Transitioning to the In-Dealership Experience

Your preparation is 100% the difference between a good and bad experience at the dealership. How are you preparing for your customers' visit?



You’ve been emailing a potential customer for a few days now, maybe you’ve even had a phone call or two. And now, they’ve agreed to come in to the dealership! Great news! But how do you prepare for their visit? In this post, we’ll explore how you can prepare for your customers’ transition to the in-dealership experience.  

Preparing For Your Customers’ Visit 

Setting Expectations Regarding Deposits and Vehicle Availability 

As a salesperson, you know that’s it’s much more than just setting a day and time for the shopper to visit, there is up-front prep work that must be done before they arrive. 

First things first, does your dealership have a policy or process for transitioning the customer to the in-dealership phase? One common thing that should be considered is what (if anything) is our dealership’s position on holding a vehicle for people?  

Is it dealership policy to:  

a.) ask customers to place a non-refundable deposit,  
b.) place a refundable deposit,  
c.) say the first person who comes in gets the car, or  
d.) something else?  

Let’s say it’s Monday and your shopper agrees to come in to see the car, but they can’t get there until Wednesday. What do you do? In a competitive car sales environment, it’s important to know where your dealership stands in terms of protocol for these types of situations so you can properly set expectations. In situations where a customer might be traveling a few hours to visit your store, there is a reasonable expectation that the vehicle they’ve agreed to come see will still be there when they arrive. 

Customers are already used to different types of pre-buying experiences and buying a car should be no different. For example, on auction sites like eBay, items don’t get held for us, the highest bidder at the end of the set time period wins. On e-commerce sites like Amazon, if there are only 3 items left, the first 3 people to complete the checkout process get them.  

There’s no exact right or wrong answer here but dealers need to have a policy and operate with transparency and consistency so customers know exactly what to expect. If there is no policy, a novice salesperson might not have the courage to ask for a deposit and set these expectations with a customer appropriately. Many stores lean towards asking for non-refundable deposit because they have to take the vehicle off the market. These stores might risk making the customer mad rather than losing $500 but it is up to each individual dealership to have a conversation amongst their team, agree to a policy, and be consistent. Other dealerships may offer a refundable deposit only to have a glut of no-shows or people who weren’t serious about the vehicle in the first place. Either way, there is no shortage of angry reviews online where customers are frustrated that they were not communicated with properly. Maybe they thought you were holding a car for them but you weren’t.  

Often times, simple communication can alleviate these frustrations. Whatever your policy is, it should be a common courtesy (and common sense) that you can’t have people drive 3 hours and the vehicle isn’t there because the salesperson either didn’t ask for some sort of deposit or properly set expectations that its first-come, first-served. With little technological automation in place to keep customers updated on vehicle statuses, it is up to the salesperson or manager to communicate with their customers.  

Vehicle Readiness Before and During the Visit 

Once all the proper expectations have been set regarding deposits and vehicle availability, it’s on to the next step – getting the vehicle prepped and ready for their visit. Ask yourself, what am I going do to be prepared for when the customer gets here?  

  • Am I going to go out and get the car ready?  
  • Is the battery charged,  
  • Do I know where the car is on the lot,  
  • Is the car dirty,  
  • Can I find the keys, etc.  

Being prepared means going out to the lot and checking on the vehicle’s status and condition (is it clean inside and out?). As a salesperson, you need to assume that the customer will be there and be ready to buy, and therefore, you need to get the car ready (so everything is easier and faster for the customer when they get there).  

Many dealers have a “sold” row, but very few have an “appointment” row with a tag that says when and who the appointment is with. This is another opportunity for connection with your customer as you could show them that the car is ready and they know exactly where to go when they arrive. This is a great way to make the customer feel special and position you as their advocate. Though few do, if you know your customer has children and is planning on taking them along for the test drive, you could have child seats installed in the car so they’re ready to go when the family comes. Doing all of this in advance is likely to improve your customer show rate as they may feel guilty for bailing at the last minute.  

Now that the car is in the appointment row, the salesperson should meet with the shoppers and have a conversation about what the customer would like to do next. Do they want to take it for a test drive immediately or see the features that they identified as important to them? Does your dealership have a policy that they have to go on a test drive? This is something you should know in advance as maybe they’ve already driven the car or had one just like it previously and don’t want to go on a test drive. The customer might be ready to just move on to the next steps (finance). This is where communicating with finance in advance can be a huge help and the customer won’t run into any unexpected surprises such as the price being vastly different than expected (2K of unexpected added extras?).  

In addition to getting the car physically ready, part of the preparation process is looking at the finance schedule for the day. Finance needs to be on board and be ready for the customer. You could even have them load in some information for the deal ahead of time (don’t worry, it can always be deleted afterwards if needed) so the finance process goes more quickly and smoothly. Dealers need to understand that in today’s environment, people have access to a lot more info than they used to and might not hesitate to walk out and go somewhere else. Your preparation is 100% the difference between a good and bad experience at the dealership.

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