enemy, citing various cases of legitimate email inadvertently finding its way into the internet’s lower ground.
Emails arrive in the customer’s junk folder more than 25% of the time for Alfa Romeo, Fiat and Mitsubishi dealers.
Conversely, Porsche, Jaguar, Land Rover, Volkswagen, Ford and Volvo dealers were the best at avoiding spam filters for legitimate emails.
O’Hagan says it’s hard to fully know the inner workings of different spam filters.
Of the 3,628 agents contacted, 218 (about one in 20) failed to respond at all to Pied Piper’s inquiries.
Agents owned by National Chains performed well as quick responders. There’s a reason for that: “If you work with them, and you don’t respond, they’ll fire you,” says O’Hagan.
Steve Finley is a retired senior editor at Wards. It can be accessed at [email protected].