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CRISP: Firm Appointments Ensure a 3x Higher Show Rate

Spending a bunch of money on training programs and targeted advertising to improve show rate? I have a simpler solution. Start doing more with the phone leads you’re already driving by setting firm appointments.

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Now that your team is connecting callers and requesting and inviting customers into the dealership, it’s time for the most important step: setting the firm appointment.

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When you have an interested buyer on the phone, nothing is more important than an appointment invitation. What remains critical to perfecting the Set metric is knowing how to execute the appointment ask — the ask that should result in a firm date and time visit.

As I said in my last blog, only 10 percent of prospects decline an appointment invitation. Take advantage of that and ensure your team is receiving customer commitments that have a scheduled date and time, rather than wishy-washy acceptances that sound like, “I may swing by to check out the car sometime this weekend with my wife.”

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The trick to firm appointments is executing the “Whittle and Shepherd” technique. Start with a broad range of appointment times and then drill down to two specific times, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. “Is morning or afternoon better? Okay, afternoon? Cool, good news, I have two nice appointment times available: 2:15 and 3:45. Which works better for you?” Once the caller commits to the time, ask her to repeat it back to you. A verbal confirmation adds the pressure to show.

Furthermore, offering two appointment options gives the prospect more of an opportunity to say yes, but doesn’t overwhelm her with a plethora of choices. It also removes the work on her part to think of an answer to an open-ended question. Assume each caller is coming in for an appointment. Rather than giving her a chance to say yes or no, work with the mindset that she’ll be in and that you’re just providing a simple scheduling choice.

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Asking “Hey, what day works best for you to come by the dealership?” is comparable to asking your significant other “Where do you want to eat?” You and I both know that the two of you will come to a decision a lot faster if you ask, “Do you want to go to Chili’s or Outback Steakhouse?” Always give choices.

To reduce no-shows and gain more showroom traffic, let’s learn from The Not-So-Great and The Great call examples of Set.

The Not-So-Great
A prospect calls in interested in a model he saw on the dealership’s website. He knows exactly what he wants: color, year and price range, and requests multiple bells and whistles. He quickly gets connected to Agent Alyssa and asks when he can come in for an appointment. Great! She didn’t have to do the hard work of inviting him in. This call should be smooth sailing from here on out. Alyssa says a customer just walked in and that she’ll need to check the schedule to see when a slot might be available and will call the prospect back afterward. The call ends. Alyssa gets so busy with the 26 items on her to-do list that the lead slips away, never followed up with again.

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What went well: The prospect was interested in buying, so that’s great. He even asked when he could come in for an appointment. That made Alyssa’s job easier and should have resulted in a firm, booked appointment — no doubt. Right? Well, not in this case.

What needed improvement: Alyssa could have secured a rock-solid firm appointment if she had simply pointed the caller’s excitement toward a firm date and time to visit (right then and there on the call). Again, it’s the Whittle and Shepherd technique. Start with a broad date range, drill down to two specific times, secure a firm date and time and, finally, ask the caller to repeat back the appointment time. Having the caller repeat the appointment details back to Alyssa adds on a bit of pressure for him to show. Also, your calling customers are just as important as your in-person customers. Give callers the same attention you’re giving showroom visitors. Remember: a firm appointment that shows up is the goal of the call!

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The Great
The holiday season is ramping up at a St. Louis Honda dealership. The phones are ringing off the hook, but the sales team doesn’t use that as an excuse to miss a single call. In fact, they’re connecting more calls than ever before; management has turned up the heat on a special holiday spiff, rewarding the agent who sells the most units with a bonus.

Prospect Paula calls in with some questions about the gas mileage on the HR-V. She drives a lot for her job and needs something that will fit her needs. She has a lot more requirements than just mileage though. She wants something comfortable, needs to know her trade-in value and what her financing options are. Agent Ricardo to the rescue! He addresses her needs, invites her in for a visit and sets a firm date and time appointment using the proven Whittle and Shepherd technique.

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On top of that, Ricardo makes her feel comfortable before the visit. “Our dealership is at the intersection in between Wal-Mart and Jack in the Box. Feel free to park by the brown building that says ‘Pre-Owned’ on it, right in the front. That’s customer parking. I’ll be waiting for you at the front doors with bottled water or coffee, whichever you prefer. Can you confirm when you’ll be here Saturday? … Great, here’s my cell phone number if anything comes up and you can’t make it…”

What went well: A whole heck of a lot. Even with the dealership’s high call volume, Paula was quickly helped by someone who could answer her questions and set a firm appointment. She had many requirements in a vehicle, but Ricardo assured her he’d take care of her, and made her feel comfortable prior to the visit. Doing so is important. Car shopping can be a scary experience. You may be selling cars on the lot every day, but your callers aren’t; this is unfamiliar territory to them. It’s one of the largest purchases they’ll make, which is daunting. The fact that Ricardo went above and beyond to make Paula feel confident in both himself and the dealership greatly increases the chance that she’ll show at her appointment time.

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To truly increase the bottom line and ensure customers return, it’s important to operate with an appointment-centric mindset. More than this, what sets your dealership apart from the rest is how you treat callers and sell your dealership over the phone. Do they hang up the phone with confidence in your brand? Do they respect your team and what it represents? These are the credentials that’ll make you known as a top-notch dealership to both prospects and competitors. In today’s landscape, you must set yourself apart and provide a paramount caller experience.

What needed improvement: This is a great example of executing the Set metric. Two other actions Ricardo could have taken on the call (for extra brownie points):

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  • Sent a follow-up email confirming the appointment with his name, face, contact details and picture of the HR-V that Paula will test drive — get people excited to visit; emotion sells cars.
  • Made an outbound call a few days before the scheduled visit, letting Paula know he’s looking forward to working with her and see if she has any last-minute questions.

You’re connecting calls and inviting prospects in for appointments. Nice! But here’s the tricky part about actually bringing in more showroom traffic: effectively getting those appointments scheduled. When a prospects call in, she wants to feel confident her needs are met. With that being said, this entails you first setting a specific appointment time. Firm appointments are three times more likely to show than soft appointments. Ensure your team is focused on the Set metric on every appointment opportunity call and you’ll see sales go through the roof.

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What success has your store seen after implementing a focus on firm appointments? Comment below.

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