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TIME: Business & Money Whodathunkit? Auto Dealerships Realize Responding to Customer E-mails Helps to Sell Cars

TIME: Business & Money
Whodathunkit? Auto Dealerships Realize Responding to Customer E-mails Helps to Sell Cars

March 2013

For a while, some car dealerships have seemed somewhat ambivalent about e-mail inquiries from consumers. Sure, they represented potential sales leads. But it was assumed that online shoppers were even less serious about buying than on-site looky-loos. How commissions are usually doled out to dealership staffers further complicates matters. Nonetheless, because modern-day consumers demand info via the Web—and more importantly, because answering Internet inquiries quickly and accurately boosts sales—dealerships have been dramatically improving how they handle online shoppers.

In a new mystery shopper study conducted by Pied Piper Management, nearly half of auto dealerships (48%) responded to online inquiries in an impressive 30 minutes or less. Two years ago, it took an hour for the same percentage of inquiries to get responses from dealerships.

The reason for speeding up the response time is obvious. “Doing well in that area pays off in incremental sales,” Fran O'Hagan, president of Pied Piper, told WardsAuto. “The entire industry has improved because of that.”

“The reason you are seeing this huge improvement is that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” O'Hagan said to Automotive News. “With most programs, improvement usually happens incrementally. Not so with how you handle Internet leads. This results in huge changes, right away.”

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Automotive News First Shift Secret shoppers pick Porsche

Automotive News First Shift
Secret shoppers pick Porsche

March 2013

Porsche and dealerships ranked highest in a study that looked how auto dealers handle internet leads.

Pied Piper's annual study used internet mystery shopping to contact 11,000+ dealerships to see how the U.S. dealer networks for all car brands compare.



WardsAuto Study Says Dealers Handling Internet Customers Better

WardsAuto
Study Says Dealers Handling Internet Customers Better

March 2013

Dealerships are getting better at responding to online customers, and the reason seems clear to Fran O'Hagan. “Dealers who handle Internet leads effectively sell a lot more vehicles than dealers who do not,” says the president of consultancy Pied Piper Management. “That is why manufacturers and individual dealers are so interested in this.”

Dealer behavior can change slowly in some respects, he says. “It is like changing the direction of a ship at sea.” Not so with the rapid improvements dealerships have shown in fielding online customer queries. “Doing well in that area pays off in incremental sales,” O'Hagan tells WardsAuto. “The entire industry has improved because of that.”

But some brands outdo others, as evidenced by Pied Piper's annual Prospect Satisfaction Index. The firm mystery shops to measure dealership Internet effectiveness in areas such as reply time and quality of response content. Porsche, Nissan and Audi dealerships rank highest in this year's satisfaction index. Lowest scorers are Mini, Mitsubishi and Scion in the cellar. Industrywide performance continues to improve, with 30 of 33 brands scoring above the industry average from two years ago and 24 of 33 brands scoring above last year's average.

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Press Release: PORSCHE & NISSAN DEALERSHIPS TOP RANKED FOR RESPONSE TO CUSTOMER INTERNET INQUIRIES REPORTS PIED PIPER PSI(R) Strong improvement pushes Audi, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler toward the top; Plenty of room for further improvement industry-wide: Nearly one-in-four customer internet inquiries still unanswered after 24 hours

Press Release: PORSCHE & NISSAN DEALERSHIPS TOP RANKED FOR RESPONSE TO CUSTOMER INTERNET INQUIRIES REPORTS PIED PIPER PSI(R)
Strong improvement pushes Audi, Dodge, Jeep, Chrysler toward the top; Plenty of room for further improvement industry-wide: Nearly one-in-four customer internet inquiries still unanswered after 24 hours

March 2013

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA – March 11, 2013 – Porsche and Nissan dealerships ranked highest in the 2013 Pied Piper PSI(R) Internet Lead Effectiveness™(ILE™) Study, which measured how auto dealerships respond to customer inquiries received over the internet. Study rankings by brand were determined by the patent-pending Pied Piper PSI process, which ties “mystery shopping” measurement and scoring to actual industry sales success.

Industry-wide performance continued to improve, with 30 of 33 brands scoring above the industry average from two years ago; and 24 of 33 brands scoring above last year's industry average. The study showed that salespeople responded to customer internet inquiries within 30 minutes nearly half the time (48%). In contrast, two years ago it took a full hour to receive the same percentage of salesperson responses. However, there remains plenty of room for improvement. Nearly one-in-four of today's customer internet inquiries remain unanswered after 24 hours; unchanged from last year.

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Automotive News Study: Dealerships respond better to Internet leads

Automotive News
Study: Dealerships respond better to Internet leads

March 2013

LOS ANGELES – Car dealerships are doing better at responding to Internet leads, but the quality of the responses still leaves something to be desired, according to a new study.

Mystery-shopping consultant Pied Piper Management Co. found that most of the 11,353 dealerships it submitted Internet inquires to in the past year now use customer relationship management software. And although the software usually automatically responds immediately to an e-mail inquiry, what happens after can make all the difference.

