In a short period of time, Ceren Isildak has reached a rare level of expertise in the auto industry. From her college experience opening a brand-new dealership to managing major industry publications and conferences to her current work at the forefront of BDC technology as Director of Business Development at CloudOne, Ceren has learned the ins and outs of automotive– and what it takes to stay competitive in a digital age.
We were thrilled to sit down with Ceren and get her best tips and insight for maximizing dealership profit through superior customer service.
How did you get started in the automotive industry?
When I was in my last year of college, I was working as a Turkish translator for a retired gentleman in Florida. This man happened to own a chain of dealerships in Turkey, and wanted to open a small, independent shop in Florida, pretty much for his Visa, and I ended up being really involved in that process. Since he didn’t speak any English, I got my dealers license for him and basically opened the doors of the new dealership without any knowledge of cars whatsoever.
Then, right after we opened up the shop, he left the keys to the store with me– and went back to Turkey.
Wait– so you’re now in charge of this dealership!
I had to figure it all out, and at that point I didn’t know the difference between a Mazda and a BMW. Suddenly I found myself doing things like going to Manheim to buy used cars for the lot– and I was the only woman at these auctions, and the only person under 30. But it was actually really fun, and a huge learning experience.
So I did that for about a year while I was finishing college. Then when I graduated, I looked for something in the publishing field since I had studied multi-media, and it just so happens that the first company I interviewed with was Dealer Magazine/Digital Dealer. I ended up staying in the automotive world, which I love, becoming the magazine manager for Dealer Magazine and then associate publisher, and then doing the sponsorship and media sales for Digital Dealer Conference. I was there for three years and then moved on to my position now at CloudOne, where my primary role is dealing with our BDC service.
Give us a brief overview of CloudOne’s BDC services and how they can make life easier and more profitable for dealers.
Our newest product, PhoneOps, is an expansion to our call center, and acts as an on-demand BDC for dealers. We answer phone calls on behalf of dealerships with the goal of scheduling qualified appointments. We’ve built out a robust, technology-driven call center, staffed by highly trained agents equipped with a scripting engine.
PhoneOps really helps dealers have the confidence that sales and service calls will be handled, recorded, and tracked by highly skilled agents, and integrated into the CRM. We also provide insight into the customer experience with advanced feedback reporting. And the really significant advantage is that PhoneOps triples lead conversion by always being the first to respond to leads and book appointments.
So let’s say a customer is on TrueCar and they are interested in a type of vehicle. TrueCar sends that one lead to multiple dealers in that area, so it’s kind of a race to answer. Most dealers aren’t calling leads until hours later, maybe not even that day– and at that point it’s just way too late.
We’re calling back those leads in under a minute.
What are some of your best practices for getting customers excited to actually show up for an appointment?
A big part of it is agents knowing how to convey excitement in their voice, speaking very clearly, and making it very conversational. Also, once they do have the appointment scheduled, they tell the customer which salesperson they’re going to meet with, how great that salesperson is, and how excited they are to meet. Then we have that salesperson call to confirm the appointment and let them know they’re looking forward to meeting them. So just that experience in itself creates excitement.
We’re set up with a built-in FAQ system, so agents can answer the hard questions we get all the time. Being really informative for customers naturally leads to a higher quality appointment.
Sounds like the training process is really important!
Training is a huge part of it– both within the call center itself and with onboarding dealerships. The goal is to be able to properly communicate– between us and dealerships, with salespeople, within the BDC itself.
This brings up the important point that sometimes communication between BDCs and sales teams can be difficult, even when the BDC is part of the dealership. What do you advise for making that relationship more seamless, especially for dealerships using an outsourced BDC?
That communication is tricky, and the main thing is to make sure everything is set up properly. The first step is to make sure the CRM integrations are up and running, and then it’s all about managing expectations between the call center and the in-store dealership. Dealers need to be trained to know exactly what BDC agents are saying so that when the customer shows up it’s not like “oh, well that person’s just in the BDC they don’t know what they’re talking about.” If that happens, there’s an immediate disconnect. Everyone needs to be on the same team.
We like to use the metaphor of “passing of the baton” when we train salespeople at dealerships. Our agents handle the first communication, creating a great customer experience on the phone, scheduling the appointment, and talking about how great the salespeople are. Then, we pass the baton to the in-store salespeople and they need to continue that great customer experience by first calling the customer back to let them know they’re looking forward to the appointment– and this really increases show rates.
What’s one of the major challenges you’ve seen facing dealers in lead follow-up calls?
