I grew up at car dealerships. I first started working for my father’s Mazda-Kia store when I was 12-years-old and I’ve been in the car business ever since. So many things have changed in the last few years, let alone the last decade, and we’ve all watched this transition unfolding before our eyes. There are, however, things that should never change.

Part of what I do as Director of Social Media for Dealer Authority is to call on several dealerships every day. As someone who has spent time answering phones, I can tell you that I’ve been appalled at the phone etiquette I’ve witnessed. Rather than harp on the specific negatives that I’ve heard, let’s briefly discuss a few key points that dealers can check for to see if they need to change the phone etiquette at their dealership.

  • Be Happy – It should be a non-issue, but I can’t tell you how many dealers I’ve called in the last couple of months where the receptionist sounds distracted, annoyed, or indifferent. It’s that last one, indifference, that really hurts the worst. People get stressed. I understand that it can get rattling to have several calls at once. I understand that customers on the floor, bosses ringing down, and salespeople lingering can make it challenging to be happy on the phone, but we can work through it. Indifference – that’s a sign of something deeper. That’s why it’s important to make sure whoever is answering the phone isn’t simply sounding happy. They must be happy.
  • No Hold – Nobody likes to be put on hold. There’s a psychology behind the way that calls are transferred that can actually affect the very nature of the call itself. Receptionists should avoid terms that have anything to do with making people wait. Don’t say, “please hold,” or anything like that. Even when said in a happy tone, the message is a negative one. Rather, make sure they are saying something like, “Certainly, I’ll connect you now,” or “let me put you through to her extension.”
  • Who’s Calling – This is different from dealership to dealership and person to person, but whenever it’s acceptable at the dealership to simply send calls through, they should be. “May I ask who’s calling” might be what the receptionist asks, but what the person on the other line hears is, “the person you’re trying to reach is important and I’m going to see if they want to talk to you before connecting you.” It’s not the biggest deal and I understand that some GMs and Principles may need their calls filtered, but I also know dealers that never ask who is calling. It’s a warmer approach.
  • Check Back Quickly – Nobody should be on hold for more than the time it takes a phone to ring. If someone tries a desk and they don’t pick up within a couple of rings, receptionists should pick up the line and take the next step. That next step could be paging, sending through to voicemail, or sending through to a cell phone. It should never be a 40-second wait followed by, “Who were you holding for?”

In general, be different. Make sure you hire the right people to make the first impression that many people have with your dealership. Make sure that whoever is covering the phones when the primary people are at lunch also follow the same protocols. Phone etiquette is getting worse at most dealerships. You can separate yourself instantly from your competitors by doing this basic process correctly.