Some Internet sales reps have a gift for connecting with customers via email. Indeed, it's not all that unusual to hear about a dealership where a single rep is designated to handle initial responses to all email leads, simply because he or she is so good at it. However, not all dealerships are so lucky. And there's something a bit risky about this all-your-eggs-in-one-basket strategy. Sure, it's a great thing to have a sales rep who's gifted at email, but if you put this person front-and-center, what are you going to do when he or she leaves? That's not an issue we want to settle here and now. Instead, we want to focus on some things your Internet reps can do to improve their email responses, and to develop better relationships with customers, starting with that first click of the 'Send' button.
What? You've heard this one before? We say this time and again because it's absolutely vital, but this time we'd like to give our advice a different spin. One reason a prompt response is so important is that it reinforces for customers the fact that they're dealing with a real person. We're not talking about your auto-responder; we're talking about a personable email that addresses the specifics of the customer's inquiry. When that email arrives within minutes, before the customer has logged off, it creates the sense of an interaction every bit as personal and individual as a phone call.
Many Internet reps have a half-dozen different ways that they can be contacted. All of this can be listed in an email signature, but don't make customers guess at the best way to contact you. The body of the response email should specify this. For example: "Feel free to call me at any of the numbers listed below. The best number is my direct line - 800.XXX.XXXX - which automatically rolls over to my cell phone if I'm away from my desk."
If your dealership's name is Jim Johnson Jeep, this advice may not apply to you, but listen up if you're called Harry Henderson Honda Acura Chevrolet BMW Mini Cadillac. That's a lot to lay on a customer who emails asking about a new Mini. We're not asking you to change your name, but if your email includes logos or taglines for all those brands, it distracts from the issue at hand. No matter how many brands you represent, whittle your email signature down to the one that matters once a customer has indicated his or her preference.
The main purpose of your auto-response email is to confirm that the customer's inquiry was received. It should also state when the customer should expect a response. These are the two pieces of information customers will expect. Your auto-responder can say more, of course - but two words of warning: One, you can't assume that customers will read the entire thing. Two, you have to be careful not to repeat yourself in your first "live" response. Consumers will understand that the auto-response email was automatically generated; when they see the same language in the first email they receive from an Internet rep, it makes it that much harder for them to relate to the rep as a living, breathing human being. This doesn't mean that, if you use your auto-response email to promote some unique feature of your dealership, your Internet reps can't make the same point. Just don't cut and paste the exact same sentence or paragraph. Be mindful of the messaging to which your customers have already been exposed, build on it - and keep it real!
The ability to "read" leads to determine where the consumer is in the buying process and find out what issues are driving their actions is a valuable skill. But you don't have to be telepathic. Much of the time, asking customers straightforwardly is a great way to learn a lot about what they're after: a good price, no hassles, a hard-to-find model, a special options package, etc. How you phrase the question depends on your dealership's culture and your sense of each individual customer. Phrased well, however, such a question is a great way not only to discover your customers' expectations, but to demonstrate that meeting them - and exceeding them - is your primary purpose.
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