If there were an industry award for making rules around the exception, it would have to go to car dealerships. After training dealerships for over 11 years and consulting for over 14 years, I still continue to get questions about situations that arise once every 100,000 interactions (rough estimation), yet the stuff that happens every day gets overlooked or ignored. “What if a dragon eats a unicorn on the showroom floor? Should I still call the customer or call 911?” It literally feels like those are questions are asked. Instead of focusing on what will probably happen after hundreds of tries, (no)thanks to evolution, our brains just go to the wild extremes. Situations like this are why response time gets impacted.
While the psychology of Catastrophizing is outside the scope of this piece, it’s worthwhile mentioning for context. Many of us have been traumatized (not exaggerating) by a mistake we once made. Whatever the oversight or genuine error, the punishment for the mistake left such an indelible mark, our brain overreacts to prevent us from making that mistake again.
Although my uncle has been dead for 30 years, I still make sure to arrange money so that the heads of the also dead presidents point left. My brain doesn’t want me to lose my job over the cash register not being proper, although there is precisely zero threat of that happening today. Although it’s a bit coo-coo-bananas, nearly everyone has these types of reactions.
This is where probabilities come in. Without getting into the math [extra credit for describing P(A|B) = P(B|A) ⋅ P(A)/P(B)] we need to navigate our day’s activities around what is probably going to happen. We already do this by looking at the weather report before we walk out the door. Our workday shouldn’t be much more different. We need to prioritize our days to ensure we can maximize success. Let’s take a look at a few of my pet peeve examples.
For years, dealerships have been bombarded by long-term processes. “Experts,” agencies and the rapidly revolving door of OEM retail talent have been banging on the 90, 120, 180, and infinity day response processes for the longest time. Even though dealerships get lucky from drip marketing (mostly to previous clients), the truth is, the combination of availability, messaging, pricing, and incentives disappear in a matter of a couple of weeks.
There is a minimal probability an opportunity is closing based on the combination of the variables that trigger contact in the first place (our data suggests roughly 6 in 100 after 30 days; anyone willing to contest this can present the data). Reducing wait time for scheduled long-term contacts should never take precedent over a fresh opportunity. This is especially true in the morning.
Why Dealership Response Times Matter
Responding to Internet customers first thing in the morning is one of those “gold standard” customer service activities that’s been around since the dawn of the lead submission form. According to many recent studies, attempting to contact customers by phone before 10:00 AM has a lower contact rate and response time than between 10:00 and Noon. According to those same studies, the highest probability of reaching a customer by phone is between 4:00 and 6:00.
Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, I should just wait until 4:00 to start making calls. While that’s the intuitive thing to do, here’s nearly a 100% probability that your OEM will penalize your dealership for not calling customers within 1 hour (10 minutes for some) of a lead submission, adjusted for business hours. Because of that probability, we need to adjust our priorities accordingly and attempt to respond to those customers at the start of the business day.
Probabilities can continue to dictate the flow of our morning. It’s a pretty consistent tendency to drop everything and talk to a manager if contact is miraculously made first thing. After all, it’s instinctive to want to strike a deal while the iron is hot. However, when considering the probabilities, that potential deal can wait a few minutes. Some studies estimate as many as 97% of business calls go unanswered.
Another study analyzed 11 billion business calls and concluded 3 out of 4 calls went to voicemail. Understanding that there is nearly a 100% probability of an uncomfortable meeting after the OEM representative visits, and nearly the same odds of leaving a voicemail during off-peak call times, can the meeting with the manager wait 10 minutes? Absolutely.
Based on the probabilities mentioned above, and speaking of meetings, can all of the dealership huddles wait until the morning’s customer responses and follow-up activities are complete? Yes. Yes, they can. Especially for the A to Z, soup to nuts, alpha to omega, Internet personnel. Think about how many items such as this can impact your response times. If you have twelve people in a one-hour meeting, you’ve wasted twelve hours of productivity, not one. Have the meeting later in the morning, then call back during prime time.
Clearly, there are other examples to use probabilities to make the most of the day. But, I think you can already see the picture. Repeat client vs. customer two states away. The volume-vehicle trade vs. niche-vehicle trade that’ll depreciate on the lot. Equity-mined deal vs. subprime Hail Mary pass. All these decisions wind up wasting customer response time and opportunities, while simultaneously preventing personnel and technology from reaching peak efficiency and accurate responses.
By understanding and embracing the probabilities, we can work them in our favor when trying to improve the response time for the ideal prospect. Will February sales ever resemble July sales under normal circumstances? Probably not. Will a subprime Internet customer defect in the time it takes to process two prime Internet customers? Probably not. Will adding more salespeople without adding more vehicles to the lot increase sales? Probably not.
After 20 to 25 years of handling Internet leads in your market, with your market’s demographics and your brand, do you think adding a new lead provider to the mix is going to make a meaningful difference in customer service? Probably not.
Will “Handsy Bob” in the body shop change his ways after a stern talk? Prob…almost certainly not. We can easily adjust our ad spend, internal processes, and staffing requirements to reflect the probabilities. Assuming the business will implode faster than the house in Poltergeist just seems to be easier than being confident in what’s likely to happen.
How Is Your Response Time Affected?
For the love for everything you consider holy, please put an end to making panic decisions. What is perceived to be blazing fires that need to be put out immediately will not burn the business to the ground. The service requests will still be there as well. Before dropping everything you are doing, first ask yourself what normally happens in X scenario, then determine if it can wait a few minutes. Fresh lead over the 180-day scheduled task. Local over conquest.
The list goes on and on. You don’t need to be a math genius. And, if you need one, we’ve got one. If you understand the probabilities, you can prioritize your day in order to maximize the results of your customer responses and contact efforts. Override your emotions. The dealership will not collapse by letting certain things wait. If you keep making knee-jerk reactions, it probably will.