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Is an automated answering setup a losing idea?

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Whatever happened to a human voice helping me get information or solve a problem? Seems like every business (or government agency) I call these days puts me through digital hell (say this, punch that, it never ends) and demands everything from the name of the hospital of our first born to the last four digits of this or that.

“Take this digit!” I say, flashing it at the phone as I hang up in frustration. That’s why a recent article by Erik Nebergall, published in CRM Magazine (Customer Relations Management), hit home with me. And regardless of whether you’ve already installed an automated attendant system in your dealership or think you should get one, here are some things to think about.

Nebergall is president and CEO of Meta, a sales support and prospecting firm that optimizes the front end of the sales process. He points out that the ongoing cost-cutting and streamlining of businesses has replaced phone operators and receptionists with automated attendants. And it often creates an undesirable maze to access help from customer service and sales.

So, is this automation a smart move? Not necessarily. For example, Nebergall points out a survey by American Express that revealed 67 percent of callers hang up out of frustration when they have to deal with automated systems.

In another look, BT Business, a phone and internet provider, reported that 75 percent of those who encounter voicemail don’t leave a message. And worse, Kissmetrics, a customer engagement automation company, found that a third of those who were unable to reach a human (forced to leave a voicemail) didn’t and didn’t call back.

Given even a possibility that your dealership could be losing business due to a poor reception that prospects and customers receive, wouldn’t it be worth the effort to determine whether it’s the case, and to what extent?

“I’m not suggesting that automated systems don’t have a place,” Nebergall contends, “but having them serve as the ‘face’ of the company, providing the initial customer experience to those who call, is not a good operating philosophy if the system makes these interactions unpleasant or difficult.”

If you have an automated system, there’s no better way to find out than to simply contact your dealership as a prospect or a customer would. Perhaps also having some trusted friends do the same will help establish a consensus. If your combined findings are that the reception is poor or complicated, make needed corrections, Nebergall says.

In checking things out, here are some good suggestions:

  • The ease at which you can reach a sales or customer service rep
  • Missing or voluminous automated attendant navigation options
  • The ease at which you can exit the automated system to reach a human
  • How often is there a hang-up in your system?
  • What’s the response time for returning calls from voicemail messages left?
  • What occurs when a customer or prospect calls after hours?

Its ironic today that we claim customer service should be the top priority in our dealerships, yet we may be making it difficult for prospective buyers and customers to communicate with us.

But with the escalating cost of sales, growing competition for the recreational dollar and the need to acquire new boating customers we should not inadvertently make it hard for these prospects and customers to easily reach us.

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