Speech Technology Magazine

 

Automotive Auto Attendants

A Michigan car dealer sees sales grow with bridgeSpeak.
By Ryan Joe - Posted Apr 1, 2008
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Jack Holden, the fixed operations director for Holiday Automotive Group in Livonia, Mich., was reluctant to upgrade his auto dealership’s auto attendant solution. Holiday had just swapped out its old general management system (GMS) with a new one, so he wasn’t eager to put the dealership through another acclimation process by also overhauling its telephone system. When he learned that professional services provider Who’s Calling, which already handled Holiday’s inbound calls, was hawking a new service for outbound calls, he saw it as an enticing option to ease the workflow at the dealership. But in a prime example of how marketing decisions occasionally have unintended consequences, Holden discovered during his research that bridgeSpeak, which develops interactive voice response systems specifically for car dealerships, had a more robust system and implemented its solution instead.

Built on Microsoft Speech Server, bridgeSpeak AR routes inbound calls to the appropriate agents or departments. "In our application, we’re looking at things that would be relevant to a car dealer," says Mark Murawski, professional services manager at bridgeSpeak. "So we’ll have everyone’s names, their nicknames or aliases, their titles, and then in addition, we’d put in several hundred terms that are car dealer-specific: garage, mechanics, repair center, collision center. Just from past experience from dealers adding them and us keeping the list and adding to it, it’s becoming more and more robust."

But what most attracted Holden was bridgeSpeak’s complete automation of outbound calls to remind customers of appointments, recalls, and upcoming sales; each of these is handled by a different module within the system. Since its November deployment, bridgeSpeak has generated 17,000 outbound reminders, notifications, and customer satisfaction follow-up calls and handled approximately 31,000 inbound calls. Revenue generated between mid-December and mid-February approximates to $220,000.

Before he purchased bridgeSpeak, Holden learned of other dealerships in the area that had implemented it. He spent one afternoon calling the dealerships and asking in a variety of bad accents to speak to various departments. "And I was like, ‘Whoa! It works! It really works!’" Holden says. "Though they probably wondered why they had so many hang ups that day."

Two weeks before implementation, Holiday dedicated 12 phone lines to bridgeSpeak. Installation began in early November and was completed after Thanksgiving. During the first week, Murawski and his team interfaced with the GMS data and connected to the phone system. The implementation team spent the second week making test calls to iron out problems. "That’s usually the most intensive piece," Murawski says, "because we have to learn all the dial tones, ringtones, busy tones. And everybody’s phone system handles that a little differently."

Holiday Automotive Group is comprised of three dealerships—Century Dodge, Livonia Chrysler/Jeep, and Holiday Chevrolet—and the bridgeSpeak server based out of the Livonia locale had to communicate effortlessly with its sister locations.

"Tweaking items took three or four days," Holden says. This meant ensuring a call to one dealer didn’t also route to three other departments. "Nothing overly expensive, just software changes," he adds. "And because we’re on a digital system, adding lines is dirt cheap." 

Both Holiday employees and customers have taken to the system. Of the 20,000 customers who’ve been contacted by the system, Holden estimates only 70 or 80 have opted out.

The learning curve that initially concerned Holden was surprisingly brief. He recalls a few incidents in which the outbound system prompted customers to make an appointment with the service department: Just say yes and I’ll transfer you. Customers would say "yes," but when the service department answered, there was a brief disagreement over who called whom.  

Ultimately, automating outbound calls freed Holiday’s salespeople to focus on selling cars instead of calling customers to remind them of appointments, recalls, and upcoming sales. Before bridgeSpeak’s implementation, each dealer got a stack of files with customers to contact. "My survey responses from Chrysler indicated we weren’t calling as well as other dealerships," Holden says. "It got tiring to be on people all the time to make their calls." 

Business Boost
Perhaps the biggest evidence of customer benefit from bridgeSpeak is the fact that Holiday’s service departments now get the most calls. Recently, its lube and filter business increased 20 percent.   

"Everything for the most part is automatic," Murawski says. "Every morning, our computer talks to their computer, determines who has appointments, and we make those calls. That just goes on every morning without anybody doing anything." 

Besides freeing up salespeople, another benefit of bridgeSpeak AR is the ability to contact customers quickly, vastly diminishing the tedium of certain duties like factory recalls.

During the Reagan era, manufacturers had to notify customers of recalls; today, much of that responsibility falls on the dealerships. However, factories don’t always provide detailed client information. General Motors (GM), for instance, gives names, addresses, and VIN numbers, but no telephone numbers. Holiday used to notify GM customers by mail. But now, the bridgeSpeak system plumbs Holiday’s databases and lines up each VIN with a corresponding telephone number. 

"Now I’m able to call people, whereas before I wasn’t without looking up manually every file," Holden says. "And it’d just suck the life out of you."

Because the databases are synced, Holiday can precisely target its phone calls. For instance, if Chrysler announces a landmark minivan deal with interest-free financing and a huge rebate, bridgeSpeak can look up data held in Holiday’s GMS to see which customers own minivans that are at least three years old and might be due for a replacement. "In the broader sense, we can do anything [the client] can dream up," Murawski says. "If they wanted to call everybody that had a red car and told them we’re giving pretty balloons to 4-year-olds, we can check their database and see if [a customer] had a 4-year-old. If that data is in there, we can [make the call]."

Sales notifications can be disseminated more quickly, efficiently, and cheaply. bridgeSpeak pounds all 12 lines, typically contacting 1,000 to 2,000 people a day with 30-second messages. "All the factories are notorious when, at the end of the month, sales aren’t so good. They’ll slap another $1,000 rebate on it and pull cars ahead on leases for six months," Holden says. But a splashy newspaper ad in the Metro section of the newspaper costs $5,000 and takes a day for marketing to set up, a day to see in print, and another day to get on the doorstep of an individual who may or may not care. By then, the sale might be over.

The first time Holiday announced a sale with bridgeSpeak, one salesman was assigned to take the calls. Within four or five hours, he was swamped working six deals and asked Holden to turn off the system. Of those six deals, he sold two cars. "Considering there was no additional expense, it was great," Holden says. "Since that time, we’ve revamped. Now we do the phone calls and if the customer says ‘yes’ they’d like to talk to somebody, we top those up and put them in the PA [system] and have the sales managers parse out the phone calls. But that’s how effective [bridgeSpeak] was in getting sales." During a recent Saturday sale touted through bridgeSpeak, Holiday sold 25 cars—reportedly the best the dealership has ever done in one day.

bridgeSpeak has been around for three years, though during the first year the system mostly was in pilot. Murawski characterizes the system’s growth since then as "logarithmic," boasting up to 100 deployments since its inception. "As you get three, three turns to six, six to 18, 18 to 35," he explains. "So we are definitely going up in a very fast direction."

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