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NBC News Mercedes aims to oust BMW as top luxury brand

NBC News
Mercedes aims to oust BMW as top luxury brand

July 2012

It's one of the most bitter battles in the American automotive marketplace, and it pits two of Germany's luxury automakers in a grab for the brass ring. But this year, Mercedes-Benz is betting it can topple rival BMW to become the best-selling luxury automotive brand in the world's largest high-end market.

The maker has been staging a series of meetings with dealers across the country aimed at improving customer handling. Dealers, in turn, have spent about $1.5 billion to upgrade more than 90 percent of U.S. showrooms. The results appear to be paying off.

“Mercedes sets the benchmark,” said Fran O'Hagan, whose Pied Piper Prospective survey uses thousands of so-called “mystery shoppers” to measure how manufacturers are handling the sales and service process. Mercedes bested such stalwart competitors as BMW, Lexus and Audi in results released earlier this month.

And that's apparently helped it gain a leg up on BMW. It held a 2,000-unit lead over the Bavarian automaker for the first half of 2012 after narrowly losing the U.S. luxury sales crown in 2011. Anything can happen, especially if rivals BMW or Lexus ramp up incentives spending, Mercedes officials admit. But it's clear they are ready to pull out the big guns to grab the ring this time.

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The Detroit Bureau Mercedes Doing the Best to Close the Deal

The Detroit Bureau
Mercedes Doing the Best to Close the Deal

July 2012

Mercedes-Benz dealers are most likely to deliver customers the sort of shopping experience they want – and then close the deal, according to a new study.

Asian luxury dealers were close behind, along with Jaguar and Cadillac, according to the latest Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index which uses so-called “mystery shoppers” to measure the way potential car buyers are treated.

The study looks at 60 different sales activities, from the simple act of greeting a customer when they walk into the showroom to providing a test drive. Surprisingly, salespeople proved reluctant to take one of the most important steps of all, actually asking a prospect if they're ready to close the deal.

“The world has changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet,” said Pied Piper research chief Fran O'Hagan. Twenty years ago, the dealer was the gatekeeper, controlling every aspect of the car buying process. Today, however, “A customer can go to the showroom knowing as much as you want. So, the role of the salesperson has changed.”

And so has the balance of power. The best dealerships recognize and adapt to this shift, he explained, noting that the pace of change is so rapid – and the best brands have adapted so quickly – that a company that scored third in the Pied Piper study in 2008 would rank near the bottom in 2012 with the same score.

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Automotive News First Shift Secret shoppers pick Benz

Automotive News First Shift
Secret shoppers pick Benz

July 2012

Mercedes-Benz dealerships ranked highest in a study that looked how auto dealers treat customers.

Pied Piper's annual study sends thousands of secret shoppers to stores across the U.S. and measures how salespeople perform.



Press Release: MERCEDES-BENZ DEALERS TOP RANKED BY 2012 PIED PIPER PROSPECT SATISFACTION INDEX(R) Treatment of car shoppers improves industry-wide; Highest industry average PSI score

Press Release: MERCEDES-BENZ DEALERS TOP RANKED BY 2012 PIED PIPER PROSPECT SATISFACTION INDEX(R)
Treatment of car shoppers improves industry-wide; Highest industry average PSI score

July 2012

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA – July 9, 2012 –Mercedes-Benz dealerships ranked highest in the newly released 2012 Pied Piper Prospect Satisfaction Index(R) (PSI(R)) U.S. Auto Industry Benchmarking Study, which measured dealership treatment of car-shoppers. Study rankings by brand were determined by the patent-pending Pied Piper PSI process, which ties “mystery shopping” measurement and scoring to industry sales success.

Acura, Infiniti and Lexus dealerships, the luxury brands from Honda, Nissan and Toyota respectively, finished in a tie for second. Overall auto industry performance improvement was widespread, with twenty-four of thirty-four auto brands improving PSI performance from 2011 to 2012. Industry-wide improvement led to a new highest recorded industry average PSI score of 105.

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Automotive News Mercedes has most effective sales process

Automotive News
Mercedes has most effective sales process

July 2012

Some vehicle brands that score high in customer satisfaction surveys do less well when the effectiveness of dealership salespeople is measured, according to a California consultant. Mystery shopping consultant Pied Piper of Monterey, Calif., sent 4,419 shoppers to dealerships nationwide, from July 2011 to June 2012, to measure salespeople's effectiveness in selling cars on the showroom floor.

Mercedes-Benz ranked first in the survey and led all brands in 10 of the 60 sales activities measured in Pied Piper's Prospect Satisfaction Index. For example, Mercedes led in salesperson introductions, offering a thorough test drive and focusing attention on important features. Mercedes was followed by Acura, Infiniti and Lexus.

Pied Piper said it looked at everything leading up to the purchase decision, starting from the first contact by the salesperson to the customer's decision to purchase or not. J.D. Power's Sales Satisfaction Index asks consumers for their impression of a dealership where they had recently purchased a vehicle.

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