When you’re away from your desk helping another customer or the dealership is closed, an email auto responder may be just the ticket to connect with lead-senders in a timely fashion. While this first point of contact can be a powerful first step on the road to a sale, it can also send buyers running to your competition if it’s not used properly. Are your auto responses on track to make a deal? Read more to find out.

The auto responder has become a standard part of doing business online, allowing you to acknowledge a customer’s request, even when you can’t be at your computer. But auto responders also have their drawbacks and limitations. We continually see examples where dealerships depend solely on the auto responder as their primary tactic for lead follow-up, a costly mistake that is likely to send shoppers on their way to a dealer who took the time to craft a custom response. It is essential that you remember the auto response is just step one in the process and should only be used to set the stage for a follow-up email or phone conversation.  

Worse yet, we are flooded with auto responses that simply don’t reflect well on the dealership.  From spelling errors to empty or inaccurate fields in a templated form, many dealerships are making the wrong first impression. Errors and inaccuracies may turn off potential buyers, leading them to believe their email was not important to you.    

And while it’s not likely to kill a deal, many of the responses we see miss the opportunity to stand out with the customer and showcase the dealership. Remember, it’s important to give buyers a reason to choose you at every stage of the online selling process, even in your auto response.

With top ten tips for crafting quality auto responses, you’ll open more doors and set the stage for a sale.

  1. Acknowledge the shopper’s request: Begin by thanking prospects for their request, acknowledging that you did indeed receive their inquiry. Let the shopper know why you are away from your desk — either because you are helping another customer or the dealership is closed. Have a separate email response written for each situation. It’s also important to be sincere and let the shopper know you appreciate their interest in your dealership.
  2. Set the shopper’s expectations: Customers want much more than a canned response, so it’s essential that you set expectations about your next steps and then follow through.  While shoppers will appreciate acknowledgement of their email, they’ll want to know when and how you’ll get back to them about the specifics of their request. This is also a good time to point them to additional resources, like your website, for more information. Check out this example:

    Thanks for contacting ABC Dealership. We have received your inquiry and will be in touch with you tomorrow morning when the store opens for business at 9 a.m. I’ll call you to discuss the vehicle you have inquired about and to answer any questions you may have, either about the car or our dealership. In the meantime, please check out our website at www.abcdealership.com, where you can browse our entire inventory and learn more about doing business with our store.

  3. Fill in the blanks: Many CRM systems allow you to generate a custom auto response that draws on information from the lead. For example, if the customer enquires about a 2005 Honda Accord, the response could be tailored to say, “Thanks for your inquiry about the 2005 Honda Accord.”  While you’re sure to win points for customization and stand out from a canned response, you can do more damage than good if the system is not working properly. If your store uses a CRM system to personalize responses to internet quote requests, occasionally test the system with a demo email account to ensure the various fields are being populated. Don’t leave it to your customers to fill in the blanks.  
  4. Spelling counts: Just as we say with any email response, spelling counts. It’s likely that your auto responder will be used frequently, so don’t leave it to chance. Run it through a word processing program to double-check for errors. Watch out for mistakes that spell check won’t catch, such as their instead of there.
  5. Introduce your dealership: It’s never too early to start selling the value of doing business with your dealership, and the auto response lends a great opportunity. Because shoppers likely have several dealerships that they have contacted about the car they’re considering, take advantage of this message to communicate who you are and the reasons a buyer should do business with you. In a few sentences, describe what sets your store apart from the competition and express your commitment to help shoppers find the right car at a price they can afford. You might even want to provide a link to the “About Us” section of your website, especially if it contains a virtual tour of your sales and service facilities.
  6. Provide your contact information: This step sounds simple, but you’d be amazed at how many auto response emails have only the dealer’s return email address. If you want the prospect to contact you, include your name, your store name and both your desk and mobile telephone numbers. Many car shoppers submit leads to more than one dealer, so increase the odds that you’ll get the call for more information and won’t be lost in the shuffle.
  7. Test, test, test: Be sure you know what your prospects are seeing. Regularly send test emails to check the accuracy of your auto response.
  8. Turn-it off when you’re at your desk: Turn off the auto responder when you are at your desk.  While it has its place, an actual, personalized email response is the most effective means by which to reply.  Keep in mind that many third party sites also send an auto response to the consumer prior to sending you their inquiry.  By turning off the responder while you are at your desk, you can reduce any aggravation and confusion on the consumer’s part.  Just remember to turn it back on when you leave your desk.
  9. Avoid the vacation trap: If you are out of the office for an extended period of time, ensure that email quote requests are forwarded to a colleague who can manage them. An auto response is not an effective tool for long-term absences from the dealership, especially when customers are looking to close in on a buying decision.
  10. Follow up with a personal response: As soon as possible, send prospects a personal email that provides information on the vehicle in which they are interested. If you have similar certified used or used vehicles that could save the customer money, include information on those vehicles. Indicate to the shoppers that you’ll call them within the next 10 minutes to confirm they received the email and verify details of the car they are interested in. Don’t lose out on a sale because the message was blocked by a spam filter or because of a mistake that led you to price the wrong car.

A good auto response should not take a long time to write or a long time to read. Remember, you’re simply using it to buy yourself a little time with the shopper — not sell the car. By incorporating each of the tips listed above, you’ll make a good impression on the shopper and position your store to earn the deal.