IVR Fuels Additional Sales at an Auto Dealer

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Daimler Chrysler Motors awards "Five-Star Dealership" status only to its car dealerships that offer the highest levels of customer service and satisfaction, based on customer surveys and other factors. Maintaining that status requires a dealership to adhere to a strict set of training, facility, and process requirements designed to put the customer first.

As one of only a handful of dealerships in America with that distinction, Orchard Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep in Washington Township, Mich., is constantly appraising and revising its customer-facing processes. In so doing, it decided about a year ago to change its phone service and upgrade the call-in experience with an automated solution.

The dealership fields 400 to 450 calls per day, or about 9,000 a month, so a solution that could effectively manage the volume of incoming calls was important. It also needed a solution that would prevent customers from getting stuck on hold, or having customers hang up before the phone was answered.

The goal of an automated speech solution wasn't to reduce or replace customer service, but to augment it by providing a backbone of call support that enabled its 63 employees to more efficiently do their jobs, says John Riggs, vice president and general manager at Orchard.

Another of its primary concerns moving forward with the telephone installation was finding a solution that was easy to deploy and wouldn't require a lot of additional staff training time. The dealership needed a solution that would let the employees learn and adapt to the new system without any lag in service, Riggs notes.

As Orchard examined its options, the dealership discovered technology from bridgeSpeak and Cantata Technology specifically tailored for the automotive retail environment. With professionally recorded prompts and cutting-edge speech recognition technology, the bridgeSpeak AR (automotive retail) product is a packaged interactive voice response (IVR) solution that connects auto dealers' business systems (DMS, CRM, and BDC) and their phone systems to improve all aspects of their inbound and outbound phone-based customer communication, increasing profits and improving customer service.

BridgeSpeak AR is built on the Microsoft Speech Server (MSS) and uses Cantata's Brooktrout TR1000 for MSS as the platform support. The Brooktrout TR1000 presents an abstraction layer for the underlying telephony protocols, allowing the Brooktrout telephony interface manager (TIM) to control communication between the TR1000 and the telephone network, and manage all telephony resources.

"When a customer calls, it's important that the phone is answered quickly and that they are quickly routed to the person or department they need," Riggs says. "BridgeSpeak AR's speech automation enables us to do that without placing the customer on hold or interrupting other conversations."

With inbound calls for minor questions and issues being routed through the auto attendant system, the dealership's operators now have the time to address more pressing concerns, and are able to devote more attention to customer needs and requests. Since the system has gone live, it has reduced the call load for the live operator by 85 percent. Customer wait time has dropped, and satisfaction levels are continually going up.

In addition to managing inbound calls, the dealership hoped to improve the response rates of its outbound service calls. Proactive service and sales follow-up was inconsistent and difficult to track under the old system.

With the new system, Orchard uses the automated outbound agent to issue service reminders and schedule service department appointments, to notify customers when needed parts arrive, to alert them about recalls, to remind them when leases are about to expire and schedule lease termination pre inspections.

Automated appointment reminders notify customers of upcoming scheduled service and prompt them to confirm or reschedule over the phone. For parts notification, the auto attendant calls the customer to let him know a part has arrived and allows him to schedule a service appointment for installation.

Where the dealership has had the most success with its automated call attendant has been in the area of recalls. Because recalls relate directly to a vehicle's safety and performance, and generally do not involve the dealership trying to see or upsell anything, the customer is more likely to pay attention and respond quickly to a request to bring the car in for service.

"We found the newly-deployed technology useful in recall situations, as we could proactively contact our customers with the automated speech technology, and immediately offer them the opportunity to come in and have the issue addressed," Riggs says.

Even more proactive service programs, such as due-for-service reminders and satisfaction inquiries, provided touch points for the dealership to bring in additional revenue and encourage customers to return for service. By mining the database for customers whose vehicles are due for scheduled maintenance, the outbound agent offers details and the ability to schedule an appointment to have the service completed. Outbound calls like these have generated more than $70,000 in additional revenue for the dealership.

The service call reminders have also led to faster special order parts turnover, with traceable documentation of all parts calls.

The dealership also uses the automated system to follow up with customers. As an added benefit, the system allows customers to record comments, which can be played back or saved for further action.

"Five Star service doesn't end when you leave the dealership. After your visit, the dealership must contact you within seven days to make sure that your sales or service experience was a satisfactory one. It's how we learn what we're doing right, and what we can improve on," Riggs says.

BridgeSpeak's system has answering machine detection built in, so the system recognizes when an outbound call is not picked up and it leaves a message for the customer. The system, in general, has up to a 36 percent response rate for customer mining campaigns.

"Our bridgeSpeak AR solution generates more sales and service traffic for our customers by leveraging the latest in interactive speech recognition technology provided by Microsoft," explains Jon Poploskie, president and CEO of bridge- Speak. "BridgeSpeak AR allows dealerships to communicate more personally with their customers, thus helping them to realize higher levels of CSI and additional revenue."

For bridgeSpeak, Daimler Chrysler dealerships are a key customer and a primary area of focus. In fact, the company recently partnered with Hilger Performance to help expand its presence in Chrysler Group dealers. Joe Hilger will leverage a long career with Chrysler to help bridgeSpeak in that effort.

Hilger recently retired from Daimler Chrysler after 33 years with the company. His last position was vice president of global service for the Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brands.

Scott Wieder is the director of marketing development at Cantata Technologies.


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