The major challenge I hear from our dealers is with follow-up time. If a dealership does have a BDC– which a lot of them don’t– they may have one or two good agents, but while those agents are on the phone talking to customers, five more online leads could be coming in while phone calls are coming in at the same time. If those calls are not answered immediately or if those internet leads aren’t contacted within a few minutes, that customer has already moved onto your competitor’s website. So that seems to be the common theme– not having enough agents to be able to have good follow-up time– and that’s one of the issues we really try to address.
What factors should a dealership consider in deciding if a BDC is the right model for them?
Dealerships are spending anywhere from 30k-100k a month advertising to make the telephone ring and yet most do not have a fully equipped BDC to handle those calls. Whether they decide to outsource the BDC or build out their own in-house, a staff that’s fully trained on the phone is a necessity. It might cost $100 to get one customer to call, so if that call is not managed properly, that cost is wasted. So the first thing to think about is whether your staff can handle your calls.
Also, consider if a BDC can help with scalability and cost management. A BDC can be a more economical choice than building out an in-house team because you might be able to get a full BDC team for less than the cost of one agent. This can also help with scalability as you have more agents to handle your calls.
And finally, consider your dealership’s management structure and if it might be beneficial to use a BDC that handles training and management of the call center, which takes that off the hands of the busy dealership.
Industry technology is using more and more automation and AI– do you see these developments having an impact on the BDC?
I think AI is going to help the customer experience– it will give agents so much information at such a fast speed, so they can have more effective phone calls with less necessary manpower.
For example, as a customer is talking on the phone about a question, AI might be useful for anticipating the question and pulling some answers instantaneously. I see it providing help at an incredibly fast speed.
So you don’t see a team of robots replacing the BDC?
No, I don’t think human interaction will ever go away. For example, any time I call any customer service, I just press zero until I can bypass the system and talk to a human! But just having answers readily available at your fingertips will be a huge help– especially for millennials like us, who like things immediately. I can’t believe I used to put up with AOL– if a website doesn’t load in microseconds, I get frustrated. AI is just building towards a faster experience in general.
What would you say to people who oppose BDCs or say they’re outdated?
I think BDCs are as far away from being outdated as humanly possible, since our industry is becoming so digital– there’s a new digital solution popping up at every event we attend. Car shoppers predominantly spend their time on the internet researching what vehicle to buy before stepping foot into a dealership. That’s why dealerships need to be equipped to handle omnichannel communication.
Another reason BDCs are useful is that just because you’re a great salesperson doesn’t mean you’re great on the phone. The phone is not where the sales are made– its purpose is just to provide an excellent experience to make sure that customer comes into the dealership– so having people with that training can be really helpful for setting appointments.
Even for dealerships that have a BDC department, or salespeople who are properly trained to handle calls, it always comes back to scalability. At a certain point, you’re not going to be able to further advertise and grow because you don’t have the fulfillment capability, unless you continually grow out your staff, which requires a lot of training and a lot of costs. So BDCs, especially outsourced BDCs, provide a lot more scalability.
There’s also so little margin in car sales, so it’s really important to think about the cost of hiring a large BDC and training and managing it properly. Outsourcing can be a lot more cost effective in many cases.
What should we expect from CloudOne in the next year?
We’re really moving towards two-way integrations with large CRMs, different inventory systems and different data sources. For example, we can push lead data into any CRM, but what if that customer calls back again and we want to edit that lead? Now, what typically happens is that the CRM creates a duplicate lead, which we don’t want. Instead, we want to update that lead so we can have a better follow-up call.
Two-way integration is also great for financing tools– for example, it can help our technology figure out in just a few minutes how much a customer can spend on a vehicle, while they’re on the phone.
Another integration dream: Our CEO would love to be able to sell cars on Amazon. Wouldn’t it be great if I could use Amazon Prime in California and have a vehicle sent to me in Flordia within two days? That would be amazing, and those are the type of things that we want to play with.
You’ve been to so many industry conferences. What’s the best swag you’ve ever seen?
I used to be the one who had to stuff the tote bags for the conferences, spending a whole day just stuffing 2,000 bags, mostly with printed collateral!
If any vendor has stuffed animal toys, I generally snag a couple of those and bring them back to my dogs. My dogs currently have quite a few car-related toys.
And by the way, I have two pens on me at all time, and those are both AutoLeadStar pens.*
Thank you to Ceren, and looking forward to seeing more great things from you and from CloudOne!
*You, too, can become the proud owner of an AutoLeadStar pen. Come say hi at Digital Dealer!