In the immortal words of Pink Floyd, “Is there anybody out there?”

I‘ll take some artistic liberties and edit that to say, “Is there anybody who’s going to answer my question?” Now, before we answer this, let’s set the stage for a real life example.  You are shopping for a new car and you go to a local dealership.  You get out of the car, look around but you don’t see a salesperson. You wait a few moments and just before you are ready to jump back into your car and leave, here comes a salesperson to lend a hand–or so you thought.

As the salesperson greets you, you ask about the vehicle. In our hypothetical, it’s a Jeep Wrangler. The salesperson stares at you for a moment. You think they may have not heard you, so you repeat yourself. Then the salesperson ignores your question and begins a scripted canned pitch. Is this some kind of joke they’re playing? You leave frustrated only to look for another dealership and hope for the best.

It might sound ridiculous, but this is a scenario that truly does happen. I experienced it firsthand last year during my purchase cycle. At one dealership, I was completely ignored by the sales team, and at the other, the salesman who approached me refused to stray from his agenda of only talking about the cars he thought were best for me. Most of the time, salespeople are ready to lend a hand and help the consumers because they are on the dealership lot, so in the salesperson’s mind, they are serious shoppers.

The same principles apply to the dealer’s website. This is often referred to as a virtual showroom by dealers themselves, yet for some salespeople, these customers are viewed as less interested in purchasing, so often the response time is delayed. I asked some salespeople I was training if they thought the website consumers were as serious as shoppers on the dealership lot. They said no because they were just “shopping.” While that isn’t incorrect (after all, they are shopping), why does that make them less valuable as a sales lead? How you respond online will be an example of how you will treat them in person. Ignore them online, and your dealership will quickly be taken off their list of prospective destinations to purchase their next car.

Treating online customers with the same urgency as those who are in the store itself is key to growing market share. According to a study by Lead Connect, reaching out within 5 minutes of the online submission results in the highest connection rate, meaning your chances of qualifying a lead is at its peak. Connecting with the customer decreases 4 times by waiting 10 minutes. Waiting 30 minutes, which may not seem a long time to some, decreases connection rate by a staggering 21 times. The modern consumer prioritizes speed of response in this day and age.

One statistic from the study which stood out was over 75% of customers will interact and potentially buy from the first person who connects. I have another caveat to add. It is not necessarily who gets there first–rather, it’s who gets there first with the right information.  For example, I submitted an inquiry as a potential customer. I received back a typical email thanking me for my interest, but it never mentioned the vehicle I selected. It also put the burden on me to call them if I had questions. Not once did they begin to engage with me with the same interest or urgency as if I was standing in front of them.

In an even more egregious example of my voice being unheard at a dealership, I sent in a form with comments about poor marketing efforts for this dealership. I was being shown display ads online for this business, yet I was too far outside of the range I felt was appropriate, seeing as I lived 5 states away. What I received from the business was a response thanking me for my selecting a vehicle and how the GM was so excited to help me in my buying process. Obviously, this did not resonate well with me, and if I was truly in the market to purchase a vehicle, this obviously canned response would turn me off immediately. If your interaction with a consumer is fast, but inaccurate, you might as well not take the time to respond.

A simple philosophy I return to is treat your online customers with the same urgency as if they were standing in front of you. Answer their questions as if they were in front of you. No one will continue to do business with a company not willing to answer simple questions.

Here are three solutions to help connect with online customers faster and in a more effective manner.:

  1. Replace “Call To Action” Buttons with Live Chat

For auto dealerships, it is time to be present for your online customers. Why does someone need to submit a from with their email and phone number when they are asking a simple question like “Is this car available?” or just want to schedule a test drive? Change those buttons and send them to a live chat option. Answer these questions while they are on the “Virtual Showroom” versus chasing them after they left.

Even when they want a price, why not send the customer to a manager who can help them right away instead of making it difficult to track them down after the fact? The more connected the salespeople are with the customer, the better the connection and overall customer experience will be.

  1. Rethink your responses to your internet customers

If a customer met a salesperson on your dealership lot or in your business, what would the interaction sound like? Now, if the customer interacted with your team online, would you be interacting the same way? The answer should be yes. You need to answer their questions as quickly as possible.

  1. TEXT TEXT TEXT

How often would you rather chat with someone versus talking to them on the phone? Text engagement is skyrocketing compared to other forms of communication. If your business is not texting consumers or offering this as the primary communication option, you are chasing business and losing the chance to convert each customer into a paying customer.

Shep Hyken, a customer service advocate, feels strongly about the need to step up your game to match the businesses around you:

“Customers are not comparing you to your competition, they are comparing you to every business they interact with.” This is incredibly important. If you wish you grow your bottom line, you need to make sure you are present for all of your customers, answer all of their questions, and deliver a great experience no matter where they interact with you, online or in the store.

Please join Brian, myself, and the PCG Digital team this March for a one day Fixed Operation Marketing Boot Camp. Click here for more information

Glenn Pasch

Glenn Pasch is a Partner and CEO of PCG Digital. Glenn continues to author articles for multiple industry publications, blogs and forums as well as continuing his writing online at www.glennpasch.com.