Integrating Internet and the Call Center in the Automotive Industry

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In the movie "Field of Dreams," Kevin Costner heard ghostly voices telling him "If you build it they will come." In the sequel, which I plan to option to Hollywood, Kevin Costner gives up his farm and moves to the city. He becomes a car salesman. In the middle of the night, he hears another voice. This time the voice says, "I have built it, now use it." For the next hour Kevin searches aimlessly until the source of the voice is revealed. It is his computer. It continues to haunt him, saying, "I have built it, now use it."


Maybe my idea is a little far fetched for Hollywood, but it is not that far fetched for your business. I refer to a little phenomenon called the Internet. There's more out there than just a "Field of Dreams." The Internet is more than just a great promotional and advertising medium. It is going to be the business medium for the new century and beyond.


According to Dr. Roger Blackwell, professor of marketing from Ohio State University, in the next century, "people will decrease the amount of time they spend on things they find unpleasant." As a result, buying decisions will be made more quickly."


I agree with Dr. Blackwell. One task I would include in the list of unpleasant activities I'll be spending less time on is buying a car. According to a recent study by Southeast Toyota Distributors, 70 percent of those surveyed would rather have dental work done without Novocaine than go car shopping.


With this much disdain for the car buying process, Southeast Toyota Distributors recognized it was time to listen to the voices of change. Marketing executives for the company sought to use the Internet while working with a large call center in Margate, FL.


Southeast Toyota has a unique place in the car marketplace. As the master distributor for Toyota in five southeastern states, it needed to support its dealer customers while also supporting its own dealerships.


"Over the past few years, we have seen a number of car buying services spring up on the Internet. In most of the cases, these sites want to cut the traditional car dealer out of the loop," adds Richard Wilson, director of call center development. "Since car dealerships are our main focus, this was not acceptable to us. The voices we heard told us to make the car dealer buying experience quicker, more efficient and less stressful, not just for the customer but also for the dealer management team and car salesperson."


Discussions between Southeast Toyota and the teleservices company it was working with led to the company's Business Development Automotive Group. The goal was to provide a value-added service to assist its dealer organization in selling more cars. Wilson spearheads the program.


"With the industry as competitive as it is, any advantage we can give to our dealers will result in more cars sold," he said.


The Business Development Automotive Group determined the weakest link in the sales cycle exists between the prospect and the salesperson. According to Wilson, "A typical car buying scenario has a customer coming into a dealership to look at a car. In some cases, a transaction is completed on the spot. More than likely, the prospect leaves without making a car buying decision. What happens to the prospect after he or she leaves? All too often…nothing. And there lies an opportunity to improve the customer/dealer relationship and dealership revenue."


The system developed by Southeast Toyota and its service partner attempts to close the sale like this:


The prospect enters the dealership. If a transaction is not completed, the prospect information is entered via the Web-based platform into the database. This triggers a call to the prospect. The goal is to get the prospect back into the dealership. The customer relations representative sets a follow-up appointment or call for the salesperson. A schedule is printed daily detailing needed follow-up and reminder calls. A Web-based call center platform facilitates the process.


"By using the Internet as our networking method, any car dealer with Internet access can use this service to help them sell more cars," said Wilson. "A forward-thinking car salesperson can become familiar with this system and actually sell more cars without ever leaving their home. It gives us real time information, step by step follow-up and task accountability throughout the entire sales process."


Early results have been positive. To date, Southeast Toyota has seven dealers using the program and has sold 294 additional cars in the first three months, Wilson said. n
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